If you suffer from food allergies or autoimmune disease, you know that dining out can be restrictive. As a foodie who later developed celiac disease, the number of restaurants in Austin where I’m able to dine safely can be counted on both hands. I wrote about these safety bunkers in my article, “Top 10 Austin Restaurants When It MUST Be Gluten-free.” Thanks to Picnik, that number has grown to 11.
On Aug. 10, the popular, paleo-friendly food trailer known for its Butter Coffee opened a brick and mortar restaurant at 4801 Burnet Road.
Founder Naomi Seifter created Picnik’s innovative menu alongside Executive Chef Dan Salivar and Culinary Consultant Justin Turner, a Houston restauranteur who gained national recognition as a winner on the Food Network program, “Chopped.”
Everything on Picnik’s newly expanded menu is gluten-free, corn-free, peanut-free and soy-free. They use only pasture-raised meats and eggs, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed butter, whey and collagen. Avocado oil is the cooking oil of choice, as it’s rich in heart-healthy fats, oleic acid, vitamin E and carotenoids.
A favorite menu item of paleo enthusiasts is the Bone Broth, which is known to heal the gut, promote healthy digestion and reduce inflammation. At Picnik, they use raw apple cider vinegar to draw out the trace minerals from the bones, which support immune function.
Real Food + Good Vibes
The official tagline of Picnik, “Real Food + Good Vibes,” embodies Seifter’s philosophy that, “Picnik exists to accommodate all dietary restrictions based on the philosophy that delicious food can also be good for the body and mind.”
As a child, Seifter battled severe food allergies and experienced symptoms ranging from abdominal pain to unexplained anxiety. It wasn’t until the age of 19 that she discovered she had celiac disease after having a conversation with her grandmother, who also suffered from the autoimmune condition.
Seifter eliminated gluten from her diet and experienced a miraculous improvement in her digestive symptoms and the reduction of her anxiety, but she continued to struggle with acne, weight fluctuation and hormonal imbalance. After experimenting with several variations of plant-based diets, Seifter stumbled upon The Paleo Diet. Once she began incorporating animal protein into her diet and eliminating grains, corn (pseudo grain) and most dairy products, nearly all of her symptoms vanished.
The Perfect Place for a Picnik
After graduating from Syracuse University in 2010, Seifter hit the road, spending time at an ashram in Quebec and then in Miami Beach, where she taught yoga full-time. While in Miami, she rented a space in the back of a juice bar, Under the Mango Tree. There she sold eco-friendly jewelry to earn extra money. Inspired by the success of her friend’s juice bar, Seifter began thinking about how she wanted to put her knowledge of health and healing into the world.
In 2011, Seifter and fiancé Kevin moved to Austin on a whim. It quickly became apparent to Seifter that the progressive, health-conscious city of Austin was the perfect place to open her new business.
Two years later, she purchased a pink food truck and searched all over town for a place to park it, to no avail. When she happened upon what seemed like the perfect lot at 1700 S. Lamar Blvd, she was disappointed to learn that no food trucks were permitted to park on the site, apart from the existing trailers that were already occupied.
While driving by the same lot a few days later, Seifter noticed a “For Sale” sign on one of the existing trailers and knew it was meant to be. She sold her pink truck and purchased the reclaimed shipping container. She initially opened under the name Pressed & Squeezed, but she wasn’t in love with the branding. Often people would stop by her trailer and say, “This is the perfect place for a picnic.” Seifter agreed–it was the perfect place for a “Picnik.”
Beyond Paleo at Picnik
Although the menu is largely based on high-quality proteins, healthy fats and vegetables, Picnik is paleo-friendly, but not uncompromising. Seifter believes that optimum nutrition looks different for everyone and wants to allow for an individualized approach with room to evolve.
When I asked Seifter what ideal nutrition looks like for her, she explained, “My perfect diet is 70 percent plant-based and 30 percent high-quality meats and fats. I’ve started incorporating a lot more fruits and vegetables [than what The Paleo Diet would typically allow] into Picnik’s menu. We’re also becoming more vegan-friendly and adding non-gluten grains such as quinoa, in order to be more widely encompassing.”
What began as a food trailer serving mainly coffee and grab-and-go bites has blossomed into a 74-seat, full-service restaurant open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even if you’re fortunate enough not to have any dietary restrictions, you can still reap the health benefits of a delicious, responsibly-sourced meal at Picnik and support a budding local business.
@theAustinot wants to know:
Where do you go for health-conscious eats in Austin?