I first became a fan of Chef Jim Tripi when he began the delightful Rojo Red restaurant at the downtown Marriott some eight years ago. Tripi was at the time was ranked among the top 5 chefs in the entire Marriott chain and it was easy to see why. He brought a sense of passion and creativity to each meal that was admirable. And his cornbread was, without question, the best I had ever tasted anywhere in the US.
Chef Tripi moved on to the impeccable new Marriott at Horseshoe Bay and quickly created the most impressive restaurant in the Highland Lakes area. But then a new club in southwest Austin called Spanish Oaks made him the proverbial “offer you can’t refuse.” And so Jim moved in to create a restaurant for a private club with about 250 members and their families. It’s difficult for a club with a relatively small membership roster to sustain a restaurant of the type that Tripi has created. But as my KLBJ broadcasting partner Ed Clements can attest, the restaurant is phenomenal. The members love it and what’s more they support it. It’s open Thursday-Saturday for dinner and six days a week for lunch. And the cornbread may even be better than when I first tried it.
Saturday night we had the privilege of dining there (and it is a privilege) and even though I hadn’t dined at a Tripi table in over three years, it felt as though I’d been doing so on a regular basis. That’s how his food stays with you. We began with some Hawaiian Poke and Lump Crabmeat salad with some hatch peppers crushed in for seasoning. It was spectacular. Then we tried Bacon Wrapped Venison which was cut-with-a-fork tender, not to mention incredibly tasty. Next an appetizer featuring fresh Maine lobster with polenta in a creamy butter sauce. This one almost left us speechless.
And all the while, the can’t-say-no-to cornbread kept coming. And coming. And we continued devouring it.
The Chicken Fried Steak with gravy, haricot vertes (skinny string beans) and mac and cheese was a huge, massively breaded chuck of incredulity. Not only was it tender, but everything worked! Marge tried a chicken and pasta dish that was equally rewarding. And we finished by splitting some exceptionally light but texturally perfect Strawberry Mint sorbet. Then, as if my magic, the requisite doggie bags magically appeared in our car which was warmed up and waiting to go.
I’ve had meals like this in the best restaurants in Austin but NEVER have I had anything this good at a smallish private golf club, no matter how nice the layout was. And I’ve eaten at many: from Cypress Point to Pine Valley to Shinnicock Hills. I won’t tell you what it costs to join Spanish Oaks. And I have yet to play the course. But if I had a bunch of discretionary dollars lying around, I’d join Spanish Oaks just for the food. Great golf courses come and they go, but there is only ONE Jim Tripi. And I hope the members realize how lucky they are.