Our inaugural visit to Larry McGuire’s Clarksville cottage was quite nearly foiled, for we, alas, had not made reservations for lunch. On a Saturday. At 2 p.m. In Austin. Nevertheless, we managed to secure spots at the tiny marble bar, welcomed by an enthusiastic server who steered us to California cuisine–style dishes like crispy-skinned grouper with a colorful medley of romanesco and diced beets and fat, hand-cut noodles bathed in a wild mushroom ragù and Parmesan.
Having nabbed a prime spot on a downtown thoroughfare, this sleek place offers a modern American menu with European touches. The tarte flambée, an Alsatian-style pizza with bacon, caramelized onions, and creme fraiche on a thin crust, inspired smiles all around. Chunks of sharp Vermont cheddar brightened a delicate butter lettuce salad with apple, red onion, and a perky apple cider vinaigrette. A grilled hanger steak was well seasoned but cooked rarer than requested.
Delicious smoke wafts from a plethora of pits across the city, and while this south-of-the-river trailer flies under the radar a bit, it’s definitely a contender. Crusty brisket, all but rolling in luscious fat, was more than passable, and the pork ribs scored high marks on the fall-off-the-bone scale. Juicy pork tenderloin rubbed with espresso was our dark horse, besting the pulled pork, which was merely fine. Homemade bread and a mayonnaise-free potato salad also won extra points with us.
This gorgeous mod farmhouse, with its unpretentious service and local sourcing, exudes calm amid the clamor of busy South Lamar. Alas, that refreshingly simple aesthetic doesn't always translate to the food. The memory of unfortunately mealy mussels was dispatched with lovely red and golden beets mingling with arugula, blue cheese, and pear. Then it got complicated. Perfectly cooked scallops fought for attention atop a creamy pasta dotted with lamb chorizo and white anchovy.
In a casual but nattily attired building on the edge of a north central Austin neighborhood, Épicerie is dishing up counter-order meals, to go or to eat on-site. Judging by the chatty, family-oriented crowd, many choose to stay, dining on the likes of sumptuous oxtail stew with Anson Mills grits (which will elevate your opinion of grits forever) or a salad of roasted beets and Granny Smith apples. Brunch offers good smoked salmon with capers and cream cheese on house-made English muffins.
In a dining scene fraught with locavores and hipster food devotees, this quiet, candle-lit dining room tucked behind the Wally Workman Gallery has been comfortingly untrendy since 1997. Its menu items may well come from a nearby farm (as in the salad of arugula, beets, and tiny moons of radish), but the menu doesn't trumpet it. A fritto misto of redfish cubes, crisp in cornmeal coats, was enjoyable, and a bowl of smoky udon noodles, mushrooms, and red snapper proved satisfying and balanced.
Opening just in time for the legislative power brokers, this tony Dallas-based chain faces plenty of competition nearby but obviously feels secure. The interior is wood paneled and clubby, even preppy, while the beef menu encompasses roast duck and smoked salmon on toast points. A crab cake with a punchy mustard sauce was staid but solid, as was the surf and turf, featuring a filet and an Australian loster tail. Our favorite, though, was the generous rack of tiny lamb chops (also from Down Under).
A casual spot for wine and nibbles after work, Backspace is now serving lunch, a most welcome development. The menu is the same, including the pocket-size list of antipasti (addictive spicy cauliflower with a citrusy dressing of lemon and capers, heavenly burrata with olive salad). Make your main course a Neapolitan-style pizza, like the fennel sausage with roasted peppers, its thin, crisp crust blistered in the Italian brick oven. (Updated 3/13)
Boy, is the meat here good! A spicy dry rub did wonders for a paperlined tray of smoked brisket, smoked beef short ribs, pulled pork, and prime rib (a special). The chipotle-spiked coleslaw overshadowed the other sides, while cold Lone Star beer from a cooler made it go down smooth. Get there early. More than half the menu items were sold out within an hour of opening.(2/13)
The rare neighborhood restaurant where you can actually converse, Texas French Bread has finished its facelift and presents freshly painted white walls, bare concrete floors, exposed rafters, and simple curtains to the world.