207 San Jacinto Blvd.
Austin, TX 78701
Phone: (512) 904-0111
Max’s Wine Dive is a San Antonio/Houston import that aims to marry upscale comfort food with an extensive listing of fine wine and cocktails. Although Max’s intentions are good, the execution is a bit uneven, evidencing a spot that cannot quite decide whether it is laid-back or upscale. This distinction may not seem important on the surface, but underscores an identity crisis that permeates the Max’s experience.
We visited most recently on a chilly weeknight, just around happy hour. Some of our group arrived before the end of happy hour, and had a difficult time getting the attention of the bartender in the 15-20 minute period they waited before the end of happy hour.
We ordered a round of drinks and decided on some starters. We began with a charcuterie plate and an order of Nacho Mama’s Oysters. The charcuterie plate included duck bacon, pickled okra and fennel, cherries, and andouille sausage. The first impression was that the plate was fairly scant. The duck bacon lacked texture and flavor. The pickled vegetables and sausage were both tasty; we just wished there had been more of them.
On the other hand, the Nacho Mama’s Oysters were whimsical and well-received. These featured crispy, fried Gulf oysters resting atop fried wontons with habanero salsa, cilantro, and garlic aioli. This dish seems to epitomize what Max’s strives to be–an unexpected, fun twist on a classic. The oysters were crisp and well seasoned, and the aioli and sauces provided a spicy zip. (Incidentally, the weekend chicken and waffles also successfully walks this line of upscale comfort classics and whimsy).
We also tried the fried mushrooms. The batter on the mushrooms tasted fine, but we had a difficult time actually tasting the mushrooms.
From here, we moved on to our main dishes. We opted for the lamb pot pie and the fried egg sandwich. The lamb pot pie was the perfect cold-weather antidote, featuring dark, rich gravy, julienned roasted carrots and potatoes, and tender chunks of lamb. The tender roasted vegetables and bites of lamb were perfectly complemented by a flaky puff pastry topping resting over the pie. This comforting dish finished with an unexpected blast of mint gremolata, which offered an herbaceous, refreshing zest.
The fried egg sandwich featured three fried eggs, drizzled with truffle oil and sea salt. The eggs were paired with house-made bacon, Gruyere cheese, green-leaf lettuce, and black truffle oil. This dish did manage to effectively walk the line between comfort classic and upscale twist, with layered flavors and a good flavor balance. Our biggest criticism, though, was that the artisan sourdough bread was simply too hard for such a large sandwich, making the sandwich unnecessarily difficult to eat.
Max’s Wine Dive has a lot of potential. The kitchen is clearly capable of producing some unexpected, sophisticated interpretations of some comfort classics. However, the biggest problem is that Max’s seems to be unable to completely be at ease with this upscale-laid back combination. Although some members of our party were greeted with helpful, attentive service, others in our group were treated dismissively (if not with a bit of snobbery). In order to effectively balance these potentially disparate attitudes, Max’s Wine Dive should focus on showing its attitude where its strengths lie–confidently recrafting comfort classics with whimsical confidence–rather than with its service.