This week Austin food critics review Larry McGuire's new take-away chicken joint Fresa's Chicken Al Carbon downtown and Parkside chef Shawn Cirkiel's Italian outpost Olive & June in Bryker Woods. At the Statesman, Matthew Odam visits the re-imagined Hickory Street.
Critic at large Mike "Fed Man Walking" Sutter thoroughly enjoys his Olive & June experience, wherein he succumbs to the "the euphoria of abundance" instead of "picking apart food in search of something corrective." He samples 26 dishes (Olive & June's specialty is piccoli piatti) over three visits, finding fault with just under a quarter of his dishes, particularly the pastas, which were exceedingly salty (er, "scorched by salt like the acid-blood in an Aliens movie"), a fault also noted by the Statesman's Matthew Odam last month.
But on to the wonders of Olive & June: Sutter likes the "precision-fried squid, swordfish and shrimp with arugula," the "honeyed simplicity" of the panelle and the Sunday family-style dinner where "the joy and bounty were undeniable." Still, he wants Cirkiel to work on his menu wording ("I’d rather not have to Google everything tableside") and laments the parking circus of having to choose valet over residential street interference. In the end, writes Sutter, he was happy to eat family-style with his kids and set aside "the pretense of critical resolve for a moment of joy."
Meanwhile, the Austin Chronicle's Kate Thornberry calls Fresa's "just a super creative, great concept," and praises Fresa's for their use of pastured chickens, which in her opinion makes a Fresa's meal more than reasonably priced: "You actually could not make this food at home for less."
She loves their "fabulously fresh corn tortillas," and recommends going with the #1 order because of the better rice and beans, which are "are light years ahead of the plain black beans in both flavor and complexity." And as for sides, Fresa's Mexican Street Corn is "by far the best version of this dish I have had."
Downtown, the revamped Hickory Street mildly impresses the Statesman's Matthew Odam, who gives it a 6 out of 10 rating though he doesn't much like the awkward space itself, where the outdoor area is "cluttered with trash cans and bus bins" and the foyer is "part dining area, part who-knows-what."
Whereas once upon a time, the restaurant's sign may as well have read "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here," writes Odam, new ownership has "made great strides to reinvigorate the food and create a more hospitable space." During lunch, he likes the "fresh" chopped salad, the turkey salad (in a "cute cupcake tin") and the bison burger, "slightly charred on the outside but with a warm pink center."
Odam describes a Friday dinner hour as "part South Austin and part Lake Lewisville," and digs the fried catfish tacos and "thoughtful flavors" in the white wings, though the short rib mac 'n cheese is "heavy-handed." Ultimately, writes Odam, the new Hickory street owners are "making strides in the right direction."
Olive & June. [Photo: Raymond Thompson/EATX]