Typically, a restaurateur starts with a menu concept and builds the space and decor around it. The creative minds behind Hillside Farmacy, however, did things a little differently. Co-owner Mickie Spencer—the proprietor of East Side Showroom—was putting finishing touches on her last creation, Swan Dive, when she discovered Jones Drug Store, an abandoned 1920s pharmacy in Elgin.
When the business closed its doors in 1975, it was boarded up with everything still sitting on the shelves—leaving behind a gold mine of vintage display cases, antique cash registers and even untouched medicine bottles and a delicate book of old prescriptions.
“Pharmacy stuff is like my dream; I love old bottles,” says Spencer. And soon an idea for a new restaurant and bar began to gel. “The whole business plan was built around opening up a pharmacy-esque bar/restaurant,” she says. Spencer brought on East Side Showroom head chef Sonya Coté as a partner, as well as longtime friends Greg Mathews and Jade Place-Mathews, owners of El Diablo Taco Truck in Brooklyn.
Soon a space on East 11th Street became available for lease. They learned it, too, had once housed a pharmacy. In the 1920s, Hillside Drugstore was owned and operated by Doc Young, Austin’s first African American pharmacist. Young’s daughter, Yvetta Turner, still lives down the street and owns the building where she used to pull the soda fountain as a child. It only made sense to pay homage to the historic building—while also giving a nod to the planned farm-to-table menu—by naming the establishment Hillside Farmacy. The concept, and intentional spelling, notes Coté, is that the food is the medicine because it’s healthy and fresh.
Coté prefers to piece together the menu from whatever she can source or forage locally. “It’s more ingredient-driven food,” she explains. “The menu itself doesn’t dictate to us; I find the ingredient and then build the menu from that.” She tries to source from smaller producers first, which include Boggy Creek Farm, Fruitful Hill Farm, HausBar Farms, Countryside Farms, Richardson Farms, Springdale Farm and San Miguel Seafood.
The Farmacy’s focus is on small, shareable plates featuring the comfort foods that Coté grew up on. Besides their regular menu, which includes sandwiches, salads, soups, charcuterie, breakfast items and snacks, there is a list of four to five hot specials that changes nightly. An old-fashioned soda counter offers alcohol- and ice cream-optional liquid elixirs.
One of the charms of the Farmacy is the market-like accessibility of all the items on the menu; most anything can be bought à la carte, such as local cheese or housemade pâté. A pastry case at the front displays confections from Pie Fixes Everything, Cake and Spoon, Cakemix and Luxe Sweets, as well as breads from Sweetish Hill Bakery, bagels from Rockstar Bagels and gluten-free breads from Misty Morning Bakery. Coté acts as culinary curator—using the space to showcase all of her favorite local purveyors, many of whom were only found previously at the farmers markets.
A variety of local hygiene products are available for purchase as well, including Wild Spirit Botanicals tinctures made from foraged herbs, South Austin People laundry soap and Alchemy’s Apothecary herbal cough syrups. And a produce stand holds fresh vegetables in front of the shop.
“I feel that Hillside has brought life back to that corner on East 11th,” says Place-Mathews. “Our space is for the community to enjoy and celebrate the local food and homemade products that Austin offers.” —Veronica Meewes
Hillside Farmacy, 1209 E. 11th St.