Hive Mentality

Heading out of Austin on Highway 71, the road curves through Lakeway, then winds along Lake Travis—climbing deep into Texas Hill Country terrain. And just as the strip malls and supermarkets yield to tractor repair shops and barbecue joints in Spicewood, you’ll see a welcoming, honey-colored stucco-and-stone building wrapped in porches and surrounded by meadows and beehives. Welcome to Apis Restaurant and Apiary.

The combined vision of owner and Chef Taylor Hall and Chef Adam Brick, Apis opened in February of 2015 as a surprising addition to the Spicewood dining scene, which typically leans more toward burgers and pit-smoked meats. For the past few years, Hall had been catering in the area, and mulling over ideas for an innovative restaurant concept. Brick, a hometown boy, had recently come back to Austin after a seven-year stint in New York City, where—after graduating from the CIA in Hyde Park, New York—he’d spent several years in the star-studded kitchens of Daniel, Aureole, Momofuku Ssäm Bar and One if by Land, Two if by Sea.

The city had begun to wear him down, though, and he realized he wanted to return to Texas where he could hunt, have a boat and do the things many guys in Texas do to unwind. When Hall and his wife Casie started putting the word out that they were looking for a chef to join the founding team for their new project, friends made the connection and introduced them to Brick.

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By the time he met Brick, Hall had already invested time and energy looking for just the right property, as well as developing his own unique culinary style. Along the way, he read an article about the plight of bees and colony collapse disorder, which prompted concern and interest in understanding the importance of bees to our food system. Hall signed up for a beekeeping class with Round Rock Honey and fell in love with our pollinator friends. Starting his own bee colony was the next logical step. 

Once he had his own hives installed at the site that would eventually become Apis, Hall began to see the similarities between a community of bees and a restaurant. “I’d be out there checking on the bees, and it just occurred to me that there’s not a lot of difference between a beehive and a well-run restaurant,” he says. Both are seasonal, everyone has a vital role in an intricate process and everyone inside is part of a bigger, highly structured system. “Once I decided on the [restaurant’s] theme, we started having lots of fun with design elements and the menu,” Hall says, as he points out the honeycomb-shaped interior light fixtures in the restaurant and the wood inlay on the tabletops. 

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“We want our menu to be inspired by bees and inflected with the flavors of the hive, but we aren’t heavy-handed with it,” Brick adds. The kitchen uses the yield from the restaurant’s 20 hives to make bee-pollen miso, vinegar brewed from spent honeycomb and a floral, honey-sweetened vinaigrette. They also use the honey to accent one dessert and one cocktail, nightly.

But the kitchen team also takes full advantage of other local outdoor delights. They make and age their own Texas wild-boar salumi, for example—including soppressata, salame Felino and ’nduja, and cured meats such as prosciutto, guanciale, pancetta and coppa. And they make a variety of miso pastes (sunflower, cashew, black garlic, smoked pecan), vinegars (citron, strawberry, barley) and bitters (elderflower, peach blossom, blood orange, Meyer lemon, rose hip, Sichuan pepper, roasted chili). 

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Brick and Hall are also invested in building relationships with other vendors and services in their community. For example, Apis offers its kitchen scraps to feed the chickens at Liberty Farmhouse near Round Mountain, Texas, and in return, gets a deal on fresh meat and eggs. The result of this cross-pollination shows up in softly scrambled eggs with corn butter, popcorn and Parmesan foam, served in an Ameraucauna hen’s beautiful blue-green eggshell, and foie-stuffed chicken with apple butter, buckwheat crepe and chicken-skin granola. And the chef duo works with budding gardeners at Austin Montessori’s nearby middle school. The children consult with the chefs to create a garden plan, then grow produce and sell it to Apis through a program that teaches entrepreneurial skills. Past crops have included green coriander berries, edible flowers and heirloom vegetables.

Spring 2016 will see the opening of Pizzeria Sorellina, a new restaurant on the Apis property that will feature a wood-burning oven. The pizza team will be milling their own flour daily from locally grown grains, stretching their own mozzarella and crafting dough with a 10-year-old sourdough starter Hall and Brick have been nurturing. Of course, the pizzas will be crowned with Apis’ handmade delicacies, such as that wild-boar salumi, and will be served alongside small seasonal salads and other snacks from the wood-burning oven.

With the level of culinary innovation and diversity on display at Apis, it’s no wonder that diners from San Antonio to Austin—and points in-between—are buzzing.

 

To find out more, visit apisrestaurant.com or call 512-436-8918.