Welcome to Front & Center, a series highlighting front of the house professionals in Austin restaurants. We've asked local industry folks, media types and food fans to tell us who makes dining out in Austin a pleasure—if you'd like to throw in your two cents, there's room for that, too.
Here's Paula Forbes, Eater National Deputy Editor and proud Austinite, on general manager Jason James of Barley Swine and the little things that put diners at ease:
It seems almost unfair to call out GM Jason James when, really, the entire Barley Swine staff runs front-of-house as a unified operation. There simply is no physical "back-of-house" in this open, intimate space. The service at the restaurant is seamless in that way that's the hallmark of any good front-of-house team — that is, you barely notice anyone's there until the exact moment you need them to be. In a city where the chefs get most of the attention, front-of-house in Austin is often an afterthought and servers can frequently seem like they're rushing off to band practice. Barley Swine as a whole deserves a nod for separating from the pack and taking the approach that excellent service shouldn't come second to great food.
That said, here's a story about Jason James and my mom. (Whose birthday it is next week — happy birthday, Mom!) The first time I took my mom to Barley Swine, James came to check on our table at one point and she made a comment to the effect of the food being so good she could lick the plate. She meant it as a joke, obviously, but James returned with a tiny silicon spatula and told her to have at it. Not only that, he told us this is common practice at the restaurant. Seriously, check next time you go: there's a small container of these mini spatulas on the bar where the food is expedited.
That move is so Barley Swine: one of the many small things they do to prevent the atmosphere from becoming stuffy and keep everything feeling, for lack of a better term, incredibly Austin. So here's to Jason James, who can turn Mom jokes into fantastic restaurant experiences and encourages customers to scrape their plates. Cheers.