Tucked into a cute corner on Rainey St. is Emmer & Rye. You can think of them as a mix between a farm-to-table and dim-sum style restaurant, so the menu is constantly changing.
We first came here after hearing good reviews from our friends, so we decided to stop by for a meal. Parking wasn’t terrible (surprisingly), although we did get there right when they opened, so our waiter immediately helped seat us. The dim sum isn’t traditional, Chinese-style, in the sense that you won’t be ordering shrimp dumplings and turnip cakes off of carts.
PUTTING AN AMERICAN TWIST ON DIM SUM
Instead, they’ve taken dim sum (which means little eats in Cantonese) to encompass any sort of small dishes, offered on small carts that are pushed around, where waiters will come up and ask if you’re interested in any of the items. Now, I think that’s a phenomenal idea, and a great way to incorporate this fun aspect of southern Chinese cuisine into American cuisine.
Off the dim sum menu, we’d ordered a couple items, but what stood out to me the most was the Corn & Red Fife Johnny Cakes. With pork, cheddar, turnip, creme fraiche, I’m not sure if it was meant to be an American variation of the popular Chinese dim sum dish turnip cakes. But it seemed like such to me. So of course, as a biased turnip cake lover, this was probably my favorite dish there (I wish I’d ordered more of it…)
For the main dish, the Mangalitsa pork chop, with beef fat aioli, winter greens, chicory and arugula puree was a true showstopper. Although if you asked me to be more specific, it was the arugula puree that won us over: a creamy, perfectly-seasoned puree that wrapped together the whole dish and made you crave more.
Dessert ended our meal on a subtly-sweet note: sweet ricotta, pickled strawberry, green tomato, makrut lime ice cream and cookie crumble, as recommended by our lovely waitress. Pickled strawberries? Yes, and it was amazing: think, sweet and with just the right amount of acidity. And green tomatoes?? Well, for Michael, the world’s biggest tomato-hater, the dessert won his heart as well, so I’ll say it is well-deserved for our high acclaim.
Overall, the atmosphere was lively, filled with people chatting after work and looking for a great place to relax and get good food. Now, we won’t lie and say it’s not on the expensive side of things: it very much is, particularly if you want to get *full.* But that’s not to say Emmer & Rye wouldn’t be a good place for a happy hour with friends; you just might want to get some hearty food elsewhere (or not, if you’re not broke college students like us!).
Today and everyday.
Today, we wanted to feature Emmer & Rye for just as much as their incredible food, but also their incredible people, and also as one of the many wonderful black-owned businesses in Austin. The horrific and unjust killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the unfortunately many, many other black people who’ve had their lives cut short by police brutality and racism — and the subsequent protests — have called for an examination and change of the racist fabric of our society. We must do our part to amplify black voices and black-owned businesses into a well-deserved spotlight. BUT, we must not let this “fade away” as another trend. We must commit to celebrating black voices every day, at every forefront, forever.
Tavel Bristol-Joseph, a Guyana native, is pastry chef and co-owner of Emmer & Rye (and a recently-named “10 Best New Chefs in America” by Food and Wine Magazine). His quote in a recent Austin Monthly interview particularly struck me, about the way we talk and write about food. It’s a reminder of how subconscious — yet ingrained — racism is in our society, even in areas like food. It’s a problem of fixating on more “elite” restaurants that tend to be white-dominated and focused, and ignoring the smaller, often minority-owned restaurants. It’s a problem of not doing our jobs as food bloggers, and amplifying the stories of those that need to be heard. And for the rest of us — acknowledge our privilege, support black businesses, amplify black voices, and stand back when necessary.
“In the food community, writers and influencers need to start focusing more on people’s stories, and less on “Best Of” lists. As much as those lists and accolades give restaurants a sense of pride—that their hard work is being recognized—they’re fleeting. I think the reason why a lot of minority-owned restaurants aren’t better known is that no one is focusing on them. And look, I don’t want you coming into my restaurant because of the color of my skin. I want you to come because of the work that I’ve done. I don’t want handouts. I want you to come because you know my story and you want to support that. The [media] needs to do a better job of telling those stories, because that’s what people relate to. And that’s how we’ll expose everyone to all these other cultures in Austin…We need to do a better job of acknowledging all those diverse cultures out there.”Tavel Bristol-Joseph to Austin Monthly Magazine