1600 South Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704
Phone: (512) 447-3905
Hours: Brunch: Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Dinner: Daily 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Happy Hour: Mon.-Fri. 3 p.m.-6 p.m.
South Congress Cafe makes its home on a seriously hopping corner of South Congress Avenue known for shopping, strolling, and people-watching. We visited South Congress Cafe on a recent weekend, looking for a toasty respite from the chilly, rainy weather.
A word of warning about South Congress Cafe–this place can generate some serious crowds, so be prepared for a wait, particularly for weekend brunch. However, we were pleased to discover that South Congress Cafe, like many restaurants in other cities (though woefully few in Austin), will take your name and a cell phone number, so that you can wander the SoCo strip while waiting for your table. If you’re lucky enough to find a spot in the bar area, you can also partake of some of the spot’s signature cocktails, include a number of martinis, infused cocktails, and specialty margaritas.
We started our meal with an order of crab cakes. These cakes married lump crab meat with shrimp with a crispy panko crust. The result was a truly delicious crab cake, which was seriously crunchy outside, while remaining creamy and flavorful inside. The cakes were served with a spicy red chile sauce and a zesty mango aioli, both of which were delicious, and enhanced the flavor of the crab cakes. The crab cakes rested upon an equally delicious mixed green salad, dressed with a citrus vinaigrette. From start to finish, this dish was an excellent. It was beautifully presented, and offered a harmony of textures and flavors. It was complex and tasty, and easily one of the tastiest crab cakes we had ever eaten.
After the crab cakes, we sampled the gumbo with duck and oysters. South Congress Cafe’s gumbo featured a dark, chocolatey roux and lobster stock with duck, jalapeno sausage, gulf oysters, and okra. The result was a subtle gumbo, which, rather than overwhelming with spiciness, offered a lingering burn that was comforting and sophisticated.
After our starters, we were ready to move on to our brunch entrees. First up was the quail sandwich with truffled remoulade. This sandwich featured boneless quail, which had been marinated in buttermilk and spices and then crispy breaded. The quail was paired with bacon, caramelized onions, and roasted portabella mushrooms. The sandwich was finished with fresh arugula and roma tomatoes on a fresh baked roll. Like the crab cakes before it, this sandwich offered a complex layering of flavors. There was a deep earthiness from the mushrooms and quail, which was offset perfectly by crispy bacon, the sweetness of the bun and caramelized onion, and a dash of spice from the arugula. The truffled remoulade offered a zesty finish to the sandwich. The sandwich was paired with a mound of crispy house-made fries (or cole slaw).
Finally, we tried the Italian omelet. This omelet mixed spicy rajas, three cheeses (fresco, panela, and asadero), and wild boar sausage. The dish was topped with a tomato gorgonzola cream sauce. The sausage was herbaceous and earthy; the omelet itself was fluffy and light. The sweetness of the tomato cream sauce was the only dim spot in an otherwise delicious dish. However, any criticisms of the sauce were forgotten with one bite of the potato pancake that accompanied the omelet. The savory pancake included smoked gouda, chopped red pepper, and green onion. The pancake was filling, spicy, and downright unusual (but in the best, unexpected way).
South Congress Cafe is a lively spot with an enviable location. But South Congress Cafe is not merely bustling because of its location. Instead, South Congress Cafe serves up complex, inventive food that would be the envy of many establishments with price tags much higher than the ones on its menu.