Sometimes a restaurant is a scene; sometimes a restaurant is a dish; and sometimes a restaurant is a revelation. Intero is a revelation.
After picking up a piece of street art by Dave Lowell at Ao5 (a stencil on a thick ‘canvas’ of paint peeled from Castle Hill), we arrived at Intero right at opening at 4:30 pm on a recent Saturday and sat at the bar. Located on east Cesar Chavez in what used to be a motorcycle shop, the space is Byzantine but comfortable with a dark, sophisticated, cavey vibe. A muffler monster from the previous bike shop greeted us at the entrance.
Our first revelation was the happy hour, a jaw-dropping value for such high-quality food. Appetizers are about half off and two dollars are sliced off the beer, mixed drinks, and wine by the glass (wine is half off on Tuesdays). The bride noted that many chef’d-up places in town have great happy hours these days, something we need to partake of more (we go early anyway to avoid reservations and access natural light for phood photography). Happy hour at Intero is all week 4:30 to 6:30 (except Mondays when the place is closed) with a late-night bonus on Friday and Saturday nights from 10pm to midnight.
For drinks, I imbibed a Have Mercy (tequila, spiced pear, ancho reyes, and lemon; $12, $10hh) and she slurped a Black and Yellow (saigon rose infused gin, strega, lavender, black peppercorn, lemon; $11, $9hh). Both were quite good: inventive but smooth. The cocktail menu changes week-to-week, so I hope the Leather Jacket (mezcal, alta verde, lazzaroni fernet, orange, charred corn husk tincture; $12, $10hh) is still there when we return.
Intero is Italian for entire, which captures the vision of the owners. In the Old World, nothing is wasted; therefore, everything at Intero has a place on the menu. As my friend Bill from Texas SommeY-all says about pigs: “From the rooter to the tooter!” Along those lines, parts of the menu have parts that are challenging which requires consideration and negotiation depending on your company. We consider that a good thing. Which brings us to the second revelation: Italian doesn’t have to be dominated by tomatoes.
Yeah, yeah: we know that tomatoes are not required in Italian cuisine (linguini and alfredo, anyone?), but we had no idea that the ‘materless-menu could be so deep and delicious. The tomato tyranny is what generally keeps me away from Italian restaurants. I love tomatoes, but we can whip up delicious dishes ourselves at home to scratch that fruit-of-the-nightshade itch. When we go out, we want what we can’t do, won’t do, or haven’t done before. Intero supplies all three.
For aperitivos, we started with the whipped cannellini beans (with giardiniera, reggiano crackers, and texas olive oil; $6, $3hh), a crazily ample dish for three freakin’ bucks, and the coal roasted acorn squash (with burnt onion, beef fat hollandaise, and sage; $10, $5hh). The whipped cannellinis were a great compliment to the drinks, and the beef fat hollandaise with the squash was impossibly delicious (I wonder what the carbon footprint is for that coal?). After a bit of bites, we ordered the parker house roll (with wagyu beef polpette, dijon aioli, and house pickles; $5, $3hh). We learned that polpette is a meatball, and it was stealthily fabulous (it appears as a roll with a huge meatball inside), a steal for $5 but at $3 had us looking over our shoulders for the cops.
From the main menu, not subject to happy hour pricing, the pappardelle (with pork tongue ragu, turnip, and hazelnut gremolata; $17) called to us. Eatin’ rooter is a wee reach for us, but it was fabulously balanced with the other ingredients in the dish. For dessert, we chose the sourdough focaccia (with house-made ricotta, wildflower honey, and garden thyme; $6, $3hh) from the apertivo menu. It’s not technically dessert, but fit the bill as light with some honey sweetness. That leads us to our final revelation: amari.
Amari, where have you been? Amari is the plural of amaro, which is an Italian herbal liquor commonly used as a digestif. We’ve all heard of amari (for example, amaretto), but we had no clue about the depth and breadth of amari available, with Intero hosting more than 50 varieties. As the bartender and the co-owner ambled us through the menu, we were overwhelmed: we wanted to try them all! As a compromise (and needing to drive home), we shared a flight (three tastings for $12 + an extra added by the co-owner). So, so good. We’re embarrassed we never knew about these bottles of beauty, so we deeply appreciated the education.
Intero was conjured by the native-Austinites and married couple Ian Thurwachter (chef) and Krystal Craig (chocolatier) along with McVay Bennett. Ian has worked at Jeffrey’s and Vespaio, and McVay has helped to reopen Jeffrey’s. The team has really put together an amazing and, for us, transcendental place, completely changing our perception of Italian food and drink. That is a revelation.
about our scale:
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll be back]
**** holy sh!t [transcendental]
each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical entree and appetizer (no drinks)
whipped cannellini beans
coal roasted acorn squash
parker house roll
inside the parker house roll