Produce ‘plays a huge role’ in keeping Austin diners – and pro quarterbacks – happy and well-fed at upscale eatery
As if the heat in a restaurant kitchen wasn’t high enough already, imagine knowing a two-time NFL Pro Bowler and national college championship-winning quarterback could stroll in at any time to see what’s up.
That’s what Chef Phil Brown has to deal with on a daily basis. He’s okay with that, since that quarterback has been one of his best friends for more than a decade. In fact, Phil and wife and co-owner Laura are close enough with this former NFL star that they named their high-end Austin, TX eatery Vince Young Steakhouse.
Young led the University of Texas to the BCS National Championship in the 2006 Rose Bowl. The Tennessee Titans took him with the overall third pick of the 2006 NFL draft. He was the league’s Rookie of the Year that season. The next year he made the Pro Bowl. In 2008 he was selected for the cover of the Madden NFL ’08 video game. The Sporting News named him Comeback Player of the Year in 2009 and he made the Pro Bowl again in 2010. Still just 33, Young recently signed with the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The three have been close for a dozen years now. Laura’s father, a member of the 1969-70 college champion Longhorns, served as a mentor to Young when he was quarterback at the University of Texas and the trio became best friends.
Young told SPW this week, “I’ve known Phil and Laura for over a decade now; we’re almost like family. I am very fortunate to have had their friendship throughout the years, and as the driving force behind Vince Young Steakhouse.”
While Young is not involved in the ownership or operation of the restaurant, he’s clearly a pivotal figure.
“In early 2010 Laura and I started planning our restaurant,” Phil remembers. “Vince was in town and that’s when we told him what we were planning. He wanted to get involved and that’s when everything started taking shape. Knowing how big of a gamble opening a restaurant is we did not want him to put any money into it and have that risk, so it’s more of a naming rights idea.
“But he’s very involved, he’s at the restaurant three or four times a month. Every time he comes in he walks the entire dining room and shakes everybody’s hand and takes pictures with people. He’s one of the nicest guys in the world and he does a great job with the steakhouse. He’s very much a part of the team and the culture of the restaurant and a lot of people, that’s why they come in and that’s why we all made this partnership.”
For Young’s part, he likes having a place he can literally call his own and sit down for a dynamite meal whenever he’s in town.
“It really is amazing, and surreal at times,” the quarterback said. “Phil and Laura had a great vision for Vince Young Steakhouse and they did a fabulous job with every aspect of the steakhouse – from the service and Southern hospitality to the incredible food and drinks.”
So how about the food? Well, the Browns knew if they were opening a steakhouse in Texas bearing a legendary Longhorn quarterback’s name, it had to be something special.
After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu Academy in Austin, Phil worked at several local restaurants perfecting his craft.
Laura, meanwhile, focused on the hospitality and management end of the business in her studies. When the pair married in June 2010 they completed a perfect pairing – and in November of that year opened the steakhouse.
“I like being in the back of the house making sure the food aspect of the business is going the way it should and Laura is in the front of the house greeting guests and making sure the business is running like it’s supposed to,” Brown said.
Given the nature of the partnership and “what we’re charging for the food” Phil knew VYS couldn’t be just another steakhouse. “Steakhouses a lot of times lack on things other than steak, they’re serving up the same old, same old and things don’t change.”
Appetizers, salads and some entrees focus on local and seasonal ingredients “more than having the same menu 365,” Brown said. “Steak is steak, prime is prime, we’re not trying to reinvent steak and potatoes – that’s a classic combination. But we want you to have just as good an experience if you order lamb or a pork chop. Where we can bring our twist to it is in the appetizers, the other entrees, making sure we use as much local product as possible and keeping it fresh. If you come in February and May and August and October you’re going to encounter different menus, steak aside. Things are going to change and that’s where we set ourselves apart from the herd.
“Produce plays a huge role, especially in those non-steak items — pork chop or lamb or chicken or whatever that main protein is going to be, you’ve got to pair it with something that’s going to work very well with it and elevate it,” Brown says. “Taking good care with those produce items is a big part of that. Without that it’s not a complete dish and then it’s a failure. Produce is not the main star but it plays a big role in completing the dish.”
Top produce faves at the moment are Brussels sprouts and broccolini. Brussels sprouts have been on the menu since 2010 but Brown says “they’re hitting their peak right now and we’ve sold the most in the past year or so than we have since we opened. I think as weird as it may sound, we have a beet salad on our menu and that’s extremely popular. I’m starting to see beets becoming more popular right now and they work very well when paired right – that’s a trend we’re seeing that’s happening right now.”
So what are Young’s favorite items on the menu, given that he gets whatever he wants?
“His favorite appetizer is fried quail with bacon infused tangerine marmalade and sriracha – kind of our take on chicken and waffles if you will. Our Perfect 10 Akaushi Beef from Yoakum, TX is by far his favorite steak. Maybe not right now since he’s in training, but when he’s not our bacon mac and cheese is a favorite.”
No doubt Young will be looking forward to getting home after a season in Canada.
“It’s going to be just a tad bit colder there but he’s excited to get back in the game,” Brown said. “Vince definitely gets people in the door the first time; after that, that’s where we come in. It’s a great partnership and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”