Spicewood’s Apis Restaurant & Apiary is redefining what it means to eat locally
by Laurel Miller
It’s a warm early-spring day, and the bees at Apis Restaurant & Apiary are so active they resemble a cloud. This time of year, they’re gathering pollen from wild mustard and gaillardia, or blanket flowers, which will become a nuanced, floral honey that’s highlighted on chef-owner Taylor Hall’s acclaimed Hill Country menu.
Hall and his wife, Casie, opened Apis in Spicewood in early 2015 with an almost singular goal: to call attention to the plight of honeybees. Says Taylor, “I’d heard of colony collapse disorder, but I didn’t realize how much it affects our food supply.” CCD, first documented in 2006, is the global decline in the bee population that has variously been attributed to loss of habitat, pesticide and herbicide use, climate change and pathogens. The National Resources Defense Council estimates that “bees and other pollinators like birds, bats, beetles and butterflies are responsible for cross-pollinating at 35-percent of the world’s crops.” Honeybees play a critical role in agriculture — including livestock fodder and soil-building crops — and the genetic diversity of plant species. “When I realized the threat that honeybees are under, I wondered what I could do from the chef perspective,” says Taylor. The answer turned out to be opening a restaurant and apiary on 6 acres on the Pedernales River.
Taylor grew up on a North Texas cattle ranch; his interest in food was fostered at an early age by his mother and grandmother, who were accomplished cooks. After college, he attended the California Culinary Academy and worked at Brennan’s in New Orleans, as well as in some of the top kitchens in San Francisco, which sparked his interest in sustainable agriculture.
Casie and Taylor purchased the Apis property in 2009 and began designing their dream restaurant. In early 2011, Taylor took a beekeeping course at Round Rock Honey and read as much as he could about being an apiarist before installing a few hives at his home in Spicewood. The raison d’être for his business emerged. “The seasonality of honey makes it a great restaurant concept — we’re on their schedule,” he says.
In 2014, he installed 20 Langstroth hives (which use easy-to-remove, vertically hung frames that are less disruptive to the bees) at Apis, sourcing Carniolan- and- Buckfast hybrid bees from Navasota’s BeeWeaver Honey Farm. Bred for mite resistance, these hardy insects are also known for their docile nature. While Hall helps with hive management, beekeeper Karina Mackow oversees the apiary and harvests honey two to three times a year (early spring, early fall and sometimes, winter). Currently, Apis has nine hives, including one at Jack Ranch and two at nearby TerraPurezza, a regenerative agriculture institute and Apis’s partner farm, supplying pastured heritage pork; organic, pastured chicken and eggs; and fruit and specialty vegetable crops. TerraPurezza was founded on 5 acres in 2015 by farmers Tina and Orion Weldon (Mackow is Tina’s sister). Today, the couple manages three campuses throughout the Hill Country, including an 8-acre parcel across the river from Apis, owned by Taylor’s parents.
Apis also sources produce from two other local farms: Livin’ Organics and Food Forest; the region’s family farms proved so inspirational, Hall, the Weldons and Mackow launched a Sunday farmers market at the restaurant in 2015. Explains Taylor, “When we moved here, we hoped for this type of community, but it was all unforeseen. It came about because we’re like-minded people, all working toward a goal of sustainability. There’s a lot of passion there.”
While honey is obviously crucial to the menu, appearing in everything from cocktails to desserts, it’s used judiciously. Says Taylor, “We want balance. Not everything can be sweet, and the flavor profiles differ with each harvest.” He also uses honeycomb on cheese plates and pollen in various applications. “It’s very high in protein, and we primarily use it to make a miso that’s become the base for our sourdough in place of yeast.”
That bread, made with heritage grain flour sourced from Barton Springs Mill, is heavenly, especially with housemade n’duja, a spreadable Calabrian pork salami. Aged duck comes with green farro, watercress purée and wild Chickasaw plum sauce (a charming side note: the fruit is picked by Hall’s father). A dense, chewy mesquite-maple doughnut accompanied by coffee ice cream provides an earthy, satisfying finale.
While Taylor’s parents are involved with Apis, the relationships generated by the restaurant run deeper than the merely transactional. There’s very little turnover with the staff (“We’ve become a family”), but more important, Apis has unwittingly become much more than a destination eatery. By dining here, you’re supporting the foodshed, the town, the regional farming economy. Like its namesake insects, Apis is a hive, a bustling community that yields a delicious, indisputably local result.