Chef Jesse Griffiths elevates locally sourced dining to an impeccable level with the brick-and-mortar version of his beloved Supper Club.
Every Tuesday and Wednesday, Julia Poplawsky, Dai Due’s head butcher, stands at the ready for her deliveries at the popular East Austin restaurant. At a gleaming 5-by-10-foot butcher table, the 26-year-old (one of the industry’s few female butchers) and her team thoughtfully break down each whole animal—hogs from Twin Oaks Ranch in Dinero, Yoakum’s Augustus Ranch-sourced beef, and Dorper lambs from I O Ranch in Lampasas County. They organize cuts by what they’ll serve that night, what heads to the front-of-the-house meat counter, and what gets made into sausages or boiled in stews. Nothing is wasted.
Dai Due (Italian for “from the two,” which refers to the phrase, “From the two kingdoms of nature, choose food with care”) is the long-awaited restaurant and butcher shop by Jesse Griffiths, a chef who already ranked among Austin’s favorites for his downtown farmers market stall and legendary supper clubs—which started in 2006 and have grown to more than 10,000 subscribers. He has long honored food in ways that now have become standard: He sources locally and thinks seasonally. Unlike other chefs who have graced the pages of Food & Wine and The New York Times, Griffiths would rather have a meat cleaver than a microphone in his hand. He began hunting in hopes of educating people on how the hunt fits into the greater food cycle; and while he’s a lifelong angler, he’d throw back a big, prize fish in favor of sustainable catch.
In design and process, Dai Due is a brick-and-mortar incarnation of Griffiths’ food philosophy—take the interiors: warm pecan wood tables and peacock-blue booths, designed by Austin-based architect Kevin Stewart. In an era when diners worship the idea of farm-to-table eating, it’s not uncommon to find a meat locker in the corner of a dining room with choice cuts on display, but Griffiths takes this a step further with his open kitchen and active butcher counter. Every cut finds its way into his restaurant’s food chain, and the entire ceremony is on view for diners as they sip their morning Cuvée coffee or sit down to lunch with a wurst plate—grilled wild boar sausages and venison frankfurters served with a spicy mustard made with Fireman’s #4. (Every dish is served when in season, when delivered.)
While Griffiths isn’t willing to put a Texas-shaped box around what he considers local—some of his seafood comes from across the Louisiana border of the Gulf—it’s clear that he stands by his beliefs more seriously than most. All of his citrus comes from the Texas Valley—as does the $60-per-gallon olive oil; milk and cream, at the cost of $10 per pint, hail from the Lone Star State’s northern dairy farms. Even the finishing salt—a cheat for most locally focused chefs who can’t see beyond Maldon— is harvested from the Gulf. With the exception of one sparkling vino from New Mexico, his beer and wine menu is also sourced entirely in-state, with Texas-grown grapes, no less.
Dinner is the most popular reservation at Dai Due, and the intimate dining room fills up quickly. There are two menus: an à la carte list of small and large plates, padded with heritage meat dishes such as grilled beef rib and pork confit; and the Supper Club menu, which offers choices of an appetizer, grilled seafood or meat with vegetables, and dessert, as well as coffee or herbal tisane. Every night is an excuse to celebrate a fresh delivery. The most popular evening is dollar oyster night on Wednesday, which features sweet and salty mollusks that are flown in from Lavaca, Matagorda, and Galveston Bays. The runner-up might be Seafood Friday, when diners can balance Griffiths’ meat-heavy menu with a fish stew and simply prepared filets of flounder, red fish, or snapper. There’s also Ladies’ Steak Night on Tuesday—the brainchild of Poplawsky—as well as fried chicken night on Sunday. Reservations are strongly encouraged for the intimate space; the bar and chef’s counter are set aside for walk-ins.
While it could likely survive on after-dark profits alone, Dai Due also serves breakfast and lunch. The two meals share one menu that changes daily, and diners should try to time their visit with the turkey- or chili con carne-stuffed tamales wrapped in steamed collards. If tradition is tugging at your heartstrings, opt for the all-American breakfast: two eggs alongside roasted potatoes, bacon, a biscuit, and housemade jam.
While the restaurant’s earlier hours are more subdued, it’s also the best time to witness the labor behind each dish. You’ll see line cooks washing and prepping daily deliveries from area farms like Boggy Creek, or pastry chef Abby Love blending a grapefruit sorbet and slicing her creamy buttermilk pie. Along with watching Dai Due’s culinary life cycle, it’s also important to do your part: Devour a spicy pastrami sandwich, that is, or bite into the Red Wattle pork chop, served on its elegant two-foot bone. 2406 Manor Road, 512-524-0688