A vegetarian, a gluten-free/dairy-free, and an omnivore walk into a bar… with a friend. Or in this case, a restaurant.
Welcome to THE FINICKY FOUR, our new Food & Drink review with an Austin twist. With food phobias, allergies and preferences becoming ever more pervasive, we wanted to give feedback not only on a restaurant, but give feedback meeting individual tastes and needs. The idea was born on a recent trip to a popular and trending restaurant. For an omnivore in the group, who will happily devour everything on the menu, the dishes were outstanding, and she had more than enough satisfying options. The same was not true for others at our table with food restrictions. For our vegetarian friend, there was not a single meatless main dish, and prompted the awkward request of the server to beseech the kitchen to prepare a “special” dish just for him. It wasn’t much better for our gluten- and dairy-free companion. Whether by choice or medical necessity, there is a growing segment of the dining population who needs to avoid these two ingredients. Menus are marketing tools, not necessarily comprehensive ingredient listings.
For our first Finicky Four outing, we chose Sawyer & Co., an iconic location on East Cesar Chavez reborn with new life and a New Orleans-inspired menu. To round out our foursome, we invited a New Orleans artist and musician who relocated to Austin after Hurricane Katrina. The Omnivore in our group hails from the Crescent City, but wanted to bring along another Cajun/Creole palate to test the menu against our exacting Louisiana expectations.
After extensive renovations to the old Arkie’s Grill location, Sawyer & Co. reopened in October with a full bar and breakfast items available all day. Comfort food is the cornerstone of their full menu which kicks off the week each Monday with the very appropriate special of red beans and rice.
The mid century modern design is lovely in this shotgun-shaped dining room with a lunch counter running the length of one side and booths running down the other. We opted for the outside patio dining with booths lovingly restored from the original Arkie’s.
Our server, clad in a uniform that a classic diner feel with an Austin twist (think Flo from Mel’s Diner with a lot more ink!), was friendly and fairly knowledgeable about the menu given our finicky crew and the newness of the team and menu. Our first observation was that the bar offerings and menu were much more extensive than we found online. They have a full and lovely bar with excellent selections from classics such as a delicious Sazerac to tequila-inspired modern drinks.
Let’s meet the finicky crew and get to work!
Lynn, The Omnivore: Omnivore is a much nicer title than the one I usually use, “the garbage pail.” I will eat and try anything! Unlike my dining companions, I can travel and dine anywhere. From uni to alligator and durian to rattlesnake, I have tried it all! So I get to approach a menu from what I want, not from what I am allowed to have. As a true southerner, I know that grits are great with any meal as they are simply little vessels for salt and butter. I opted for the creole shrimp and grits with a side. The grits were perfectly prepared and the tomato sauce was well balanced without having too much heat which is a common and unfortunate outcome of non-Louisianians trying to replicate cajun cooking. For my side, I opted for okra which was cut and stewed down perfectly. For those of you who think that okra is slimy and gross, please do yourself a favor and try it prepared properly just once…and this would be a great place to start.
Nicholas, The Vegetarian: While I wouldn’t quite call Sawyer & Co vegetarian friendly, there were a few meatless options that you would expect to see in a diner-style restaurant like salads, sandwiches, veggie side plates and several breakfast options. The roasted eggplant muffuletta stood out against the standards like the grilled cheese and proved to be a delicious choice. I also went for a side of the Southern Louisiana traditional dish of Corn Maque Choux and an order of medium cut fries, both fantastic.
Since there were no vegetarian icons to help you on the menu, I would highly recommend talking to your server about which items are truly meatless. Although some of the items on the menu might appear to be vegetarian, I later found out that traditional Louisiana foods are often cooked with bacon grease and chicken broth–wish I’d double-checked with the chef beforehand. Unfortunately, there were no vegan offerings besides the side items. Cider fans like myself can rejoice in the offering of Gold Top from Austin Eastciders.
Megz, The Guest: My friends and I from back home are often hesitant about venturing out to “Cajun” restaurants in Texas, in fear of imitation recipes. Fortunately, I can say Sawyer’s is not one of those restaurants. At first glance, the menu was extremely impressive, although I wish some of the daily special items were a part of the main menu – red beans and rice, jambalaya, and crawfish étouffée are all Cajun favorites that I wish I had the option to order every day. But the food delivered for sure, packing all the familiar flavors I remember from back home (the green beans are to die for). And the decor and atmosphere are just icing on the cake.
Alisa, The Gluten Free, Dairy Free: Yep, I’m that girl. The one that makes the special requests, presents the card that states “Gluten Free and Dairy Free, except butter” for the server to share with the chef in hopes of “making things easy” and the one that does her best to identify the ingredients with menu item descriptions. It’s not easy, but it’s worse when your server isn’t in the ‘mood’ to hear about all the considerations. My GF & DF title is out of medical necessity not for a food trend. I was surprised that my spinach salad was perfectly dressed with fresh cherry tomatoes and tossed with light and flavorful house vinaigrette topped with candied pecans and golden raisins. Simply perfect. The Creole Catfish with a side of corn maque choux wasn’t as exciting as the gluten free and dairy free corn bread it was paired with, but the flavor was good. I realized later my corn bread was my “dessert” (for those of you that need to end with a dessert). My options were limited, but it wouldn’t hold me back from going again.
Be our guest! In the comments section below, let us know where you think we should dine next. If we select your suggestion, we would love you to join us at the table and give your review! Yum!