The Ultimate Guide to Brunch in Austin

The Ultimate Guide to Brunch in Austin

Better Half Coffee & Cocktails

Co-owner Matthew Bolick likes to joke that after painting their outdoor picnic tables pink, they were destined to become a brunch haven. But that weekend destination status was practically baked in from the beginning, when ownership, including chef Rich Reimbolt, opted to model their “Texas diner” after places like Whataburger and Waffle House. Every day before 3 p.m., you can order a chicken biscuit tricked out with curry bread and butter pickles or a block of waffle iron hash browns acting as a substratum for a gooey farm egg and coffee gravy. And it wouldn’t be a Bolick-owned concept without a striking sense of humor, apparent in a French 75 riff named after the Lilith Fair and a “gabagool” kolache that Tony Soprano would happily whack you for. betterhalfbar.com

Better Half’s breakfast sandwich with hash browns and a fried egg.

 

Brooklyn Breakfast Shop

Like peak summer tomatoes or asparagus just sprouted from March soils, chef Ryan Rosen swears the eggs from Brenham’s Shirttail Creek Farms are “the purest essence” of the product. Not too big, and with an electric-orange yolk weighted with umami and palate-coating unctuousness, these pasture-raised beauties crown everything from a barbacoa hero to avocado toast to Rosen’s star breakfast sandwich: a tender whey biscuit stacked with house-fermented mustard pickles, pimiento cheese stippled with charred Fresno chiles, and fennel sausage given a hard sear on the flattop. Subjected to the slightest squeeze, that fluorescent magma comes oozing past every salty, craggy layer in a portrait of early morning perfection. brooklynbreakfastshop.co

 

The Cavalier

As the constant clink of beer mugs and billiards shots suggests, The Cavalier takes its dive-y, Louisiana-style approach to Southern comfort fare damn seriously. That also applies to a no-frills brunch menu that succeeds because of one rule of thumb: Each offering has to be elevated by a “secret” ingredient worthy of Grandma herself. Think honey butter steeped with the powerful kick of dried guajillo chiles, fried chicken marinated in an orange and black tea brine, and an award-winning bloody mary that reaches smoky transcendence from what Fox calls “simply love” (although it could also be that dash of mezcal thrown into the mix). thecavalieratx.com

 

Elizabeth St. Café

It would be all too easy to laugh off a couple of white guys (yes, this is the brainchild of Larry McGuire and Tom Moorman) dabbling in Vietnamese food, but then you taste the results, and begrudgingly or not, you have to come back. Again. And again. We dare you to try the duo’s “diner” version of xôi—an on-the-go breakfast dish normally served with fried shallots or dried pork that’s layered with house ginger sausage and poached eggs—and not be impressed. Or suck down a stupid-good bowl of pork pho redolent of charred onions, konbu, fish sauce, and a pantry full of spices, and be anything but a true believer. Welcome, you’ve become one of the converted. elizabethstreetcafe.com


Pouring some Vietnamese iced coffee at Elizabeth Street Cafe. Photo by Jackie Klusmeye.

 

Foreign & Domestic

At chef-partners Sarah Heard and Nathan Lemley’s perpetually booked-out brunch service, belts are loosened in anticipation of such unpretentious offerings as succulent Berkshire pork plated over golden Barton Springs Mill grits and fried chicken that’s marinated for 24 hours in buttermilk, then finished with a peppery jolt courtesy of Lemley’s espresso-infused red eye gravy. On the menu’s more adventurous side, garden-grown cardamom imbues a cool spice onto sticky cinnamon rolls and Heard’s personal recipe for pancakes employ vinegar-soured milk to achieve both the biting bright flavor and extra-fluffy consistency first demanded by her toughest critic—aka her youngest daughter. fndaustin.com

 

Forthright

There’s a certain area of sensory science pioneered by Oxford professor Charles Spence that explores how our physical environments influence the enjoyment of food. It’s called Gastrophysics, and Forthright’s director of operations, Brandon Acuña, has long been a student of it. That’s why everything at this downtown cafe feels so cozy and accommodating: lighting that ebbs and flows based on the amount of natural sunlight streaming through the Michael Hsu–designed space; the humidity that they control through a choreographed dance of the opening and closing of various entrances; and the delicate sounds of Litany and other Scandinavian pop. Paired with chef Zach Sutton’s penchant for elevated classics (think a hash constructed from smoked JNL Barbecue pastrami and house-made Doña sauce), it makes for a study in full-sensory bliss. forthright.cafe

 

Gabriela’s Downtown

From the outside, Gabriela’s can seem trendy to a fault (Bad Bunny Brunch, anyone?), but generations of family tradition are entrenched in this lively downtown eatery. For owner Gabriela Bucio, nutty tamarind margaritas and ripe grapefruit palomas evoke memories of fruit trees blooming behind her childhood homestead in Michoacán, Mexico. While the indulgent assortment of Mexican offerings on the menu is derived from Bucio family recipes, such as pancakes dripping with sweetened condensed milk, sinus-clearing chilaquiles rojos, and a brilliantly chocolate-forward mole prepped on weekends by the Bucio matriarch herself: Gabriela’s mother, Maria. gabrielasdowntown.com

 

Grizzelda’s

What started as a culinary R&D trip through Tulum and Mexico City became much more for partners Adam Jacoby and Kris Swift in 2015. On the food side, there were the street side churro stands that eventually led to Grizzelda’s ingenious waffle version, adorned with beer-battered chicken strips and a chile-infused syrup. But, more importantly, there was the beachy vibe itself, which Swift fondly recalls simply as a “dynamism.” A practicing interior designer, he looked to emulate the flora and fauna of those dreamy coastal nights with palm frond wallpaper, Mexican tapestries, even margaritas in shades of Barragán pink (courtesy of dragonfruit). The effect is like a Corona commercial come to life. grizzeldas.com

 

Hillside Farmacy

Considering that the term “farm-to-table” has been usurped by “natty wine” and “tinned fish” in the PR buzz cycle, it’s brave to proudly hang your hat on that culinary trend today. But, hey, when local farmers have a habit of dropping by to offer okra flowers or borage microgreens before service, it’s hard to fake who you are. With produce also provided by co-owner Sonya Cote’s Eden East Farm in Bastrop, chef Tony Henderson goes to town creating the freshest takes on dishes that reflect his Gulf Coast roots. A student of Cochon’s Donald Link, Henderson shows his pedigree in dishes like a bowl of shrimp and grits bathing in a seafood court-bouillon, which provides a punch from all the extracted shells and ground ancho chiles stewed into the oceanic elixir. hillsidefarmacy.com

 

Jade Restaurant

In 1986, William Wong flew from Houston to Hong Kong, where the young chef spent the better part of three years learning the secrets to making great dim sum. Since returning to Texas (this time to Austin), those lessons have continued to define the scene with a string of successful protégés like Qi’s Ling Qi Wu—because, hey, this type of labor-intensive dim sum can’t be achieved by one man alone. Step inside Jade on any given weekend, and you’ll see a team of up to 10 employees kneading and rolling wheat flour for hours just to obtain the ideal wrapper consistency for shrimp and pork sui mai and Shanghai soup dumplings that pop with a salty-savory payload of broth upon each greedy nibble. jaderestaurantaustin.com

 

Josephine House

Imagine, if you will, a bougie Vermont getaway designed by Chip and Joanna Gaines: white shiplap walls, sunlight reflecting off vintage Champagne buckets, doting servers in matching Izod polos, and maybe a copy of the Sunday New York Times next to a plate of Nutella morning buns. To say the powerhouse pros behind MML Hospitality are detail oriented is an understatement—even when it comes to one of their more laidback concepts. With dishes like dulce de leche–smeared zucchini bread and an Alsatian tart that flaunts prosciutto and fluffy Dewberry Hills Farm eggs, this is escapism at its finest. josephineofaustin.com

Lemon ricotta pancakes at Josephine House.

 

Magnolia Cafe

When Magnolia Cafe’s second lavender-colored dining room opened on SoCo in 1988, it was already a part of Austin culinary lore. Nearly a decade earlier, what started as a follow-up location of Austin’s Omelettry on Lake Austin Boulevard quickly became its own concept after the ill-fated parting (both professionally and personally) of Kent Cole and Patricia Atkinson (later of Kerbey Lane Cafe fame). Breakfast royalty be damned, only one of Cole’s operations remains as a bustling reminder of the funky, sleepy college town that helped support his vision for spicy black bean “Mag Mud” queso, cheesy migas, and short stacks of those fluffy chocolate chip pancakes. Sigh. magnoliacafeaustin.com

 

Mattie’s

It’s not unusual at any given brunch service for chef Ethan Holmes to come across a table where a family has been frequenting the Mattie’s space for four generations. As a native Austinite, and a fan of its former iteration, Green Pastures (opened circa 1946), Holmes can relate. In fact, the opportunity to help cook in that kitchen on his 11th birthday is still one of his most treasured culinary memories. Fast forward 36 years later, and he carries on many of those traditions that made it such a local institution. For example, wild game that shows up in the guise of boar sausage links and Green Pastures’ famous milk punch, which he uses to soak a brioche French toast that’s more bread pudding than breakfast afterthought. mattiesaustin.com

 

The Peached Tortilla

When Hawaiian favorites like loco moco and Spam and eggs were met with more deafening indifference than a ukulele solo, chef Eric Silverstein says he had that all-too-familiar brunch epiphany: “You better have a benny, you better have a hash, and throw in something sweet.” The thing is, Silverstein’s determination to reinvent even the most banal canvases with the tools of Asian colors and spices has never worked better than in the morning. Exhibit A: a gochujang- and mirin-marinated hanger steak that’s caramelized over high heat like Korean bulgogi, then nestled next to sunny-side-up eggs sprinkled with Japanese furikake. Voila…a far, far better plate of steak and eggs. thepeachedtortilla.com

Suerte

There are moles, and then there are the otherworldly moles conjured by Suerte’s coven of culinary wizards. Incorporating non-traditional cooking techniques that include char- ring, burning, and ash roasting, as well as a garden-sized variety of vegetables and dried chiles, they heighten a range of tamales and roast meats, like beef shank straddling a black bean pure?e and a tostada shell nixtamalized from Texas-grown heirloom corn. In addition to Fermi?n Nun?ez’s way with sauces, chef Derrick Flynn goes big on a bastion of scratch pastries reflecting the season’s best, such as blistered empanadas brimming with peach preserves and chorizo kolaches blanketed under melted havarti cheese. suerteatx.com


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