By Robin Chotzinoff
Photography by Marc Brown
Cassidy and Calliope, 11-month-old twins, cruise around the kitchen island—staggering a little, smiling a lot—still needing an adult hand to hold as they learn to walk. “One of us does the chopping, one of us wrangles the children and that’s how we do dinner,” says their mother, Karrie League, who is taking, as she puts it, a nice, long maternity leave. “What you’re seeing here is just like real life,” she says, “except I’m usually wearing sweatpants and a soiled T-shirt.”
Tim League, her husband, still works at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, the company they formed 15 years ago—growing it from one movie house into a conglomerate of theaters in Texas and six other states, a genre film festival, several restaurants and bars and a film-distribution division, among many other ventures. It’s the perfect business model for a workaholic. Either League could be busy 24/7, but they choose not to be. Tim often works and lunches at home, and he makes a point of leaving the office by six. “Oh, it’s so Leave It to Beaver,” Karrie says.
Maybe, but Ward and June never bathed their infants in the prep sink. To the Leagues, however, it made perfect sense. A culinary vein seems to run through most of their ventures, business and otherwise, and there’s lots of crossover. (Mason jars filled with infused gin line the top of their stove—an experiment left over from brainstorming sessions for The Highball cocktail menu.) Food may not have been what brought them together—they met as engineering students at Rice University—but it quickly became a focus. “Our first date was a picnic,” Karrie remembers. “Tim made it—nice breads, cheeses, pasta.” “It wasn’t cooked, because I didn’t cook back then,” he says. “It was…curated.”
They began cooking in earnest only to save money. Having quit engineering jobs to buy and run their first movie theater, they didn’t have much choice. “We lived in the theater, behind the screen,” Karrie says. “We had a Crock-Pot and a rice cooker and our dinner would stew all day. We ate a lot of ramen.”
“Five years ago, I discovered ramen was an actual food,” Tim adds, but his Twitter and Facebook followers already know about that particular obsession, as well as the “agave-centered spirits” bar at the new Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane, the recent milk-shake contest and the very detailed Austin restaurant guide associated with Fantastic Fest. It’s hard to believe League’s early menus consisted of “food that’s fast to make and easy to eat in the dark.” Now, with chefs in his employ and menus constantly in development, he never misses a chance to “spitball, taste, refine…yeah,” he says, “I’ll definitely give my sage advice.”
Tonight’s main course has zero chance of being produced in a Drafthouse kitchen. The Crock-Pot’s long gone, replaced by a sous-vide machine that someone gave the couple. (The sous-vide method cooks food sealed in airtight bags in a water bath at a low temperature for long periods of time, preserving juiciness and flavor.) “[It’s] something we wouldn’t necessarily buy for ourselves,” Tim says. “And now we cook with it all the time.” Perfect poached eggs, for instance, from their own yard hens, and the “strange, cheap beef parts” Karrie likes to find at Fiesta. Tonight, a whole beef tongue has just emerged from the machine, on its way to becoming the lengua tacos that fascinated her as a child, when she saw street vendors making them in Tijuana.
No sooner has she sliced the tongue than it’s time for a few more laps around the kitchen island. Tim takes over—crisping the meat in adobo sauce and feeding masa into the tortilla press. Karrie’s parents are on their way and high chairs are waiting in the dining room. That’s where the Leagues dine, after all—at least when they’re not at one of the Alamos. The twins won’t be eating in the dark at the movies anytime soon, though.
“No movies while you eat…not yet,” Karrie says to the toddlers. “You’re not old enough.”
Oh, it’s so Leave It to Beaver.
CRISPY LENGUA TACOS
1 cow tongue
1 can chipotle chilies in adobo
2 T. olive oil
Chopped onion and cilantro, to garnish
Cook the tongue sous-vide style according to manufacturer's recommendation for weight, time and temperature (Karrie cooks hers for 24 hours at 140 degrees). Remove the tongue to a plate and reserve any cooking juices. Peel, dice and sauté the tongue in the olive oil until slightly crispy and browned. Add the reserved juices and the chilies in their sauce to the pan and heat. Serve the meat on corn tortillas with chopped onion and cilantro.