“Hot” Cuisine: Austin Restaurant History, Part 1

October 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

That Austin is a foodie’s paradise is no surprise, given that it was founded and populated by men accustomed to French champagne and silver spoons in their mouths. Beginning with the first Presidential banquet in November 1839, Austinites had gourmandise. They kept it through the dawn of the 20th century, when good taste began to gradually melt down into the culinary wasteland that was Austin when I came here to live in 1971. God help you if you wished to stray beyond the dining trinity of barbecue, Tex-Mex, and American Fried.

Austin started life in early August 1839 with a barbecue dinner near the river, given to lure prospective buyers to the first sale of lots in the newly laid-out capital.

When President Mirabeau Lamar, the father of Austin, arrived here in November 1839, he was feted with a banquet at Bullock’s Tavern, Austin’s original restaurant/tavern/hotel. We have no record of the menu served, but it’s a safe bet that roasted meats were prominent of the table.

It was universally acknowledged that Mrs. B’s cuisine could not be excelled in the backwoods of Texas. Those who had partaken of Bullock’s hospitality will never forget the closing part of his grace – “for Christsake Henry hand round the bread!”

And when the Centinel announced on February 4, 1841, that a grand ball would be given in honor of Col. Cook, on Friday evening next, “the fact that Mrs. Bullock is to preside at the supper, will insure a large assembly.

The china and other furnishings from the Bullock’s previous home in Tennessee contrasted with the hand-made, hide-bottom chairs of the frontier to give a unique atmosphere to the inn’s dining room and tavern located on the ground floor.

Soon after the Bullocks, Mrs. Angelina Eberley, who would soon become the heroine of the Archives War, opened a boarding house a few yards west and across from Bullock’s place on West Pecan street.

A November 13, 1839 ad for the Austin City Restaurant on Capitol Hill declared, “The real disciples of Epicurus can at all times be accommodated with the “good things of life” which may be constantly had. Fresh buffalo, venison, turkey, chickens, ham and eggs and beefsteaks, and every delicacy which the market affords.” If the market had anything to afford, as we shall see. J.W. Hann and L.F. Marguerat were the owners.

On November 20, the City Gazette reported on the grand dinner held for Sam Houston on November 14 by Mr. Hall. Lamar’s banquet a month earlier had been relatively cozy, inside Bullock’s Tavern. But Houston’s dinner was an outdoor affair and since it was a raw, cold day, only 200 showed up, Lamar not included. Hall had planned for many more. No mention of the dinner itself was made, but all 43 toasts were described in detail. With all that whiskey, who needed food? Elsewhere in the issue, Whiting does mention “the elegant beefsteak with some hot muffins, well buttered,” that Hann and Marguerat sent over as proof that they are open for business and worth patronizing.

No menus survive, but early merchants advertised their new arrivals in Austin’s two newspapers and give a sense of the nascent city’s priorities: Thompson and Brand were offering flour, old rye whisky, pale and dark brandy, Holland gin, pale sherry wine, sweet wine, porto rico sugar, a few hams and loaf sugar. Instead of maintaining a meat market, they sold you bird shot.

French “Count” de Saligny arrived here on Feb. 1 and a few weeks later, the French brig, Fils Unique, arrived in Galveston with a cargo of “wine, brandy, fruit, etc.,” some of which was destined for de Saligny and the other gourmands of Austin.

On March 11, 1840, Austin’s first recipe was published in the Sentinel, but it wasn’t for some tasty pie or stew. It was a remedy against Indian arrows, given by H. Mollhausen, Capt. of Artillery and Austin’s first architect: Take 16 to 24 sheets of blotting paper, interspersed with layers of silk or cotton, wrap it around your torso like a jacket, and you will be invulnerable to arrows and bullets.

We know from Jno. Harrison’s April 1840 ad that Austinites had cloves, spice, pepper, nutmegs, and pepper sauce at their disposal. Salt was another story. In August 1840 Austin celebrated the discovery of a “strong salt spring” on the Colorado a few miles up the city; the current price of salt being then fixed at $12 per bushel.

Sometime in the late summer or fall of 1840, the “French Restaurant” opened. We don’t know much about the French restaurant, except that its two partners split ways in November 1840, with M.P.L. Duval carrying on the business.

The City restaurant opened on or about October 15, 1840, and earned Austin’s first restaurant review in the October 24, 1840, issue of the Centinel: “At the City restaurant, in the rear of the Travis House, anybody can get just as good a dinner as they want. Day before yesterday we went in and got as good a bowl of turtle soup as could be obtained anywhere. Try — they will give you a good dinner. Such as like good eating at any hour, would do well to call.”

This at a time when the Comanches were raiding town nightly, taking loose horses and whatever they needed or fancied from Austin yards.

In November, a Mr. Matossy announced he had taken the house in the rear of the capitol, safe within the capitol’s stockade, where he was opening a restaurant, confectionary and pastry, with hot coffee ready every morning.

The fierce competition forced Maguerat, the City restaurant’s proprietor, to offer a reduced price, three squares deal to prospective day boarders: $1 per diem, serving “the best the market affords.”

Late in February 1841, the Centinel complained that there was “yet scarcely a single fruit tree within the city limits of Austin,” and now was the time to plant peach, apple, plumb and fig trees.

Austin was home to the French ambassador to Texas, and folks vied for invitations to the lavish dinners thrown by the Count de Saligny, who lived next door to Bullock’s Tavern and across the street from Mrs. Eberley.

In February 1841, H. Brown opened the Log Cabin restaurant one door below the State department on Congress Avenue, where he was “happy to serve up meals to his customers at all hours. Hot coffee, pies, cakes, eggs, etc., ready at all times, serving the best the market affords.”

That phrase, “serving the best the market affords,” would haunt Austin diners for the next 30 years, until the railroad arrived, because, depending on local harvests and the condition of the roads between Austin and the coast, there were times the Austin market afforded precious little in the way of comestibles, and there were more flies than goods at the markets.

In good weather, with good roads, a stagecoach could make the trip from the coast to Austin in two days and a wagon in four or five days. In bad weather, with bad roads, the trip might take a month.

It was a trip that some were willing to take, to satisfy Austin appetites. On March 2, 1842 the Centinel reported: “Capt. Duggan with a full load of fresh Matagorda oysters, the finest lot brought to the market this season. Capt. Duggan will give us another cargo very shortly, as this lot met with rapid sale.”

Incurable optimists that they were, Austin’s founders never dreamed that the city would be cut off from rapid transit until the first train arrived in Austin on Christmas night 1871.

They were convinced that the “cars” and steamboats would soon be supplying them with all the luxuries of life. But the steamboats never came and the cars did not come as soon as expected for a variety of reasons. The first voyage of the steamboat Kate Ward to Austin in 1846, was its last voyage, as things turned out. The Colorado river was not naturally friendly to steamboat navigation and no one had the money to make it conducive to regular travel.

It would take fast trains and cold ice to build an Austin cuisine, given the city’s isolation and near tropic location.

The pernicious and growing influence of the Mexican peon population now in our midst

October 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

October 7, 1854

MEXICANS AIDING NEGROES. – There are a number of Mexicans encamped in the suburbs of this city. They have been employed to work by different persons. There is no doubt but they are, and have been, aiding negroes to escape from their owners. On last Saturday night Mr. Butts visited the camp and found two negroes in it. He caught one and called to his wife to bring a rope to tie him; before she could reach him, the negro tore loose from him. Mr. Norvell went to the camp on another occasion, and found the Mexicans dealing monte, and the negroes betting. Something must be done to prevent the negroes and Mexicans from associating.

A mass meeting resolved to discontinue the practice of having peons as laborers. The committee went to the Mexican camp and delivered them the instructions. No further trouble. Much complaint of them mixing with the slaves and inciting them to discontent and insubordination.

October 14, 1854

THE PEONS. A respectable citizen of Austin says that while returning from Bastrop lately he discovered at a late hour of night, at a Mexican camp, in the vicinity, a large number of Peons, Mexican women and slaves. The Peons and slaves were playing at monte, smoking cigars, and drinking liquor. He noted one slave with his arms around a Señora and another Señora laying her shawl over a negro while he was reclining on the ground. Our informant rode on to town, but the hour being so late, he could no one to accompany him back to the place in order to arrest the party. Is it surprising that our citizens should feel disposed to rid themselves of this low and dangerous class of Mexican Peones, when scenes like this are transpiring around us?

Public Meeting.

An adjourned meeting of the citizens of Travis county was held at the Old Capitol, at 3 o’clock, on the 7th inst. The object of the meeting was to receive and consider the report of a committee to report upon the following resolutions offered by Capt. Cleveland at a previous meeting.

Dr. Philips, chairman of said committee, reported the following resolutions:

The condition of things arising from the unwarrantable and dangerous privileges allowed to the slave population of this county, and especially in this city, imperatively demand of all citizens interested in the common welfare, the adoption of such measures as will immediately counteract their tendency, and establish different, and more salutary regulations for their government. To the end that efficiency may be given to public sentiment upon this subject, we regard it as highly important that our feelings, views, and determinations should be embodied and expressed so as more certainly to secure general co-operation. We, therefore, recommend the adoption of the following resolutions:

Resolved, 1st. That the practice of masters allowing slaves to hire their own time, make their own contracts, and to occupy houses separate from and without enclosures occupied by white persons, is wrong in principle and detrimental to the best interest of this community, as it is calculated to support insubordination and dishonesty among the slave population; thereby rendering the institution of slavery not only valueless but dangerous.

Resolved, 2nd. That as law-abiding citizens, consulting the interest of all parties concerned, we will not in future allow our slaves any such liberties, nor deal with slaves whose masters allow them such privileges, and we will rigidly enforce the laws against those who allow their slaves such dangerous privileges in violation of the statutes of the State.

Resolved, 3rd. That all slaves found with arms or deadly weapons on any description upon their persons, or in their apartments, be chastised severely in all cases for the wearing and possessing such unlawful and dangerous articles.

Resolved, 4th. That all assemblages of negroes, whether for amusement or religion, without the presence or permission of some respectable white person, are wrong, and should not be permitted.

Resolved, 5th. That the ministers having charge of the different churches in our county, be requested to devote a portion of one Sabbath in each month to their spiritual instruction.

Resolved, 6th. That we will not buy, sell, or give any article to, or have any business transaction with any slave, without the consent of said slave’s master.

Resolved, 7th. That a Vigilance Committee be appointed by this meeting, to consist of 12, from the city of Austin, half from the east and half from the west side of Congress Avenue, and 36 from Travis county, six from each beat or township, whose duty it shall be to enforce a strict compliance with the provisions of these resolutions.

Resolved, 8th. That we will aid and sustain the said Vigilance Committee in the enforcement of the provisions of these resolutions.

October 21, 1854

THE MEETING OF LAST SATURDAY. – In another column will be found the proceedings of a meeting held to devise some plan to relieve the community from the pernicious and growing influence of the Mexican peon population now in our midst. The evils arising from this class of citizens have become insupportable, and the difficulty of convicting one of crimes, unquestionably committed, leave no other plan than the ejectment of those against whom suspicion is so very strong that summary proceedings seem perfectly justifiable. Hence the committee have resolved to expel those Mexicans whose guilt is apparent, “peaceably if they can, forcibly if they must.”

Grand Ratification Meeting.

Pursuant to notice, the citizens of Travis county convened at the Old Capitol, on Saturday the 14th inst., for the purpose of ratifying or repudiating the resolutions adopted on the 7th inst., relative to the Mexican population in the county.

On the motion of Judge W.S. Oldham, Col. Thos. McKinney was called to the Chair, and Dr. W. Philips appointed Secretary.

The Chairman explained the object of the meeting, and read the following resolutions adopted at the previous meeting.

WHEREAS, We have among us a Mexican population who continually associate with our slaves, and instill into their minds false notions of freedom, and make them discontented and insubordinate; therefore,

Resolved, 1st. That all transient Mexicans, or those not freeholders, in our midst, be warned to leave within ten days from the passage of this resolution.

Resolved, 2nd. That all remaining after that time be forcibly expelled, unless their good character and good behavior be vouched for by some responsible American citizen.

Resolved, 3rd. That all citizens employing Mexicans as laborers, be requested to notify them of the passage of this resolution.

Resolved, 4th. That we will not employ Mexicans as laborers, and will discountenance and discourage their presence among us.

Resolved, 5th. That a committee of ten energetic gentlemen be appointed to carry the first and second resolution into effect.

On motion of Major John Marshall the resolutions were taken up seriatim, whereupon Judge S.G. Sneed addressed the meeting at length, reviewing the evils in our community growing out of the Peon Mexican Population, unprincipled white men, abolitionists, dram-shop dealers, etc. The judge urged the most pacific means for ridding our county of the transient Mexican population.

Judge W.S. Oldham being called for, addressed the meeting in clear, forcible and convincing argument, showing most conclusively the propriety and necessity of expelling the Mexican population, specified by the resolutions, from this community, “peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must.”

The preamble and first through fourth resolutions were read and adopted.

The fifth resolution being read, on motion of Dr. Philips, the committee were enlarged to twenty in lieu of ten, as originally appointed, to carry first and second resolutions into effect.

At the close of the regular proceedings, Capt. J.T. Cleveland offered in substance the following resolution: “That a committee of three or four be appointed by the Chairman of this meeting, to wait upon the merchants, grocers, and other dealers in this city and county, and request them not to buy or sell from or to a negro any article whatever, without the written consent of the owner of such slave, and that such merchants, grocers, or other dealers, be requested to sign a written article in accordance with this resolution.” Rejected.

On motion of Judge Sneed, the meeting adjourned sine die.

Thos. McKinney, Chairman.

W.C. Philips, Secretary.

October 28, 1854

The Vigilance Committee have discharged their duties. No peon now remains in the city who is not vouched for by respectable citizens. It should be the duty of every citizen to aid in preserving the current state of things. We trust that our county court will lend its influence in the appointment of suitable patrols.

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