Foreign & Domestic Is North Loop’s Perfect Neighborhood Hangout
Tribeza’s Food Critic returns to a favorite for popovers, roasted pork chop and strawberry salad
By Karen O. Spezia
Photographs by Holly Cowart
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Last year, I drove past Foreign & Domestic a million times. Usually, I was en route to Home Slice for my weekly pandemic pizza pickup (COVID 15, anyone?) and hustling to get my hot pie home. Although I wasn’t able to stop, I watched with growing interest as the little North Loop restaurant slowly emerged from quarantine.
At first, it offered just takeout and delivery. Then a few tables appeared on its sidewalk. Then a few more. And by early fall, F&D was in full swing, with its entire parking lot transformed into a bustling outdoor dining room. Driving by, it looked like a festive neighborhood block party with dogs and baby strollers, couples and singles, old hippies and hipsters, all happily eating and drinking and milling around. It seemed like so much fun—way more fun than eating pizza at home in my sweatpants. So when I felt comfortable eating at restaurants again, Foreign & Domestic was high on my list.
It’d been 10 years since I’d eaten at F&D, back when it first opened, and a lot has changed since then. Most notably it has new chef-owners, Sarah Heard and Nathan Lemley, who took over in 2017. This talented duo met while working at downtown’s acclaimed Parkside restaurant, and they’ve brought F&D an approachable new perspective while keeping the menu local, creative and full of bold Texas flavors. They’ve also continued its legacy as one of Austin’s pioneering farm-to-table restaurants, maintaining partnerships with local farmers and purveyors and highlighting their goods: Barton Springs Mill grains, 44 Farms beef, Windy Meadows Family Farm chicken, Hi-Fi Mycology mushrooms, Johnson’s Backyard Garden organic vegetables.
The modest menu is thoughtfully crafted and changes with the seasons. But one permanent fixture is its signature popovers. On the menu since day one, these pillowy rolls are seasoned with savory Gruyere and black pepper and served hot from the oven with charred-onion butter. Each one is as big as a fist and impossible to resist. Another ongoing tradition is the wildly popular Tuesday Oyster Night with $1 oysters and 50% off chilled wines. Pro tip: Make a reservation early, as they sell out fast.
In addition to the addictive popovers, start your meal with the delightful Texas strawberry salad. A perfect antidote to the summer heat, this cool, refreshing stroll through the garden tosses simple greens, sweet ripe strawberries and shaved fennel in a smoked-pecan vinaigrette, topped with candied pecans and a schmear of ricotta cheese. The venison tartare is another popular starter, punched up with Middle Eastern almond dukkah spice and classically adorned with an egg yolk.
For entrées, the succulent roasted Berkshire pork chop is served with creamy local grits from Barton Springs Mill and a zingy miso apple-cabbage slaw. For beef from nearby 44 Farms, there’s a sliced bavette steak and a juicy hamburger, perfectly proportioned and topped with melted cheddar, pickled red onions, green-tomato jam and whipped rouille sauce on a tender brioche bun. The accompanying hand-cut fries are outstanding, generously seasoned and served piping hot and crispy. For pasta lovers, there are rustic handcrafted noodles like campanelli with bitter greens and Parisian gnocchi with oyster mushrooms. Risotto is frequently on the menu, as is a rotating selection of fresh seafood.
Leave room for dessert. Scratch-made pies are well worth the calories, like the silky buttermilk pie topped with a dollop of strawberry jam and toasted meringue. There’s always a selection of unique homemade ice creams, like saffron-rosewater, strawberry-pepper and bay leaf-buttermilk. And the terrific wine list is a romp around the globe that includes a few trendy pét-nat and orange wines for good measure.
As if steering an established restaurant through the uncharted waters of a pandemic wasn’t enough, the team behind F&D also opened a new restaurant last year in the midst of the escalating crisis. In May 2020, Lemley and Heard courageously opened Commerce Cafe in downtown Lockhart, which quickly became a hit with locals grateful for more-refined, non-barbecue dining.
Over the past decade, F&D has garnered numerous accolades and the restaurant is undoubtedly cherished by a devoted community who helped buoy it through the pandemic with their unwavering support. Although indoor dining is now available, F&D’s loyal legion of fans seem to have grown accustomed to—perhaps even fond of—dining on an asphalt parking lot shaded by party tents. It’s a resounding testament to a place well worth stopping by.