Americans love goofy diets, and Paleo is no exception. Based on the hypothesis that we should eat what our pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer ancestors ate 10,000 to 2.5 million years ago, the Paleo diet cuts out grains, dairy, legumes, and all processed foods. Paleo, the thinking goes, is the diet evolution designed for our bodies (although, somewhat disappointingly, the paleoheads left out cannibalism: “Would you like a side of Jim with that?”). Although faddish and somewhat incorrect (there’s evidence of grain consumption [including beer!] as far back as 30,000 years ago as well as an evolutionary adaptation to dairy and grains since the Paleolithic for the northern tribes), any diet that cuts out Twinkies is, at its heart, probably a good one.
Started in a shipping container in South Austin in 2013 by Naomi Seifter, Picnik quickly became the torch-bearer for Paleo in Austin, especially for grass-fed butter coffee. In 2016, Naomi expanded to brick and mortar in the former Fork & Taco space on Burnet Road. Located in a new cave, Picnik expanded its menu from breakfast and lunch to include dinner. Picnik has a standard menu (free of gluten, corn, peanut, and soy) and, if requested, a special diet menu (free of maple, honey, grains, dairy, soy, legumes, corn, and peanuts; includes dishes that are nightshade-free and nut-free).
Everything I’ve ordered at Picnik has been excellent and expertly prepared. Their take on avocado toast (fermented sourdough, mashed avocado, hemp seed, radish, chile flakes, and micro-greens; $10.25 with poached egg [+$1.50] and chopped bacon [+$1.50]) provoked a Chewbacca-like caveman roar of appreciation (my sincerest apologies to nearby diners). As a spiritual carryover from Fork & Taco, the tacos are a bit on the expensive side, but quite delicious and filling. We’ve enjoyed the Meatlovers (pastured pork chorizo, grass-fed beef breakfast sausage, sugar-free bacon, eggs, and chipotle aioli; $7.50) as well as the fish tacos (cassava flour tortillas, crispy black drum, orange-sesame slaw, cilantro, pickled onion, lime, and chipotle aioli; $14.25). And Picnik deserves bonus points for the all-day breakfast menu that includes pancakes, french toast, and various egg dishes.
We had to try Picnik’s famous butter coffee via a cappuccino which included coffee, butter, MCT (medium chain triglyceride) coconut oil, and whey protein (~$6). The drink comes with a side of what I (a scientist) and the bride (an engineer) call The Woo which you can enhance with Moon Dust (including options for brain, beauty, power, spirit, dream, and [ahem] sex for $1 each). Picnik offers cocktails, wines, and, as you might expect, gluten-free beer. If the mixed drinks are as good as the Berry Basil Booch (blackberry, basil, ginger, local raw honey, lime, and botanical kombucha; $6) I slurped for lunch, sign me up!
Picnik expertly employs non-standard ingredients in a way that not only doppelgangers traditional choices but exceeds them. The tortillas, sourced from the local Siete Family, are a great example: Made from cassava flour, they are delicious but also wickedly tenacious, avoiding the dreaded “taco blowout syndrome” that is sadly rampant in Austin establishments. The limitations created by Paleo and other real and imagined dietary restrictions induce inventive mash-ups and mixtures, something this jaded food reviewer genuinely appreciates. And the food not only seems healthy; in most cases, it is.
Although I’ve made slight (but factual) fun of Paleo and The Woo, Picnik is an excellent restaurant and is now one of our neighborhood faves. Food fads come and go, but it’s always time for a Picnik!
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]