Tillie’s Takes Diners on a Global Adventure
A beautiful fusion of flavor creates an exotic destination in Dripping Springs
By Karen O. Spezia
Photographs by Holly Cowart
I clocked just 25 miles from my doorstep to my table at Tillie’s, but it felt much farther. Not because the drive was arduous—it wasn’t—but because I was transported, as if I’d been whisked from my Austin bubble to Italy or India or Vietnam or any of the other far-off lands that influence this enchanting restaurant in Dripping Springs.
Located on the eastern edge of the Hill Country and less than an hour’s drive from downtown Austin, Tillie’s is a nearby exotic destination thanks to its truly global concept. Part of the Camp Lucy resort, the restaurant is owned by world travelers and antiques collectors Whit and Kim Hanks, who decorated the dazzling space with treasures from their international journeys. Chef Andy Knudson has also been influenced by a variety of cultures and has cooked in marquee kitchens like Restaurant Daniel in New York City; the Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado; and Restaurant Guy Savoy in Las Vegas.
When you step inside Tillie’s, it takes your breath away. Housed in an ancient Vietnamese town hall that was shipped in pieces and reassembled, the restaurant is a cacophony of international objets d’art: colorful tiles, intricately carved beams, glittering chandeliers, wooden statues tucked in alcoves, velvet and leather banquettes, and a sleek marble bar. The only cohesive theme is beauty, and it’s one of the prettiest designs I’ve seen in a restaurant. For outdoor dining, a stylish patio overlooks a tranquil pool illuminated by glowing torchères and framed by Hill Country vistas.
But all this splendor shouldn’t distract from the real reason you’re there: to eat. And Chef Knudson will capture your attention. He’s worked with notable chefs like Daniel Boulud, Bobby Flay and Marc Forgione but returned to his home state of Texas to join Tillie’s in early 2021. Already, he’s drawing quite a crowd. In fact, the restaurant was at capacity the weeknight we dined there.
The seasonal menu is described as American Nouveau cuisine, infusing familiar dishes with innovative international flavors. It’s anchored in America but spans the globe with dishes that borrow from Italy, Spain, France, Japan, India and beyond. For starters, we devoured the sublime ricotta cavatelli, tender homemade pasta tossed with sautéed maitake mushrooms in a white wine and crème sauce. My discriminating Italian husband practically licked his bowl clean. Inspired by Mexico, the fluke crudo was spiked with a spicy salsa macha and garnished with cilantro, lime and peanuts.
The public’s appetite for the ubiquitous Brussels sprout never seems to wane, but those at Tillie’s really are special. Charred and glazed with chile jam, they’re brightened with orange segments, toasted almonds, garlic and a generous toss of fresh herbs. They’re a game changer. Seafood is one of Knudson’s specialties, and the Pastrami Spiced Scottish Salmon is a delicious mashup of flavors from New York to the British Isles. There’s also shrimp and grits, a Deep South mainstay given a local twist with cornmeal ground at nearby Barton Springs Mill.
For meat eaters, Knudson’s modern take on traditional French cassoulet replaces duck confit with seared slices of Rohan duck breast. Lamb chops are paired with Indian madras curried lentils. And Green Circle chicken, which has its own cult following, is elegantly roasted with potatoes and served with a side of salsa verde. For dessert, the buttermilk panna cotta topped with winter citrus was the perfect light, creamy finish. On weekends, Tillie’s hosts a brunch that features fried chicken and waffles, smoked salmon, bacon hash and fresh-baked butter biscuits.
The cocktails at Tillie’s are just as impressive. The Louis’ Gold Standard Margarita is almost as glamorous as the ambiance, with its gold-lacquered lime wheel shimmering beneath the chandeliers. And the timeless Rob Roy was simple perfection. The wine list is terrific with enough local, domestic and imported choices to make everyone happy. And if you decide to imbibe—or make a staycation out of your visit—book one of Camp Lucy’s lovely rooms, ranging from cozy bungalows to treetop suites.
Dining at Tillie’s is to take a culinary spin around the world—all while keeping your boots firmly planted in the Texas Hill Country. We drove but left feeling as if we’d been on a magic carpet ride.