At Patrizi’s, eating is an interactive experience.
Words by Jessica Devenyns Photos by Thamica McCook
With a consistent ranking as one of the best Italian restaurants in the city, Patrizi’s is conscious of the reputation it must uphold. Nevertheless, first visits to this neighborhood haunt can be divisive. Why would one painstakingly plate fine dining fare onto paper plates served out of a mobile kitchen?
One hundred and ninety seats sit exposed to the Austin’s capricious weather as food drifts in and out from a tiny kitchen inside of an unassuming food truck. Yet despite the near certainty a steaming plate of pasta under Austin’s eternal sunshine, a line meanders out the gate into the parking lot as hosts glide around offering an amuse bouche to the waiting customers who occasionally drift over to the Butterfly Bar to alleviate their weary feet and order a drink. Over everything looms the Vortex theater that started it all.
Thanks to a TD301 theater class he took at the University of Texas, Patrizi’s owner, Nic Patrizi, knew, despite its lack of conventional curb appeal, the courtyard of the Vortex was precisely the place to serve up the meals and the experiences that he, himself, wanted to have in East Austin. “This felt like the last bastion of Austin weirdness place,” he explains.
Being surrounded by a mecca of creativity has inspired Patrizi to throw conventional American-Italian cuisine to the wind in favor of a richer, slower, more hands-on preparation that is reminiscent of the Italy his grandparents knew. “I wanted this place to be a local spot and turn into an Austin staple. And you can’t really do that playing the creative game or the trend game,” Patrizi says. As a result, “We do more work on our food than most of the Italian restaurants in Austin – I mean in terms of scratch preparation – by a lot.” However, despite the hours required in the kitchen to manually prepare each dish, the price is pleasantly palatable.
Surprisingly, simmering sauces for hours, cure-smoking their own bacon, and pulling pasta through brass dyes for the sake of a ribbed texture help this neighborhood favorite shave off costs. The resulting savings are then fed back through the pasta machine by allowing the team to purchase produce and meats from Texas farms to create dishes that are unsurpassed in color and flavor.
But why put so much effort into a dish that most people would simply call spaghetti and meatballs? “Well,” says head chef Patrick Shaw, “it’s because it’s important to know what is on your plate and be excited about it.” Patrizi adds, “We want them engaged and excited first, not just inundate them with adjectives.” He continued his thought saying, “I think it helps, in general, when people are more active in their meal. They appreciate it more.”
Indeed, customers do appreciate Patrizi’s approach to fine dining. Not only is each meal painstakingly prepared, but it is carefully set atop a neutral-colored, compostable plate leaving customers feeling confident that stewardship and care of the environment is at the core of everything Patrizi’s offers.
In fact, this appreciation of a delicious meal is exactly what has been created in this gravel courtyard on the corner of Manor Road and Chestnut Avenue. “We want people to sit down for three hours, drink a whole bunch, yell, talk with their hands. We want people to have a meal and not just food.”
Did You Know? At Patrizi’s the ricotta, bacon, pickles, and noodles are all made in house. In fact, Shaw says, “We make almost everything except for our Grana Padano.”