Before there was Central Market, there was Farm to Market on Austin Highway, a pioneering specialty store that started with high-quality produce in October of ’83. Debra Auden did her first bread there with owner Phil Dyer, and when chef Cathy Tarosovic arrived in 1990 the bakery and deli/takeout operation blossomed. Dyer sold FTM and Silo, already operating upstairs, in November of ‘98, but “before the end, the suits from H-E-B were always there, just walking around checking us out. We knew what they were up to,” says Tarosovic. The new owners continued to operate the market until spring of 2000, at which time the space became a bar and events facility.
“The Food Museum,” as one friend calls it, opened in February of 1999, and immediately changed the face of fine food shopping in San Antonio. The cheese department alone was, and remains, a revelation. (There were initial complaints in the ’09 ’hood about limited hours and even more limited staples, but they got over it.)
Now called Culinaria, this pioneering event, designed to shine a spotlight on regional cuisine and serve as a springboard to better understanding the foods and wines of Mexico and all of Latin America, debuted in November of 2000 and has continued to grow and to attract national and international attention.
With a couple of exceptions, the last 25 years has been notable as much for closings of French restaurants in San Antonio as for openings. For 58 years, the reigning doyenne of Gallic cuisine, La Louisiane, held forth on Broadway, only closing her doors in 1988. Chez Ardid, which debuted in 1977, held on until the new millennium; L’Etoile opened in ’85 and lasted more than 20 years. Andrew Weissman’s Le Rêve ginned up in ’97 and closed in 2009 — though Sandbar and Il Sogno are still going strong. Of them all, only Damien Watel’s Bistro Vatel (opening in 1999) is the only major survivor — though Watel admits he would let it go under the right circumstances. Does this mean Italian wins?
The icon with a list to the left opened on Josephine Street in 1984, a scant couple of years before the birth of the Current, and, under the culinary guidance of the late Drew Allen, it redefined casual, regional cooking. It moved to a Southtown convent in May of 2010, though there’s a sense that while the spirit may be willing, the flesh has weakened.
San Antonio has been a brewing behemoth since the mid 1800s, but with the departure of the big boys (Pearl vacated its vats in January of 2001) it’s just catching up in the artisanal arena. Frio Brewing and Yellow Rose both started operations in 1994 and lasted until ’99 and 2000 respectively. Joey Villarreal inaugurated Blue Star Brewing in 1996, Freetail began producing in 2008, and the newcomer, Ranger Creek, only dates from December 2010 (but they’re also ushering in a new age of whiskey distilling in the Alamo City), and all are going strong.
St. Philip’s was already running a restaurant management program in 1970, it established a food service management curriculum in 1982, and added a chef’s apprentice program in 1982. But in 1990, Tourism, Hospitality and Culinary Arts became a separate department with a much-expanded chef-training program, thus predating the CIA — as much as we love it — by 20 years.
In 1986, just in time to celebrate the Current’s birth, the Bell Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area) was established, near Fredericksburg, as the first such in the state. Wineries such as Bell Mountain and Grape Creek predate the designation; Sisterdale Vineyards dates from 1988; and in 1992 Becker Vineyards near Stonewall began operations, setting a new standard for (nearby) Texas wines already held high by producers such as Fall Creek and Llano Estacado.
After some struggling under previous owners, Rosario’s was taken over by Lisa Wong in 1992, and it took off not only as a bastion of creative Mexican and Tex-Mex, but served as a kind of catalyst for Southtown development as well. Just down the street, The Friendly Spot (2010) is using food and drink to keep the (lower case) urban renewal flame alive.
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