During Ryan Fulmer’s 25-year residence in Austin, he said he has seen many original neighborhood restaurants fall victim to the city’s changing tides.
Those are the same restaurants that helped make Austin a “foodie” city in the first place, Fulmer said. That is why he and four business partners decided to open Winebelly two years ago at an unassuming location on Oltorf Street.
He said he recognizes the restaurant’s spot—nestled between a gas station pizza place and check-cashing store—might keep expectations low for newcomers, but he warns customers not to judge a book by its cover.
“We’re not flashy and not trying to do the newest tricks,” Fulmer said. “By design we wanted to have a restaurant that’s very ‘South Austin’ and has a very ‘South Austin feel.’ You go to other places down the road, and you don’t have that same feeling.”
Fulmer, a 15-year Bouldin Creek neighborhood resident, said the majority of his business comes from South Austinites.
“Every so often, you don’t want to go downtown, have to wait, pay valet and pay more than you would at a neighborhood spot,” he said, estimating the longest wait is typically 15 minutes.
Wine Enthusiast Magazine recently named Winebelly a top 20 wine bar nationally, an honor Fulmer said validates his and his team’s efforts to offer affordable wine in a neighborhood setting where rent is also more affordable.
“I’ll put my wine prices up against anybody,” he said.
The early success has Fulmer and Winebelly co-owners—chef Buulinh Liu, Quang Chow, and Eric and Robert Tran—contemplating a second location in the next year.
But for now, Fulmer’s focus following the restaurant’s two-year anniversary is on improving service for Winebelly’s returning customers, which he said makes up roughly 90 percent of all patrons.
“It’s been better than we thought. The first year was great, and the second year was even better,” he said. “We’ve had more business than we thought we would this soon.”
Winebelly is known for its tapas, or small plates. Pan-seared scallops ($21) are among multiple seafood dishes on the tapas menu. Two scallops sit on parsnip purée and snow pea tendrils and are topped with pancetta breadcrumbs.
Another item from the tapas menu, the Brick Chicken ($13) combines a dark-meat cut of chicken with baby kale panzanella, polenta croutons, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and pickled red onions.
Roasted beets salad
Multiple salads are on the menu, including the roasted beets ($9), which are served with honey labneh, frisee and pistachio pesto. Winebelly also serves an heirloom tomato salad that includes peaches, balsamic, mint and pine nuts.
519 W. Oltorf St.