During SXSW, Shawn Cirkiel's Parkside is a refuge for food lovers navigating the madness of Sixth Street.
Parkside offers a dozen varieties of oysters, including a platter of Caraquets, Malpeques, and Shiny Seas. On Wednesdays guests can enjoy the luscious morsels at half price.
When Shawn Cirkiel brought Parkside’s upscale dining to Sixth Street in 2008, his enthusiasm wasn’t necessarily shared (it’s called “Dirty Sixth” for a reason). “People thought it was a crazy idea—even my friends,” says Cirkiel.
After shunning advice to try the Warehouse District, Cirkiel enlisted veteran restaurant architect Michael Hsu to transform a nearly century-old former steakhouse into “a beacon of light on the corner.” Whether working a quiet weeknight or a crushing SXSW Saturday, Cirkiel always aims to make all his patrons feel important. And he says that simple mission “helps prepare us for SXSW.”
Although Parkside was conceived as a spot for oysters, burgers, and downtown fun, its menu evolved as regulars of Cirkiel’s former restaurant, the beloved Jean Luc’s Bistro, turned up wanting more fine-dining options. “The menu became more complex,” Cirkiel says, “but the fun experience stuck.” The chef credits the restaurant’s longevity to this flexibility, which can accommodate the noisy bar-loving crowd as well as a couple desiring a special evening.
The significant range of ingredients and flavors here reflects Cirkiel’s culinary background. Early work at Napa’s Domaine Chandon and New York’s Café Boulud shows in his takes on the classics, while elements of his Austin stint with Tyson Cole appear in the modern, artful seafood. At Uchi, Cirkiel mentored the young Paul Qui, who remains appreciative. “Shawn was a huge inspiration,”says Qui. “He taught me both how to cook and how to manage cooks in the classic sense.” Qui credits Cirkiel’s “great palate” and strong business acumen for his success in a nontraditional setting.
While Cirkiel’s culinary approach at Parkside is rooted in classicism, it also targets the youngish crowd. The base of the steak tartare is diced tri-tip (bottom sirloin) and accented with shallots, capers, mustard, and gherkins—a mix that highlights the rich beef while layering in acidity, crunch, and spice. On the lighter side, the ceviche marries classic flavors of jalapeño, lime, avocado, and cilantro with a Mexican-spiced Bloody Mary mix and a quick-dressed portion of sashimi. Oysters are also popular, especially on Wednesdays, when they’re half price—as is Champagne. While a dozen varieties of oysters are available, a sampler of Caraquets, Malpeques, and Shiny Seas is Cirkiel’s favorite.
During SXSW, look for early hints of the spring garden harvest. While vegetarian and vegan requests abound at the festival, expect asparagus with Parmesan, broccolini with chili oil and cherries, and fresh riffs on mushrooms and kale plates.
For diners in search of comfort food, the mac and cheese seems ubiquitous on Parkside tables. The simple, creamy dish employs white cheddar and Gruyère, baked to order with a breadcrumb topping. For added decadence, sample delights of new pastry chef Erika Waksmunski (formerly of Congress). Cirkiel says Waksmunski “really hits home with core flavors like chocolate and malt. It’s not traditional in approach, but it feels familiar.” And Parkside’s popular, ever-changing varieties of doughnuts offer a strong, sweet finish.
Wine selections are thoughtful: Aficionados can find esoteric picks like Big Table Farm Pinot Gris, while Francophiles will spot coveted white wines from Vouvray’s Domaine Huet. Cocktails lean toward whiskey, gin, and vodka and are crafted with a busy bar in mind. Says Cirkiel: “Nobody wants to wait 15 minutes. We serve what we like, but we’re conscious of speed.”
The bustling room of high tin ceilings and exposed brick is both reverent and casual. The late-Victorian architecture of East Sixth was an attraction for Cirkiel: “They don’t build [places like this] anymore.” But the massive black booths, industrial lights, and clean lines of wooden tables and metal chairs meld the classic space with the present.
Parkside’s success is a testament to Cirkiel’s persona: Like him, the kitchen is skilled and confident with little pretense. Says Cirkiel: “You have to be comfortable with who you are. We do fine dining, but regulars have no problem asking me for a fried-egg sandwich.” 301 E. Sixth St., 512-474-9898