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Authentic Italian food is hard to find in Austin so when I came across a new restaurant called Il Brutto, located on the East side, less than a mile away from the KK headquarters, I knew we had to check it out. After hearing many great things about this new spot, I connected with the team over there to learn more about their new summer drinks, happy hour, DIY lemoncello, and the background on their Italian executive chef. Here’s a look into a new #KKeats favorite Italian restaurant.
About Erind Halilaj: Executive Chef, Il Brutto + La Matta
Raised in Italy, Erind Halilaj learned the meaning of quality service at a young age. After receiving a degree in economics and tourism services management, Halilaj pursued his passion as chef de partie of Hotel Principe di Savoia, a 5-star hotel in Milan. There, he discovered an affinity for traditional Italian cuisine using simple, fresh ingredients. Halilaj worked at several hotels and restaurants in Italy, including as executive chef of private club Canottieri Restaurant in Terni, before an opportunity with JW Marriott brought him to Florida in 2014. Once in the states, it wasn’t long before Halilaj decided to make the move to New York City, where he became executive chef at Obicà Mozzarella Bar in the Flatiron District. In his first year, he was promoted to corporate chef for Obicà. In 2017, Halilaj joined the New Waterloo team as Executive Chef of Il Brutto & La Matta, the former a neighborhood Italian restaurant and the latter an Italian sandwich shop.
Directions: 1. Peel the lemons, avoiding the pith as much as possible. Less white on the peels is better to avoid bitterness. 2. Place the lemon peels in a glass jar. Add the vodka. (Juice the naked lemons and make lemonade! We use the lemon juice in cocktails and in the kitchen on salads.) 4. Let the jar sit for a minimum of 4 weeks in an area that stays cool and dark. We steep ours for 8 weeks minimum. 5. Strain off the lemon peels. 6. In a separate container, mix equal parts granulated sugar and boiling water. Once all the sugar is dissolved, add your infused vodka. 7. Cool in refrigerator until no longer hot. Move to freezer for storage and serve in chilled glasses.
Il Brutto is open everyday for Dinner and Brunch on the weekends. You can grab lunch at their sandwich shop next door called La Matta which has great mozzarella, Italian meats, homemade bread for sandwiches, and light salads.
All pastas are handmade (gluten free available upon request) and pizzas are cooked in the imported Neapolitan wood-burning brick oven by Chef Erind Halilaj who grew up in Italy.
Apologies and forgiveness have been a theme of late. I was recently at a party and a woman came up to me and and said “I used to think [enter an array of negative descriptions] about you. But I was wrong and I’m sorry.” I didn’t really know this woman and I was kind of taken aback before realizing how much courage that takes and how unusual it is. “No problem, thanks for saying that,” I told her. And then there was #Tigerwoods win yesterday which made me cry. I always cry at every major sporting event and every major awards show because when someone wins big it always means they’ve worked harder and failed more than anyone could ever imagine and it gets me every time. But with Tiger it wasn’t just his hands in the air, it was everyone’s. For all the things America is or isn’t, we’re known for giving second chances. That I was weeping with joy isn’t an overstatement. And there was #FelicityHuffman’s raw and sincere apology about the college admissions scandal that will also make you choke up because you can feel how deeply she means it. Something about that kind of humility that fosters forgiveness. There but for the grace of God go I. In our family we try to make apologizing very common. Not just kid to kid but parent to kid. Recently I really lost my sanity over a cheeseburger issue ??♀️ and the next morning to our oldest said man I’m so sorry I was a little crazy about that cheeseburger. I was wrong. How quickly and genuinely kids forgive, talk about humbling. And even in this line of work – retail – messing up doesn’t have to be the end of the world. A very young but wise investor once told me that messing up an order or the seemingly worst customer service issues can be the best way to make a lasting impression by making it right that never would have happened without getting it wrong. So there are some Monday musings. The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. You can do it. ??
The owners – Lesley & Ben Lomax – were born and raised in Corpus Christi, TX. Both eventually returned to their hometown and married in 2015. They wanted to try to bring something new to Corpus Christi and participate in a growing downtown revival movement.
Tell me a little about the bar
BUS opened in December 2017 in what was previously the Greyhound Bus Station in Downtown Corpus Christi. The bar is pet friendly and family friendly with outdoor TVs, yard games, and food trucks. The bar focuses on cocktails and craft beer served in a relaxed and bright atmosphere.
Your drinks are so cute! What is the bar’s signature drink?
We have a few signature cocktails, one of the most popular is the “Ghost of the Greyhound”.
Ghost of the Greyhound 1.5 oz Basil-infused vodka (done in-house using Dripping Springs) .75 oz fresh squeezed lime juice .75 Simple Syrup 3 dash Fee Bros. grapefruit bitters
Shake all ingredients vigorously and pour into rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with basil leaf.
What is your biggest design challenge while creating the bar?
The bus station was in very bad shape when we purchased the property; as it had become dilapidated after years of neglect. Trying to sell people on our vision was a significant challenge simply because of the condition of the building. We also really wanted to make sure to restore what was already there, rather than tearing down and building.
What was your design inspiration for the bar?
We wanted to make sure embrace the urban-coastal atmosphere of Downtown Corpus Christi, while using industrial accents to pay homage to the building’s history as a transportation hub. Also, Lesley’s love for restoration and antiques (inherited from her grandmother and mother) played a large part of the design inspiration.
Why did you choose Katie Kime Wallpaper?
The design of the bar largely reflects Lesley’s personal tastes; and Lesley is a fan of Katie Kime designs. We like to focus on Texas products, as well. For example, our craft beer selection is exclusively in-state. So, when we wanted to incorporate a palm wall in the bar, Katie Kime wallpaper was our first choice. We think it turned out to be a terrific centerpiece for the concept.