Karen’s Pick: Parkside
Chef Shawn Cirkiel’s signature restaurant celebrates 10 years on Sixth Street
by Karen Spezia
Photographs by Leah Muse
Talk about your crazy ideas. Ten years ago, chef Shawn Cirkiel dared to open an upscale restaurant on Dirty Sixth, wedged among the shot bars, nightclubs, tattoo parlors, and hot dog carts. Skeptics scoffed, saying that mature diners would never travel to the core of Austin’s rowdiest party scene. But they did. And a decade later, Parkside is still going strong.
Cirkiel’s chutzpah is even more remarkable considering that in 2008 Austin was a very different city. There were fewer reasons for people to venture — or live — downtown. Sleek high-rises like the Austonian, 360 Condos, JW Marriott, Westin, and W Hotel didn’t exist. Rainey Street was a quiet residential road, and Second Street was full of vacancies. ACL Live at The Moody Theater had yet to break ground.
What a difference a decade makes. Oh sure, Dirty Sixth is still cheesy, but its fringes have grown up nicely. And through it all, Parkside has remained relevant, beating the odds to become a Sixth Street mainstay. Obviously, it’s doing something right.
Housed in a two-story landmark building, the eatery oozes charm and personality, with exposed brick walls, pressed-tin ceilings, vintage lighting, leather booths, and a stainless-steel bar. While dining in the 140-year-old structure feels as though you’ve stepped back in time, the food and drinks are thoroughly modern. Downstairs, the bar offers sophisticated gastropub fare and the dining room features an American farm-to-table menu. Upstairs, there’s an outdoor terrace overlooking bustling Sixth Street and a space for private events.
Open only in the evenings, Parkside hosts a wildly popular happy hour. And for good reason. The bar is where it’s at. Not only does it have a great vibe and service, it has some great deals. On weeknights from 5 to 6:30 p.m., bar food, beer, and cocktails are half-off. That included my artfully crafted Grey Goose martini served in high-quality stemware. Bar food ranges from tasty nibbles like crispy calamari and classic ceviche to heartier fare like steak and fries and a terrific cheeseburger. Known for its raw bar, Parkside’s generous oyster platter is also discounted. And on Wednesdays, oysters and champagne are half-off all night long.
If a full meal is what you’re after, step into the adjacent dining room. For starters, there are bistro classics like roasted marrowbones, steak tartare, and a charcuterie board. Don’t miss the homemade pappardelle, tender ribbons of pasta tossed with salumi butter and crunchy cauliflower bits, then brightened with Meyer lemon zest.
It paired beautifully with a glass of white Italian Pecorino wine. For entrées, there are meat and seafood options like scallops with mushrooms, roasted chicken, and a pork flat iron steak. And desserts like a Pear Oat Tartin and Chocolate Graham Tart will satisfy a sweet tooth.
Named after the Bronx public housing project where his father was raised, Parkside was the first in Cirkiel’s burgeoning restaurant empire. His Parkside Projects company now includes Backspace, Olive & June, Bullfight, Jugo, and the 800 Congress event space. Following Parkside’s lead in 2008, more upscale options have moved into the area, including craft-cocktail bars like Midnight Cowboy and Small Victory and creative restaurants like Easy Tiger and Russian House. Was Cirkiel crazy — or a visionary? Regardless, he’s getting the last laugh. Congrats on 10 tasty years!