Juliet Italian Kitchen closed their doors in early June to reconstruct their restaurants’ interior as well as all menus. With a more casual, approachable design and fresh menu, Juliet’s doors are once again open on Barton Springs Road. Gaining inspiration from classic Italian American restaurants in New York City helped owner Dan Wilkins and Executive Chef Jacob Weaver incorporate more family style menu options along with brightening the interiors décor.
Juliet Ristorante is now Juliet Italian Kitchen, but more has changed than just the name. Design Hound helped them make the interior changes. Owner Dan Wilkins describes the new interior. “The previous interior design was sort of imposing. People would come in off the street and all of a sudden stop at the front door. They felt they weren’t dressed well enough to come in here even though we’re on Barton Springs Road. We wanted to adjust the fine dining elegance image down a notch or two so that people would feel welcome coming in here even if they were coming from Barton Springs or down the street.” Executive Chef Jacob Weaver adds, “We wanted to expand our audience to be more welcoming for families and casual guests. Juliet had grown in a way and changed in a way over the last couple of years that we sort of pigeon holed ourselves as a special occasion type of restaurant. The change was to make it easier for people to come see us a couple of times a week.”
The new menu has been reconstructed to allow for more family style dishes. Wilkins elaborates, “The menu is designed now to be a lot more sharable than we were before. Service has changed also to accommodate that.” Weaver includes, “I want to mention that sometimes sharable is associated with small plates, and we’re the opposite of a small plate restaurant. Our plates are bigger now, but we do offer family style service. Most of our dishes are available in family style format; a larger format that would feed comfortably, two to three people. But the idea is if you have six or more friends together, everybody orders a handful of plates and then shares everything family style.” Weaver stresses the importance that even though there’s a new menu, everything is still made by hand as much as possible and they still buy the best ingredients they can get their hands on.
Executive Chef Jacob Weaver and Owner Dan Wilkins both share new dishes they are excited about on the new menu. Weaver adds, “We changed our pizzas a little bit so we’re doing a thinner crust now. It’s still a hand tossed pizza, but before it was more of a hand tossed thicker crust all the way to the center. We changed most of the toppings on our pizzas and the style of the pizza, which I like better now. One of my favorite dishes is ‘Cacio e Pepe pizza’. Cacio is a pecorino cheese, which is a sheep’s milk cheese and then we put fresh mozzarella on there too, which gives it some creaminess and richness. Then we add a lot of black pepper and start the pizza and finish the pizza with garlic oil. It’s really simple, probably 4 ingredients total.” Wilkins explains the new format for lasagna. “We have a 17 layer lasagna. It’s amazing. If you get it family style it’s like two mountains of lasagna. The items I really like are the ‘Chicken Piccata’ and ‘Veal Marsala’. Those are great, traditional Italian dishes and they’re really good.” Weaver jumps back explaining, “Another one that I would mention too is the ‘Veal Parmigiana on the bone’. Anything parmigiana is classic Italian American whether it’s chicken, veal, etc. It’s a one-pound veal chop, which we brine and pound out nice and thin. We cook the bone also with it and then we top it off with a really fresh tomato sauce. The tomato sauce is basically just garlic and fresh tomatoes. Then we melt some of our house made mozzarella on it and serve it with the bone. It’s super tasty and classic and done our way.”
When it comes to happy hour, Juliet now has a category of drinks called the “Patio Pounders” as well as a $5 themed menu. Weaver says to think of the “Patio Pounders” as “lighter, brighter cocktails that are good for sitting on the patio all day and kicking back some summer-ly tasty cocktails that are $5.” Juliet offers select wines for $5, $5 well drinks, and $5 draft beer. “On the food menu we brought over four dishes from our ristorante menu. Those dishes are in the antipasti section and they’re under a subtitle called ‘Family Favorites.’ ‘Family Favorites’ is the octopus dish that we’ve had since day one, our calamari, meatballs, and the Salmon Crudo. The idea of ‘Family Favorites’ was I think between my wife and Dan’s wife. They were not going to let us take the Salmon Crudo off. It fits the concept because it’s Italian and it’s definitely got some Italian influence, but it’s not super Italian American necessarily. But it’s classic Juliet, so that’s why we brought those few dishes over.”
Wilkins and Weaver’s trip to New York City to research Italian American restaurants left them full of new ideas and concepts for Juliet’s new re-design. Wilkins explains what he brought back to Juliet. “The color and the comfortable atmosphere. We saw a number of restaurants in New York that all had their own different vibe. When you walk in and know it’s an Italian restaurant by the way it feels and looks, that’s what we wanted. Before, we could’ve been any restaurant.” Weaver adds, “What I liked about the places in New York was, when we went to some of the expensive places, they were Italian high end; but still there was very little pretense to it. I think the Italian American cuisine is comfortable and more relative to what you may be nostalgic for…it’s familiar. On an Italian American menu I’d be hard pressed to find somebody who couldn’t find something they would like to eat.”
Juliet has generously hosted numerous events for many non-profits. Event coordinator Emily O’Connor elaborates, “Juliet tries to work with a lot of different non-profits in the community. We hosted the Junior League of Austin’s Amplify Austin happy hour as well as their Macaroons and Merlot party. The Texas Advocacy Project is another non-profit we have worked with several times. We hosted a brunch for their “Handbags for Hope” drive. So in February and March they collect new and gently used handbags and then stuff them with different supplies for women and their children. They distribute them to mothers on Mother’s Day. Throughout the city they have different drop off locations so we were one of those locations. Juliet also helps other organizations raise money by providing gift cards for silent auctions.
With a new music permit Juliet now has live music on their outdoor patio. Every other Wednesday a local jazz artist plays and they have partnered with KUTX 98.9 for the “Jazz at Juliet Italian Kitchen.” To learn more about Juliet Italian Kitchen visit their website and follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Ciao!
Photography by Marisa Valente