Book revisits Austin’s favorite food landmarks, heritage

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Gabriella Belzer

Melanie Haupt covers 50 restaurants that are iconic to the history of Austin in her book “Historic Austin Restaurants: Capital Cuisine Through The Generations”. 

Scholz Garten may be the oldest restaurant in Austin, nicknamed the “grandfather of Austin restaurants,” but Scholz’s history is also deeply intertwined with a singing society formed in 1897. Before Threadgill’s chicken fried steak became comfort food and before Threadgill’s found its way into Austin’s music scene, Threadgill’s was a hotbed of countercultural influences in the 1960s.

Melanie Haupt’s new book “Historic Austin Restaurants: Capital Cuisine Through The Generations” traverses the heritage of approximately 50 Austin restaurants including Scholz Garten, Kerbey Lane Cafe, The Driskill and Contigo Austin, through five chapters and a historic narrative beginning in the 1830s. 

Haupt said the book is not an encyclopedia but is instead a cultural studies approach to describing the Austin restaurant scene.

Contigo Austin, co-owned by Ben Edgerton and Andrew Wiseheart, is one of the restaurants featured in Haupt’s book.

“It was my effort to recreate the atmosphere and the experience that I enjoyed, growing up on the ranch, making it available to people in East Austin,” Edgerton said.

The book mentions Austin’s food scene in the context of the cotton trade and the effects of the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression. The Tavern’s history is steeped in legends from the Prohibition era and secrets from the 1900s that one may not be able to fathom from the restaurant’s famous bacon-and-jalapeno-wrapped chicken wings.

“The book is the cultural history of Austin told through its restaurants,” Haupt said. 

Some of Haupt’s own observations as a food writer helped her create this tribute to Austin’s iconic restaurants. Her research and interviews with local chefs and restaurant owners helped her uncover the historic importance of each restaurant.

“If you trace food way through the culture, through a geographical location, you can get sort of a snapshot of what’s going on in the culture at that time. You can trace cultural flows based on what you see on menus,” Haupt said.