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photo credit: Richard Casteel

Emmer & Rye review image
8.5

Emmer & Rye

$$$$

51 Rainey St, Austin
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It’s exciting to find something great in an unexpected location. Like when you find a $10 bill on a busy sidewalk, or when you find out that the fancy French dinner you just had was actually cooked by a small rat hiding under the chef’s hat the whole time. It’s similar to how we felt when we first ate at Emmer & Rye—a fantastic New American restaurant located on Rainey Street, at the bottom of a big apartment complex, right between a mini grocery store and a conga line of some of the busiest bars in Austin. Deploying an in-house fermentation program and freshly-ground heirloom grains across one of the most creative tasting menus in town, Emmer & Rye gives us plenty of reasons to keep braving Rainey Street.

The dining room is bright and airy, with wooden tables, French farm chairs, an open kitchen, and vases holding long stalks of grain that makes it all feel like the inside of a really nice World Market, but with real food instead of Cadbury snacks. And when the weather cooperates, there’s a big patio out front, where you can sit and watch folks drunkenly stumble around a busy roundabout. 

Emmer & Rye review image

There’s an a la carte menu where you can get things like their iconic cacio e pepe—with house-made spaghetti from blue beard durum wheat (we know a couple of those words)—or a dry aged beef tartare that’s every bit as funky as it is savory. But it’s the tasting menu where they really start to have fun, with plates like compressed trumpet mushrooms that take on an almost-meaty texture, or petit waffle crackers served with a jar of savory pâté with tart, fermented fruit jelly. And the best part is that the menu changes daily, so there’s always something new when you go back. 

Almost everything here has been fermented, aged, and probably sung to each night before bed. We’ve tried our hand at fermentation a handful of times, and we’ve ended up with everything from snappy, pickled cucumbers, to carrots that somehow managed to grow a Dumbledore-length beard. It’s fun to experiment, but sometimes it’s better to leave things to the experts. And when it’s done right it can completely transform both texture and flavor, breathing an entirely different life into familiar ingredients.

Emmer & Rye review image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

This level of care and focus extends to the rest of their menus, too. Instead of a draft wall with six flavors of boozy kombucha, you’ll find things like yaupon brine or strawberry amazake—a Japanese fermented rice drink—making their way onto the cocktail menu. And desserts like “chocolate chips” (with the shape and texture of potato chips) over fermented pecan butter and pickled strawberry are a wonderfully-balanced savory, salty, and sweet finish to the meal. 

Ask anyone who’s ventured out to Rainey Street on a Friday night how their evening went, and you’ll probably hear some combination of the words “wild,” “packed,” and “shit-show.” But if they also came from dinner at Emmer & Rye, you might hear “delicious,” “unique,” and probably something about their new favorite pasta in town. 

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Food Rundown

Emmer & Rye review image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Cacio E Pepe

This is one of the only dishes that has remained on the menu since they first opened their doors in late 2015. The house-made spaghetti has some excellent texture, and gets perfectly coated with black pepper, and an aged and brined Swiss cheese that adds an almost tangy creaminess to it all. It’s an example of how sometimes just a few, high quality ingredients can completely transform an otherwise familiar dish.

Emmer & Rye review image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Beef Tartare

We’ve had a few versions of their beef tartare, since it changes pretty regularly, but our most recent visit was one of our favorites. The beef is dry aged—giving it a bit of a funky, earthy flavor and a dense texture—and it all gets topped with a charcoal cured egg yolk and beef tallow, which just further enhances the savoriness of it all. This is one of our favorite beef tartares in town.

Emmer & Rye review image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Tasting Menu

The tasting menu is where you really get to try all that Emmer & Rye is about. The menu changes almost daily—so don’t get too attached to any dish you try—but is usually made up of about a dozen small plates, bites, and sips designed to guide you through their whole thought process. We’ve had oysters, vegan ramen shooters, tartares, and halloumi ice creams. The best part about it changing up so often is you can go back often and keep getting new and exciting experiences.

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