It is now time — drumroll, please — to announce the winners of the 2015 Eater Awards in Austin. These winners comprise a diverse group of the finest and most interesting chefs, restaurants, and bartenders in the city. They’ve defined this year in dining, and we applaud them.
First, a quick recap: Eater’s local editors in 24 cities nominated candidates for five major categories: Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year, Bartender of the Year, So Hot Right Now Restaurant, and Stone Cold Stunner. These awards are geared toward places that have opened in about the past year, or people who have become involved in new ventures or otherwise changed the game in that time, which is why many renowned veterans don’t appear). Eater readers then voted to narrow the field to a final three in each category. From that final three, the Eater editorial team chose one to move forward. The national winners can be viewed here, but now, without further ado, here's who came out on top in Austin.
Eater Awards 2015
Restaurant of the Year
Nominees: Counter 3.Five.VII, Franklin Barbecue, Launderette, Olamaie, Qui
Finalists: Counter 3.Five.VII, Olamaie, Launderette
Chefs Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki found a new home with their long-anticipated neighborhood cafe. The menu is full of dishes with Mediterranean spins where flavor is king, from the snacky bits and filling weekend brunch to Sawicki’s craveable desserts. Everything is served in a relaxing and stylish setting, where diners feel like they’re hanging out in a friend’s cool apartment.
Chef of the Year
Nominees: Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto, Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas, Aaron Franklin, Rene Ortiz, Paul Qui
Finalists: Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto, Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas, Rene Ortiz
Winner: Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas
Food is Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas’ first priority. The two took what they learned from working at Son of a Gun in Los Angeles, mixed in their own philosophies and approaches, and ended up with Olamaie. Their constantly changing menu never sits still, depending on whatever produce, meat, and ingredients are currently available from Austin farms and ranches. Despite always being kept on their toes, the duo still create dishes that blow diners away.
Bartender of the Year
Nominees: Justin Elliott, Trey Jenkins, Jennifer Keyser, Justin Lavenue, Travis Tober
Finalists: Jennifer Keyser, Justin Lavenue, Justin Elliott
Winner: Justin Lavenue
Justin Lavenue knows his cocktails, after working at Whisler’s, Drink.Well, and Half Step. Now he gets to shine with the Roosevelt Room, before he and co-owner Dennis Gobis turn the West 5th bar into a three-story drinking destination next year. For now, though, the Roosevelt Room is his drinking playground, where he explores every iteration of the cocktail, from past to present.
So Hot Right Now
Nominees: Bullfight, Fukumoto, Italic, Juniper, Vox Table
Finalists: Vox Table, Juniper, Fukumoto
Austin got a brand new izakaya and sushi bar with the opening of Fukumoto this fall, much to everyone’s delight. The always enthusiastic owner and chef Kazu Fukumoto, who worked at Musashino, creates perfectly tasty sushi and excellent yakitori with all manners of chicken parts, all paired with an equally excellent sake list.
Stone Cold Stunner
Nominees: Counter 3.Five.VII, Fixe, Juliet, Juniper, Launderette
Finalists: Juliet, Juniper, Fixe
There’s no question that Juliet is beautiful and well-thought out, devised by noted restaurant designer Joel Mozersky The spacious bar room is invitingly bright and airy with the bold marble-topped walnut bar as the centerpiece. There are many other rooms to explore, too, including the dimly intimate dining room in the back with mirrored walls, group-friendly side room facing Barton Springs, and expansive patio filled with greenery.
Bonus Category: Pastry Chef of the Year
Winner: Janina O'Leary
Bonus Category: Best New Bar
Winner: The Townsend