Ladies Who Brunch

Long Distance Brunch: South Congress Cafe by Kyle and Benjamin
August 14, 2009, 8:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It should hardly come as a surprise that one of the highlights of the Ladies’ recent vacation was the fine brunch we had in Austin’s happenin’ SoCo district.  Located across the Congress Avenue Bridge from the downtown government, business, and entertainment hubs, SoCo was a bit of a skid row  until low rents started to attract vintage and antique dealers, gallerists and trailer restaurant entrepreneurs.  Many Austinites have the same “yeah, it used to be cool before all the yuppies moved in” attitude about SoCo that we Chicagoans have developed for certain neighborhoods (*cough* wickerpark *cough*), but if this is Austin’s prime example of gentrification gone too far, the city’s residents should count themselves among the muy lucky.  The only national chain I saw on the strip was an American Apparel, and though we passed by it 3 or 4 times during our stay, I don’t think I saw one customer in there.  It should be noted that although  young women in Chicago seem to have lost touch with the concept of pants, I did not see one girl in Austin walking around with nothing but a thin pair of leggings between her cameltoe and my enraged eyeballs.

Between visits to Uncommon Objects’ collection of rusted and rustic folk art and furniture and Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds’ massive warehouse of costumes and accessories, we stopped for brunch at South Congress Cafe, part of the Trudy’s mini-empire of boozy breakfast spots.  The place automatically gets major props for serving brunch every day of the week–who wants to fight the bestrollered crowds of 9 to 5ers to eat badly  poached eggs on Sundays anymore, anyways?  The dining room is an impecably designed open space, with tons of light from the stoorefront windows illuminating the tightly set modern tables and lush grey leather booths.  Another giant window in the back allowed a partial view of the bustling kitchen, while the south side of the dining room merged seemlessly with the intimate, granite topped bar.

Austin is a real laid back kind of town, so even in a relatively posh spot like this the staff rocked whatever comfy eclectic outfits they felt like.  We were a little disappointed when we were not waited on by the lanky, bearded Jude Law lookalike, but our waitress proved herself pretty quickly, guiding us threw the menu and helping us narrow down the massive menu to a merely enormous order.

Seafood parfait!!

Seafood parfait!!

We started with a mango mimosa, house squeezed lemonade, and some expertly brewed Kona coffee before digging into a “seafood parfait,” a tart jicama-carrot-shrimp-whitefish ceviche served in a margarita glass with a big scoop of mind-blowing, ferociously spicy guac.  This dish basically set the bar impossibly high for the rest of the meal since it was the best damn thing I’ve eaten in ages.  And then the kitchen wizards at South Congress Cafe jumped over that bar like a big deer over a small fence (yeah, we spent a long time looking through a book of Texas witticisms at the bookshop next door)

Creamy tomato and stilton in a beautiful bowl.

Creamy tomato and stilton in a beautiful bowl.

We ordered two different soups,  tomato stilton and wild boar pozole.  The tomato soup was rich with the smoky flavor of freshly roasted tomatoes, a perfect balance of acid (a sign of quality, in season ‘matoes), and a magic creaminess from the slowly melting sprinkles of sharp stilton.  The boar pozole presented a bit of an existential crisis:  it was an improvement on one of the favorite dishes of my adolescence.  It was like eating Thanksgiving dinner at someone else’s house, tasting the gravy, and realizing that your grandmother may not, in fact, be the best cook in the world.  The stew was darker and earthier than the Northern New Mexico version, an unholy marriage of traditional pozole, Texas chili, and frickin’ WILD BOAR that just devastated my flavor receptors.

Wild boar pozole

Wild boar pozole

South Congress had four options for eggs benedict, all so enticing it was impossible to choose.  With our server’s help we settled on crab cakes benedict, a perennial favorite with a few twists:  The cakes were topped with hunks of freshly baked quiche instead of poached eggs, and the hollandaise was generously spiked with chipotle.  DUDE.  The crabcakes were perfect, about the size of flattened racquetballs, panko-crispy on the outside but all crab inside, with a potent blend of green herbs mixed in.  The quiche soaked up plenty of the smoky sauce, and each bite could be felt to take a few minutes of your life–as all great breakfast food should.  And where most restaurants would consider crab a fine substitute for pork in a benedict, SoCo took it way over the top by adding ribbons of crispy friend prosciutto to this little masterpiece.

Crab cake quiche eggs benedict!  DELICIOUS.

Crab cake quiche eggs benedict! DELICIOUS.

Faced with an impossible list of choices on the rest of the menu (green chile venison meatloaf or french-toasted carrot cake anyone?), I stabbed blindly and came up with the blackened tuna tacos.  My reward was a heaping do-it-yourself taco bar, with chunks of seared prime tuna, pico de gallo served in a corn husk, more of that addictive guac from the first course, a spicy yogurt sauce, and the best refried black beans I’ve ever had.  Two giant, flour tortilla wrapped belly bombs  later, I was ready to insubstantiate into rays of pure light.

Blackened tuna tacos with all the fixin's!

Blackened tuna tacos with all the fixin's!

Yeah this place was for sure that good.

Here’s the breakdown:

8 points (1 for every item that was properly spicy–only a handful of Chicago joints could even get 1 point is this category) -2 (for each of the Crocs worn by a member of the waitstaff) x 50 (for the number of minutes you would have to wait IF YOU WERE MAD LUCKY for a brunch that is not even half as  good at Lula Cafe) /3 (for the number of unnecessary sets of fresh napkins placed under our drinks during the meal) = an even 100 points, or4star



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