Renaissance man: Creator of Lockhart Bistro celebrates third anniversary
By Miles Smith
If you walk into the Lockhart Bistro, its kitchen is open to the dining area, with nothing hidden from view – a cool feature if you’re interested in food and how it’s made.
And that open concept extends to its owner, Parind Vora, who opened the San Antonio Street restaurant in October 2015, near the forefront of downtown Lockhart’s evolution into a burgeoning entertainment district.
It’s common to see Vora in the kitchen’s epicenter getting his hands dirty while pausing every once in awhile to say hi to customers who approach the counter.
“I’ve got three criteria when it comes to food,” said Vora, who was born in India and moved to the U.S. in 1976 when he was eight years old. “It needs to be culturally honest, it needs to have good ingredients and it has to be made with love.
“Even when I’m in a bad mood and everything is going wrong, I come here, I start working and it’s all about the food.”
Vora didn’t start out as a restauranteur, getting a degree in biology with a minor in chemistry before heading off to medical school. While he was doing well in his classes, his heart wasn’t in it, he said.
“I was in Maine doing my clinical rotation,” he said. “I was thinking about food and wine more than anything else.”
So he told the dean he was taking a leave of absence. Once he inundated himself into the culinary world, he never looked back.
In 2001, he opened Restaurant Jezebel in Ruidoso, New Mexico after a conversation with a customer at a restaurant he was managing in north Boston.
Restaurant Jezebel would move to Austin a few years later (“Ruidoso was beautiful, but it was super seasonal,” Vora explains), where it would eventually become a highly acclaimed fine-dining establishment on West 6th Street that served dishes customized to people’s tastes at an average cost of $260 per person.
But like many who move to Caldwell County, Vora got bitten by the country-living bug. He wanted to slow his personal life down a bit. He bought property in Dale. He drove through Lockhart on US 183 when he took notice of the courthouse out of the corner of his eye.
“I thought, wow, what a charming square,” he recalled. “ I saw pretty much everything was for rent or for sale and thought, maybe I should do something.”
And so the Lockhart Bistro was born. Its prices are a far cry from Jezebel’s, but Vora wanted it that way … something more accessible for people that would still use high quality ingredients and still cater to a customer’s whims and desires.
“It’s modern American, which doesn’t mean anything. I do what I want,” Vora said. “ I’ve got Tikka Masala, which is 100 percent straight-up Indian. I’ve got chicken fried Steak. I’ve got quail with filet mignon and wild rice and a roasted red pepper beurre blanc.”
And he hasn’t given up the Jezebel experience entirely, either. Restaurant Jezebel still exists, only in a different incarnation. The Jezebel of today is a room behind the kitchen that opens once a month by reservation. There is no menu, Vora says, just meals that are crafted to cater to the diner’s tastes.
That feature extends to the Bistro, too, Vora says. One need only ask.
“Just say, ‘Make me something,’” Vora said. “We do that all the time because we can.
“It’s the same person cooking whether you’re at Jezebel for $250 or if you’re eating at the bistro and getting a burger.”
Vora said one thing he likes about the Bistro is its ability to serve as a friendly spot for people with opposing viewpoints.
“There are a lot of contentious issues here, but when both sides are in the restaurant, they get up and they go say hello to each other,” he said. “That’s something I think the Bistro brings to Lockhart.”
The Lockhart Bistro is open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday from 5-10 p.m. and for brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.