Originally published in Austin Monthly, January 2015
How long does it take to become an overnight sensation? If you’re talking about Dai Due Butcher Shop & Supper Club, it’d be about eight years. Started in 2006 as a peripatetic supper club by founders Chef Jesse Griffiths and his wife, Tamara Mayfield, Dai Due was a hot, if slightly underground, ticket. Its presence on the Austin scene increased as Griffiths and Mayfield began offering their fresh meats at area farmers’ markets, eventually earning a feverishly loyal following among folks who valued the outfit’s underlying ethos: hyperlocal ingredients, consciously sourced and prepared with care. And it didn’t hurt that the food was darn good, too. We imagine that the restaurant’s permanent location on Manor Road is a dream come true for its owners and followers.
The name (pronounced die DOO-ay) comes from the Italian saying translated as, “From the two kingdoms of nature, choose food with care.” And care is key here. It’s apparent in the execution of every dish and drink and present in the service. Yet there’s no hint of the preciousness often apparent in such mission-driven ventures. The restaurant’s founders and staff are passionate without being preachy. Their practical and respectful whole-animal approach naturally eschews such frippery. It’s even evident in their decor: The intimate space is clean and austere without being cold, yet warm without being “rustic.” Even the size of the space is modest, with just a 50-seat capacity.
Nearly every ingredient is grown, reared and produced in Central Texas (and, if not, as nearby as feasible). From the meat to the olive oil to the herbs, everything is deliberately sourced from purveyors with similar sustainable philosophies. As many ingredients as possible, down to the vinegar, are certified organic.
And nothing is wasted. Any bounty that isn’t cooked immediately is pickled, preserved, dried or candied. These hoardings make their way onto the menu to augment the fresh ingredients, from the pickled watermelon rinds that accompany the beef rib to the blackberry preserves—made and canned by the bartender himself—which serve as the base for a blackberry-rose cocktail. You can see jars upon jars of pickled strawberries and peaches and green and black walnuts on display behind the bar on shelves stretching nearly to the ceiling.
Such care produces glorious results. On my visit in late October, my dining companion and I waffled between ordering a la carte or choosing the signature supper club menu, a moderately priced multicourse meal hearkening back to its early days, usually consisting of an appetizer, grilled meat, seasonal vegetables, dessert and a café de olla (Mexican spiced coffee) or a housemade tisane.
We ultimately went a la carte because there was too much we wanted to try there, starting with the queso flameado with chorizo verde, green chiles and handmade tortillas. It was a choice motivated by the chorizo verde, an ephemeral delicacy that Dai Due produces only twice a year when cilantro and poblano harvests overlap (if they overlap). It’s easy to see why folks withstood long farmers’ market queues to get some: The herby, slightly spicy and savory sausage punctuated the bubbling cheese, offsetting what might otherwise be a too-rich one-note bite, albeit a delicious one, especially when folded into toasty handmade tortillas redolent with the taste of fresh corn.
It turns out that our accompanying choice of appetizer was a wise one. The tomato salad with machacado, queso Oaxaca, chiles, cilantro and lime juice was bursting with fresh, bright flavors, its peppery astringency a welcome lift to the heaviness of the previous dish. It was such a simple salad, but it delivered complex, layered flavor. In fact, it was one of our favorites of the night. We also tried the mesquite sourdough with black walnut whipped lard. Word is, the starter came from grapes foraged in a lot just across Manor Road, and while the texture wasn’t as chewy as standard sourdough, the bread has that signature tang which was lovely paired with the nutty flavor of mesquite. And, sure, they could have served it with locally made butter, but whipped lard is more in keeping with their nose-to-tail approach. The addition of toasted black walnuts gave it a warm, almost spicy flavor reminiscent of cinnamon.
For our main courses, we ordered the pork confit, meltingly tender shredded meat that had been stewed in its own fat, then pressed and crisped on the outside, which, along with the sliced apples, persimmons and jalapeños dressed in a honey-pinto sauce, presented a lovely textural contrast with just enough zing from the lime juice. But it was the beef rib with kimchi and pickled watermelon rind that was the real standout. Our server warned us that it was large, but we weren’t prepared for its size. Remember The Flintstones closing credits? Fred orders Bronto Ribs so big that they tip the car. Like that.
The large, curving bone and massive amount of meat seems comical, but it makes sense for a restaurant that so reveres its ingredients. You’re eating beef, from a cow. Why shouldn’t your dish resemble it? The rib meat was buttery-tender, and the accompanying tart and savory kimchi made for an excellent counterpoint not just for the flavor contrast, but for the digestive balm fermented veggies offer a belly full of beef.
We ended the meal with a warm green tomato and persimmon cobbler, which was just sweet enough, with a lovely crumbly and creamy texture. The real treat was the accompanying sweet milk ice cream, made from the ultra-low-pasteurized, non-homogenized Mill-King milk produced in McGregor. As fruit becomes scarce in the fall, the restaurant uses vegetables in desserts. I was truly disappointed to miss a corn brulee served the week prior. But in a way, missing that brulee is kind of the point. True seasonal produce is fleeting. Though some dishes appear for as long as a couple weeks or more, all menus are as fresh as the day’s ingredients, changing based on the available haul.
Our meal at Dai Due was superb, but perhaps even more impressive was the overwhelming simplicity of the approach, with all the sophistication that implies. They don’t use more than they need, but make full use of what they do. If the menu is any indication, all the ingredients for excellence are right in front of them.