Zilker boutique hotel Carpenter Hotel and its restaurant Carpenters Hall and cafe Hot L Coffee are all now open at 400 Josephine Street. Leading the food is chef Grae Nonas, who is approaching the menus with Austin and Central Texas angles, from breakfast tacos to kolaches to schnitzels to spaetzles to pies.
“The food is a fresh eyes-approach of the Texas/Austin past,” Nonas explained, “but also it’s just fresh eyes on our heritage and our cultures, traditions, and roots.”
Nonas wanted to make sure that there was a connection between his food and the restaurant space: “How you eat and what does the room feel like and does your food match the room? Does it feel like it lives there?” he said.
Take the chicken schnitzel, which Nonas saw as his ode to chicken fried steak, bringing together Central Texas, German, and Czech influences. The giant breaded chicken gets served with a black garlic chimichurri, making it all “super rib-sticking,” he explained.
One of the dishes he’s most excited about is the pozole verde that is made without any meat whatsoever. “I just wanted to take a stab at it and make something that has the depth and flavor and richness that pozole does have,” Nonas said.
Carpenters Hall is, after all, a hotel restaurant, so it will serve expected fare with slight Nonas-style variations. This includes onion rings served with black lime salt; french fries with Louisiana seasoning; a solid turkey club sandwich; a loaded baked potato “drowned in beurre monté,” creme fraiche, chives, and grated smoked cheese; and a “really gluttonous, dirty-style burger,” he said.
“It’s your meat-and-potatoes food, it’s food that you want to eat, it’s food that you kind of crave, and, in my opinion, it’s good that you want to revisit often. It’s food that you frequent,” Nonas said.
As for desserts, there will be pies, cookies, and cakes. Nonas is also overseeing the food at on-site cafe Hot L Coffe, which will feature breakfast tacos, a Spanish tortilla, along with pies, kolaches, and other pastries.
“The goal is to be a part of the community and to feed or serve our community in the best way that we know how, and I think that alone will impact the city in a positive way,” Nonas said. “This is about cooking great food for great people. Ultimately, the goal is that it’s the place that you want to be.”
“You want the hotel guests to feel like they’re in the crowd,” Nonas went on. Carpenters Hall, Carpenter Hotel, and Hot L Coffee are supposed to feel like “actual neighborhood joints” for both visitors and locals.
The hotel restaurant marks the Austin return of the chef, who left the city and restaurant Olamaie in 2016 to open Minneapolis’ Hewing Hotel’s Nordic restaurant Tullibee in 2016. He left that restaurant in 2017.
Managing the coffee shop, which will feature daytime-friendly food from Nonas and coffee from Merit, is Amanda Farris.
The space features terra cotta everywhere, from the balconies to the outdoor walls, as well as rusted metals, brick details, and muted colors. As a nod to its union hall roots, there’s a United Brother and Sisterhood banner inside of the restaurant. The dining space features a bar, bench seating, tables, and an open kitchen.
For the hotel, the group kept the original hall and most of the greenery, with the exception of two pecan trees, which had to be removed (the wood from those trees had to be used for the hotel, as directed by the Austin Environmental Commission. Take a tour of the space below.
The South Austin hotel took over what had been Austin Carpenters Local 1266 building. It’s being overseen by hospitality and management company Mighty Union, which includes Donald Kenney, Jack Barron (co-founding partner of the Ace Hotel Portland), and Jen Turner (Austin architect and designer). Also on board is food and beverage director Christina Skogly Knowlton, whose husband is Andrew Knowlton, now editor-at-large of food magazine Bon Appetit.