Famed chef opens destination restaurant with a feminine perspective in tiny Texas town
Acclaimed Austin chef Sonya Coté is co-opening a destination restaurant in Clifton, Texas, population: 3,376. The mind behind Hillside Farmacy and weekend eatery Eden East is creating a true farm-to-table experience in the historic railroad town, located 33 miles west of Waco.
Sinclair opens to the public on April 20. Coté is partnering with Curtis and Kaye Robinson Callaway, friends from Austin who relocated to a farm near Clifton. More than five years ago, Kaye purchased the town’s historic downtown gas station, remodeling it into an upscale restaurant, Mitchell’s Grille. She closed the popular establishment on December 31, 2016, with the intention of introducing a fresh concept featuring seasonal foods that pay homage to the Texas land and heritage.
That’s where Coté comes into play. As co-owner and executive chef, Coté is designing the hyperlocal menu. “Sourcing ingredients from the area has been a really fun endeavor,” Coté says. “We found a quail farmer about three miles away, and he’s going to bring us fresh quail every day that we need it — never frozen, and raised just for us.”
A traditional Texas steakhouse, Sinclair will always feature two standard cuts on the menu, starting with a 14-ounce rib-eye and 8-ounce tenderloin, both natural Black Angus beef. Other spring entrées include a bone-in pork chop; natural, free-range half chicken; and, of course, grilled quail. Her house-made venison sausage will also grace Sinclair’s menu. (She learned the art of making sausage working alongside Dai Due owner/chef Jesse Griffiths.)
Additionally, Coté looks forward to embracing Clifton’s notoriety as "The Norwegian Capital of Texas." “It’s been exciting to study [Norwegian cuisine] and bring in that element as well. There’s going to be a lot of smoked meats,” says Coté, who’s also known for her affinity for fermentation. Given the Norwegian predilection for smoked fish, she may also source from the Gulf.
Brunch service kicks off on Mother’s Day, May 14, with entrées like pork belly and eggs and blueberry buttermilk pancakes. Menu items like the “Killer Wedge” will appeal to the less-breakfast inclined.
Coté, who supports women blazing new trails in the culinary world, notes that “Sinclair is a majority women-owned steakhouse. I think we’ll bring a nice feminine perspective.” Her longtime collaborator and chef de cuisine for Coté Catering, Melissa McKenzie, will serve as Sinclair’s managing chef.
Sinclair seats 90 and features an outdoor patio and full bar. Given Bosque’s history as a dry county until May 2011, Sinclair will debut with wine, beer, and a simple beverage selection. Coté’s son, Thorne Russell, bar manager at Hillside Farmacy, will craft the cocktail menu with staples “like an old fashioned and a good martini,” says Coté, adding that “the wine list will have a strong Texas focus.”
Beyond Sinclair, Clifton is a road trip-worthy small town. For a unique overnight experience, check out The Cell Block, an abandoned, 1930s city jail that Kaye converted into a boutique hotel, located a few blocks away from Sinclair. The décor gives a playful nod to confinement with steel-hinged windows, handcuffs, and other novel accents like handmade dominoes, a favorite pastime of Clifton jailers.
Just outside the hotel, Clifton Art Alley, an initiative spearheaded by Kaye, displays brightly colored murals by world-acclaimed artists. The Texas Commission of the Arts took note, officially designating Clifton a Cultural Art District in 2011.
Clifton also boasts the oldest operating movie theater in the state. Plus, the award-winning Bosque Museum showcases the region’s rich history, as well as the largest collection of Norwegian artifacts in the South and Southwest. Kaye’s also partial to the small town’s “bright stars, peace and quiet, and all the animals.”
Historic photographs of the town, railroad, and former Sinclair gas station adorn Sinclair’s walls, and the railroad is an intrinsic part of the restaurant design. Railroad ties on original brick walls offer a place to hang your hat. Kaye also started the tradition of toasting every time the railroad barrels by. “When the train horn blows, it’s too loud to talk, so we toast,” Kaye says.
“I’d love to keep that tradition alive,” Coté adds.
Naturally, Coté is already plotting more ways to innovate at Sinclair and shorten the distance between farm to fork. “Eventually we’re going to start raising our own animals and food on [Kaye’s farm] property for Sinclair. The land is there.”
Sinclair is located at 215 W. Third St. in Clifton. Starting April 20, the restaurant will be open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, from 5 to 10 pm. Sunday brunch, starting May 14, is from 11 am to 4 pm.