NO VA makes its mark on Rainey Street.
By Courtney Bell, Photos by Dagny Piasecki
“I swear Brad has a cot in the back he’s hiding. He never leaves,” a bartender joked with me during my first visit to NO VA Kitchen and Bar. It was late on a Wednesday, the first official day the restaurant was seating guests. The bartender created a delightfully refreshing watermelon Americano, set it in front of me and offered up the late-night menu. For those who want to escape the craziness of the bars and greasiness of food-truck fare, NO VA is the answer to your Rainey Street prayers, serving delicious and delicate plates until 1:30 a.m. on the weekends. The late-night menu ranges from grilled pizza, tacos and burgers to hummus and zucchini dip.
My second visit to NO VA was an early morning meeting with Brad Sorenson. He invited me into his upstairs prep kitchen to watch him finish the bread for the day, and he began to discuss how this project came together.
Sorenson has been in the restaurant industry for 15 years, starting out as a dishwasher. At age 22, he opened his first restaurant as executive chef in Ohio. After landing in Austin, he had a brief run on the Food Network after being recognized for his work at Asti Trattoria. Sorenson’s unremitting work ethic and passion for consistent, high-quality cuisine landed him the gig as head chef and lead on the NO VA project.
Oscar Laural Jr., owner of NO VA, was a patron of Asti and proud father of a culinary school graduate. Laural already had plans to open a bar, but the kitchen plans developed as Sorenson began to cook for the family and they bonded over their love of great food and the importance of guest satisfaction.
“This is a mean business. I really take what the guests say to heart,” Sorenson says, but I get the feeling he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’m here from 8 in the morning ’til 2 in the morning. We do this entire menu from scratch every single day. This place is my life. This is what I’ve been thinking about and working on for years, and now that it’s actually here, all the hard work starts.”
Sorenson’s enthusiasm hangs on his every word and this restaurant begins to feel less like new downtown construction and more like a home Austinites are invited in to.
“I want you to feel like you’re coming over to my house,” Sorenson affirms.
“I really wanted this menu to be a good representation of my style of food. I think it’s recognizable, approachable and fun,” Sorenson says. “I like to call it ‘from-scratch home-style.’ I don’t want to rely on anyone to make a component of our food.”
Everything from the ketchup to the emulsified pineapple is made in-house, he notes. He even confessed his dreams of bringing in a whole goat he could butcher himself.
The ambitious Sorenson has a small team of six that he treats like family. They all wear the same chef coats, treat each other with respect and tell each other the occasional joke to keep the kitchen light.
The space, designed by Joel Mozersky, combines minimalist design aesthetic and warm hues of orange and red, seen in the leather couches and artwork adorning the walls. The downstairs patio boasts a fireplace and the upstairs patio provides perfect views of Rainey Street and its dedicated patrons wandering the streets below. The various dining rooms offer intimate dining settings as well as larger tables for large social gatherings. The private dining room downstairs is the ideal spot for your next business dinner or birthday celebration.
“I want this to be everyone’s neighborhood restaurant. I want everyone to come back two or three times a week,” Sorenson says about creating just the right experience for his guests.
Whether you’re in the neighborhood for a night on the town or a planned dinner, you must check out this new restaurant. You won’t be able to miss it because it’s the one building that “doesn’t go,” according to its Spanish name.
“The story goes, Mr. Laural was standing in the street looking at the building during construction and just blurted out ‘no va,’ and his wife said, ‘That’s it!’ ” Sorenson says.
NO VA’s exterior may not go with the current Rainey Street constructional design, but with Sorenson’s culinary impact, NO VA has marked its territory in this happening hood.