In preparation for my birthday today, to be celebrated with hot dogs and other “artisan sausages” at Frank in Austin and later at one of my lifelong faves, Kevin Williamson’s Ranch 616, I decided to go find me an “American tavern.” Happily, Austin has one – and it’s called Haddingtons, since in American, I guess, the apostrophe is invisible. Growing out of the “gastropub” movement in New York and London, Haddingtons is more American and therefore less precious. And we should always be grateful when that happens.
Though I spent most of my time at Haddingtons recording radio with owner Michael Polombo and executive chef James Corwell – when I wasn’t eating, that is – I did enjoy the near-constant shaker symphony of “craft cocktails.” I asked Michael what that phrase means to him, and he mostly said they’re “well-thought-out” or alternately, “had some thought given to them.” So in case you’re wondering, I guess the mixologist in the above photo is thinking. I was impressed he was making a Papa Doble – a double daiquiri in the style favored by Ernest Hemingway at the Floridita in Havana.
I don’t typically love sweetbreads – more of a texture issue than a taste issue, really. But I told Chef James that sometimes (though not often) they were prepared in such a way that I loved them rather than hated them. And what chef can resist that! I actually did enjoy his veal sweetbreads, given lots of helpful other textures by corn risotto, prosciutto and long strips of wild mushrooms.
I tasted several terrific (and since it was 100-plus outside, summery) dishes during the radio interview: chilled melon soup with fluke crudo (yes, that’s raw fish), pink pepper gelee, honey and chile; duck and foie gras meatballs (amazing taste and texture) atop white bean puree and an Italianate “mostarda” of sour cherries; and “broiled steak oysters” on the half-shell with roasted pepper butter, basil and, happily, bacon. But when the time came for a “real” entree,” I opted for Corwell’s amazing grilled hanger steak frites, outfitted with pleasantly bitter upland cress and buttermilk bleu cheese.
From now on in my life, in lieu of birthday cake or massive contributions to my favorite charity, just sent me Haddingtons’ (see, there… an apostrophe!) Peach Melba Shortcake. All parts of this thing are exquisite, but the “Florentine biscuits” take the, well, shortcake. Cake, cookie and biscuit come together in something that’s, at once, sweet, soft, crumbly and crisp. I have no clue how it gets to be that way; but with peaches, raspberry sauce, drizzles of lemon juice, whipped cream and powdered sugar, I know I can’t go around saying I don’t much like dessert anymore.