Bridget Dunlap talks her new Austin restaurant Mettle
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With a handful of successful bars on Rainey Street, Bridget Dunlap has become a force to be reckoned with in the Austin nightlife scene. Recently, however, Dunlap announced that she is done with Rainey Street bars and is now ready to move forward with a few culinary projects. To commence her plans “to take on Austin,” Dunlap and her team are opening Mettle, an upscale-urban bistro, with Andrew Francisco, former chef de cuisine of Olivia, as the head chef. Dunlap talked with TEXAS MONTHLY about Mettle, her future culinary projects, and when she plans to open the-much-anticipated Container Bar. When did you start thinking about putting Mettle together? We started thinking about it eight months ago when I was moving into the space. I just loved the space itself. It’s so pretty. Tell me a bit about the location. Why did you choose that area for Mettle? It’s 507 Calles Street where East Sixth Street dead ends. I think this area is ready to blow up. It’s got a need for good food. What’s the dynamic of the restaurant? The space is 4,000 square feet, which is quite large. We’re going to do a large bar area along with a large dining area. We’re going to utilize the aesthetic of being cozy and casual, but with superlative service. Our food will be a force to be reckoned with. We’ve got a great chef and general manager on the team, and we’re diligently working on the menu, which we’ve almost finished. We’re calling it an Austin bistro because we don’t want to box ourselves into any certain genre of cuisine because our offerings are going to vary from a vegan chicharon to charcuterie, pastas, local fish, and numerous other great things. What we want to say is that we’re a seasonal restaurant, so whatever is fresh, ripe, and good, we’ll probably be using. How did you come across Andrew Francisco? I’m familiar with his work at Olivia. Did you track him down for this project? I didn’t track him down. The general manager of Mettle is Daniel Brooks, and he is friends with Andrew. I think Daniel had some discussions with him about what we’re doing here and what we we’re looking to create. My background is in bars, but with Daniel and Andrew on my team, we’re looking to become a food group. Once we’ve got Mettle doing well, which we plan on doing from day one, we’re going to continue to open different restaurants. Basically, we’re going to take on Austin. That might sound cocky, but that’s our plan. Tell me about the name Mettle. Why did you choose that one? It’s about strength and fortitude. I feel like I relate to that word. I didn’t have it easy; nobody gave me anything. It was a lot of hard work to get to where I am, and I don’t think the hard work is over yet. It suits the restaurant and it suits my personality: basically crawling my way up to where I am and not letting anybody get in my way. There are so many people that would love me to fail, love me to quit, or love me to give up, but the mettle inside me doesn’t let me do that because I’m not done yet. My new food team is excited, involved, and ready to take this town. How is Container Bar coming along? Container Bar has been the bain of my existence for the past three years. It has been a hard project for several reasons. At one point I said, “I’m not going to do this one. I’m tired.” Yet the minute I said that I was like, ‘Bridget, come on!’ I’m not giving up on this one. Container Bar should be opening soon. When would you like both projects to be open? I’d like them to be open a month ago. They’re both slated for November, realistically. There are some things you don’t have control of, and I have learned through these projects not to lose my cool because there are some things you just have to sit and wait on, and it is very painful and it does make you lose that fight you have at times. You just have to get back up, fight, and know that it will get done.