Playing with your food can get you a lot of strange looks from around your table, but what if the person who is braiding your bacon is the cook?
Welcome to Briarcliff Bistro & Bacon Bar in Spicewood, one of the Hill Country’s best-kept secrets for cool beers and bacon-themed food items. If you’re a fan of the salty sow’s back fat, get ready to meet the eatery that includes bacon in every dish, from Bloody Mary drinks to bacon-covered burgers.
Whether you’re on your way back from a long day of Hill Country wine tasting or you’re on your way out to Pace Bend Park, there are plenty of reasons to want to stop for a bite and a drink here. Live music makes the outdoor stage come alive with Texas tunes, while inside is cool and where most of the lively conversation takes place.
I got together with one of the trio of founders of the restaurant, Jennifer Halpine, to get a little bit of history of the bacon bar and just how it got to be such a famous Spicewood staple in recent years.
LTL: Tell us about how the Briarcliff Bistro & Bacon Bar (BBBB) got started.
Jennifer: Briarcliff Bistro & Bacon Bar was founded in Summer of 2013 by three partners, myself (Jennifer Halpine), my husband (Jeff Demgen), and good friend Robert Joseph Kinslow. The three of us formerly had worked together at the now defunct Moon River Bar & Grill, a bit further down Pace Bend Road. Jeff and I were relatively new to Spicewood, but Robert had been in the area for more than 15 years and was a popular bartender at the Moon River.
After casual discussion regarding opening our own place, we had an opportunity to purchase the existing business from the former owner operating out of our current location (Emcee’s Eatery). Within a very short period of time, we had a signed lease, a developed menu, equipment in place and our TABC license. Conception to opening happened very quickly, probably less than 4 full months.
We’ve experimented with a number of different concepts over the course of the past 3 years, but the driver of our success has been consistently good food, customer service, and quality entertainment. In addition, the Bistro is a very comfortable environment for locals to always encounter friends or meet new people. It’s kind of like “Cheers”, where everybody knows your name.
LTL: Why Bacon?
Jennifer: While working at Moon River, Robert had introduced the idea of Saturday marketing special that focused on everything bacon. Bacon Bloody Marys (and other specialty bacon drinks) as well as bacon food offerings were in the mix.
When we departed Moon River and started searching for a concept for our new restaurant, bacon was a natural choice. We had researched the popularity of bacon and found some research pointing to the fact that something like 84% of the population considered bacon a favorite food.
Combine that with having the word “bacon” in the name of the restaurant, and we felt it was a strong marketing concept built in to the name.
LTL: If you could sum up Briarcliff Bistro & Bacon Bar in 3 words, what would they be?
Jennifer: Labor of Love
LTL: How did you choose Spicewood as your location for the restaurant?
Jennifer: Robert was a longtime resident of Spicewood, and Jeff and I had relocated recently to Spicewood from Austin. We didn’t want to drive too far to work, and the Pace Bend Road location seemed perfect for us.
LTL: What were you doing before running BBBB?
Jennifer: Immediately before BBBB, the three partners had been working at Moon River Bar & Grill.
Going back a bit further, Jeff’s career background was as Chief Marketing Officer for a major Life Insurance company headquartered in Austin. I was retiring from a career in software sales from companies like Hoovers Online and OneSource Information Services. Robert had been bartending at Moon River Bar & Grill for several years before meeting me and Jeff.
LTL: What is one of the biggest challenges to running a bacon-themed restaurant?
Jennifer: There are a lot of challenges to running a restaurant in general — but specific to bacon, it’s the amount of bacon that we cook off per week. We sell about 100 pounds of bacon a week, and we’re only open 36 hours a week.
Our BLT, for example, has 10 slices of bacon on each sandwich. So, keeping up with the bacon production has been a challenge, considering the small space in which we operate. Our kitchen is not much bigger than a food trailer, but we’re sometimes cooking entrees for as many as 60-100 people in a small span of time.
LTL: Give us an idea of what to expect on a typical Friday night.
Jennifer: Usually Friday night is our busiest night. We typically have a band playing on the outdoor stage in the Oak Grove, and are seated to capacity both in our indoor dining area and our outdoor dining area.
We can seat about 100 people between the two, so it’s usually a hopping great time with locals and visitors alike enjoying great food and entertainment!
LTL: What’s on the horizon for Briarcliff in the future?
Jennifer: In the summer months, our main focus is making sure we can keep up with production and delivery of our regular menu, which can be operationally challenging with the amount of business that the summer brings.
As the summer winds down, we will revert back to weekly and monthly dinner specials. We will continue to focus events on live music, karaoke (third Thursday of each month), etc. through the summer months.
In the winter months, we focus on annual events such as our White Elephant Pajama Christmas party (a Spicewood tradition), and Christmas Caroling throughout the Briarcliff neighborhood (another tradition left over from the days of the old Moon River).
Open Tuesday – Sunday 4pm to close