I almost shivered with delight when I saw that outdoor heaters had been installed above the brick patio of the new Austin restaurant Bureau de Poste. The prospect of cold weather sounded positively thrilling, especially in the wake of hellpocalypse (i.e., last summer). I settled onto a comfy cushioned banquette and prepared to enjoy dinner with friends at the charming French bistro, after which I intended to go inside and raid the aisles of its suite mate, a high-end specialty food shop with the impossibly cute name of Tiny Grocer.
Occupying what used to be a post office in Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood, the conjoined businesses are the project of two women who first met in 2021. The 52-year-old owner is Steph Steele, who spent 24 years running Whole Foods stores in California and Texas. She subsequently learned restaurant operation and design at Austin-based McGuire Moorman Hospitality (now MML Hospitality), and in 2021 she opened the original Tiny Grocer, on South Congress Avenue. The chef is Jo Chan, 34, a preternaturally focused California native who had decided on a career by the time she was 15. “I didn’t watch cartoons after school when I was a kid,” she told me. “I watched the Food Network and became obsessed with the science of cooking.” Her superheroes were Alton Brown, Ina Garten, and Martha Stewart.
Chan’s monomania paid off. She graduated from culinary school in 2011 and ultimately landed a spot in New York’s West Village at Barbuto, under the tutelage of Jonathan Waxman, a protégé of Alice Waters and a legend in his own right. Seven years later she was in Texas as executive chef at sleek Austin restaurant Eberly. In 2022 she took a brief hiatus from that gig to compete on Top Chef (she made it through half of the challenges).
Around that time Steele had started to think about a second Tiny Grocer, and this time she was dreaming big: she envisioned a larger location and serious French dishes that could be ordered at the counter and eaten on-site (the South Congress counter, Tiny Delicatessen, is to-go only). She reached out to Chan, whom she’d kept in touch with, and in 2023 Chan joined the operation as executive chef and partner. She had her work cut out for her, tasked as she was with creating an elevated quick-serve menu. But when Steele tasted the dishes Chan came up with, she looked at her and said, “Hold everything. We’ve got to do a full-service restaurant.”
And that is how I found myself on the patio, with friends, on a delightfully cool fall evening, attacking a bowl of ebony-shelled mussels, their shallot-rich white wine broth bolstered by the novel addition of savory sautéed tomatoes and fennel. State-of-the-art frites—soft and steamy on the inside, crispy-salty on the outside—rounded out the plate.
Another standby, French onion soup, was as good as it gets, subtly sweet and beefy, with a discreet cap of melty Gruyère. I wasn’t crazy about the tomato bisque—it was too thick and could have used sweeter, riper tomatoes—but I was utterly seduced by the avocado tartine, its drifts of pale green set off by teeny marigold petals and a splash of lemon oil. Other nibbles beckoned, the most irresistible being an insanely good quartet of pommes dauphine, golden globes of whipped potato fried and decadently topped with crème fraîche and neon-orange smoked trout roe.
It’s easy to get caught up in snacking, but don’t overdo it, because two of the best items on the menu are substantial. The first is the sixteen-ounce ribeye (avec frites, of course), which arrives cooked to your exact specification and with your choice of sauce poured luxuriously on top (I unreservedly endorse the au poivre). But as good as the steak is, the roast chicken (yes, chicken—I can hardly believe I’m writing this) is better. So moist, so juicy, so tender was the quick-brined half bird that I would have happily devoured it even without its two accompaniments: sweet and tart dried cranberries and generous spoonfuls of an Italian-inspired sauce verte, rich with capers, oregano, and tarragon.
The French beat goes on with expected classics, such as the cassoulet: I loved its rich stew of Tarbais beans dotted with garlicky breadcrumbs (though the requisite confit duck leg and thigh were a little dry, and the link of venison sausage could have given beef jerky a run for its money). Another longtime French favorite is skate, which is not commonly found on Texas menus. This member of the ray family has a firm texture and takes well to a quick sear. Here, Chan cooked it a la plancha and paired it with a beurre blanc sauce, which struck me as timid, but my friends countered, saying it let the fish’s delicate flavor shine through.
By the time our server cleared the table, we were relieved there were only three desserts. You’ll be totally satisfied with either the crème brûlée or the caramel dark chocolate mousse, but for novelty’s sake, I think you should try the clafouti. The French adore this simple dish, which is basically a custard with cake-ish tendencies, often with cherries stirred into the batter. Chan’s kitchen uses blueberries, which looked pretty but were underripe (so often the case in Texas). Even so, the melded flavors went beautifully with the round of coffee and espresso we had ordered when we noticed the evening growing chilly. We huddled under the heaters and scraped up the last few bites. Nobody was ready to leave just yet.
This article originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Stamp of Approval.” Subscribe today.