Dining

Hotline King

Meet the guy taking restaurant recommendations to the next level
Culinary Concierge
Photo: Nicole Franzen

You know a dream job when you see it. Tasting chocolate all day. Traveling the world and drinking tons of beer. Enduring numerous rounds of recipe-testing (and subsequently devouring) things like chile-honey wings with your colleagues in the Test Kitchen. Here’s another to add to the  “coolest jobs on the planet” list: Be the go-to guy who gets all the restaurant and bar intel  used to send out-of-towners on a best-hits tour.  

That’s where San Antonio culinary concierge Hugh Daschbach comes in. Sure, San Antonio may not spring to mind when you think of stellar food in Texas. But with its Wild West history, affordability (no personal income tax!) and the cultural influence of neighboring Mexico, it’s one city Daschbach believes shouldn’t be ignored.

Photo: Jason Risner

Daschbach’s home base is Hotel Emma, which sits in the center of the Pearl District. Once home to Pearl Brewing Company, the Pearl is now a hub of curated restaurants, bars and apartments.

As soon as you arrive, you’re whisked into the hotel’s private library, where a bar cart rolls in and a server begins shaking up a daiquiri or margarita to be sipped as you settle. Then Daschbach makes his grand entrance. He starts by gauging your temperature about the kind of cuisine you might want to explore, as well as any non-food adventures you’d like to add to the mix, and then sends you on a personally curated culinary journey.

“A lot of what qualified me for this job was an insatiable appetite for food, wine and beer from the consumer’s perspective,” Daschbach says.

After earning his degree in business and marketing from nearby Trinity University, Daschbach spent years as a conference and event planner and another two decades cooking and eating his way through the restaurant scene.

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“I think it was an ability to say that ‘if we want our guests to relate to us, this guy is going to be a good bridge,’” he says. “I speak the language. I can walk into a downtown restaurant kitchen to say hi to the chef by name, and they’re not gonna kick me out.”

Those relationships are vital. So much so that Daschbach even brings chefs to the hotel for tastings in the lobby— “leaving a trail of bread crumbs,” he says.

He relies on those same chefs to provide particularly unique culinary experiences back at their restaurants, too. “I told them, ‘I want you, not a free appetizer,’” he says. So when you go in to dine as one of Daschbach’s guests, you can expect the chef to come out and share their backstory, rather than just a complimentary plate of calamari. Or, if a patron is an enthusiastic wine aficionado, they might get access to the private collection sommeliers often store away for regulars or VIPs.

“Even though it’s all about food, without the people who make it, the people who serve it, the people who put their heart and soul into it, it’s sort of meaningless fuel,” Daschbach concludes. “So that’s the part fun, connecting the people behind it. I’m a huge believer in the magic of the energy around a table when people eat together.”

Here’s a typical itinerary Daschbach will send visitors on.

Start with a sip: It all begins at Sternewirth “in the tank,” where velveteen banquettes and tufted pillows flank the looming metal tanks that once fermented beer.

Fuel up: Go deeper into the Pearl District to Cured, armed with dish recommendations and prime seats at chef Steve McHugh’s counter. Or head to the King William Historic District to Stefan Bowers’s Feast or Rebelle in The St. Anthony Hotel.

Chew the fat: Over the next few days, meet industry veterans like Andrew Weissmann, Bruce Auden or Jason Dady.

Venture into the unknown: Check out Michael Sohocki’s “quirky” food at Restaurant Gwendolyn, a locally brewed kombucha café, scores of mom-and-pop taco joints, or a small-batch gelato shop run by an American guy who studied under a master gelato maker in Italy.

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