What Not to Miss in Austin
The co-owner of Salt & Time, Ben Runkle is Austin’s leading meat purveyor. What was born from Runkle’s passion for Old World charcuterie, turned into the city’s first whole carcass butcher shop and salumeria when a partnership with Bryan Butler developed in 2010. The pair are committed to sourcing animals directly from Texas ranchers, placing equal value on ethics and flavor. It’s the quality of the product and the capability to butcher custom cuts of meat that keeps customers—and world class chefs like Paul Qui—coming through the door. Now serving brunch, lunch and dinner with a menu featuring rotating butcher’s cuts, odd bits, cured meats, housemade pastas and burgers, a visit to Salt & Time is a must. Below, Runkle shares a few of his favorite things to do in Austin, from a dip in Barton Springs to an unforgettable taco crawl.
• • •
Credit: Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau
Barton Springs is probably on every list of “things to do in Austin,” but this is no cop out. Barton Springs is a true treasure, especially on a hot Texas day. Situated in Zilker Park with a view of downtown, this spring-fed swimming hole is half lake/half pool with natural vegetation and sandy bottom in parts, and swimming lanes and diving boards in others. The water is a constant 70 degrees year round and the grass covered hills on the east side of the pool are great for sunbathing and relaxing.
Jester King Brewery
Austin’s craft brewing scene is blowing up with new breweries opening seemingly everyday, but Jester King stands out from the crowd as a truly authentic farmhouse brewery. Situated on the edge of Austin heading towards the Texas Hill Country, Jester King makes remarkable beer in a remarkable setting. The brewery sits on close to 60 acres of pristine land. The beautiful views are complemented by Jester King’s outstanding beers, each unique while at the same time wonderfully representing the Hill Country terroir. In addition to their own beers, Jester King’s bottle shop and tap room features a world class selection of beer, cider and wine. Also on site is Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza, a wood oven pizza joint with even more beer on tap.
Credit: Pueblo Viejo on Facebook
Tacos are to Austin what pizza is to New York. Sure, barbecue gets a lot of well-deserved love and attention, but can you imagine waiting in line for hours for a slice, or not eating pizza after dark? Tacos are ubiquitous; you can find a good taco pretty much anytime anywhere, usually from a beat up looking trailer on the side of the road. While there are some great options for fancified tacos, I prefer to keep it simple. I get most of my tacos from trailers outside of my favorite watering holes. Primos Tacos outside of Once Over Coffee is my preferred stop to start the day. I generally go for the Migas tacos with spicy salsa, but you can’t go wrong with any of their breakfast tacos. Head inside Once Over while you are waiting for a great cup of coffee. For a happy hour refresher, head to Pueblo Viejo at the Grackle. I get the loaded Viejo Style tacos with steak, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, cheese and avocado and then head inside to order from the Grackle’s excellent draft beer list. If you find yourself at The White Horse (and you most likely will), the El Pastor Tacos from Bomb Tacos lay down an excellent foundation for a night of whiskey, Lonestar and two stepping.
The Harry Ransom Center
Credit: LBJ Library and Museum
The University of Texas campus can seem a world apart from the rest of Austin, but it is home to the city’s best museums, including the Blanton Museum of Art, The LBJ Library and Museum, and the Harry Ransom Center. The Ransom Center is incredible archive of cultural and literary history. While the entire archive is only available for research purposes, the rotating displays at the Museum showcase the incredible collection of photographs, prints and books. On permanent display are the Niepce’s “View from the Window at Les Gras” (the world’s first photograph), along with the Gutenberg Bible (the first book printed using moveable type). These artifacts would make Indiana Jones swoon, and yet here they are on display for the world to see.
Callahan’s General Store
Credit: Callahan’s on Facebook
Callahan’s is a reminder of Austin’s strong agricultural heritage. A true general store, Callahan’s stocks hardware and tools, clothing and boots, canning supplies, and a wide variety of agricultural supplies. They also have a wide range of made-in-Texas food products and a great selection of books. Outside they have chickens, guinea hens, goats, pigs and many other livestock available for sale. They also operate Capital Feed Mill, supplying conventional and organic feed to everyone from backyard chicken farmers to larger farming operations outside of town. Go on a Saturday, and there will likely be a petting zoo, live music and somebody grilling in the parking lot.
Ben Runkle is a former vegan who’s passion for fresh, flavorful and sustainable food drove him to reevaluate his dietary and career choices. Runkle began his career as a butcher’s apprentice at Marin Sun Farms Butcher Shop in Pt. Reyes Station, CA and was privileged to continue his education with David Budworth at Avedano’s Holly Park Market and Taylor Boetticher at the Fatted Calf. In 2009, he and his wife Natalie Davis moved to Austin, TX and started Salt & Time. Originally focused on producing Old World style salumi and charcuterie, Runkle partnered with Bryan Butler in 2010 to grow Salt & Time into Austin’s first whole carcass Butcher Shop, Salumeria and Restaurant. Runkle’s time in Texas has influenced his culinary point of view and he takes great pride in developing new products that highlight native flavors and ingredients.
Feature image of Salt & Time by Kate LeSeur.