The idea of a 'snack bar' was put to full practice as my eating partner and I sought a comfortable place to grab a bite to eat late on a Thursday evening. Snack Bar, located on South Congress Avenue in Austin, TX, radiates the charm of old-Austin with a thoughtfully decorated inside dining space, as well as a sprawling outdoor patio complete with a roaring fire. While the interior space seems comparatively small, it is in fact well utilized with its vintage decor and staggered seating arrangements.
A waiting area in the center of the lobby shows more as a living room retold from the likes of a fashionably equipped Baby Boomer and is accentuated by an irregularly shaped sofa and set of black leather chairs. Paved over with a smooth gravel floor, the space gives way to a sleek L-shaped bar and oval stools, as well as a separated dining area that shows other guests from the shoulders up.
Though in no particular rush, and understanding of the fact that the night was clearly winding down, it was admittedly unsettling to watch a host of staff bustle around us without much acknowledgement or offer of service, especially considering we were the only guests at the bar. Fortunately, as we waited, keenly selected tunes from the likes of Jimi Hendrix and The Doors were playing over a muted casting of Back To The Future on a wall near the bar, which all together provided a feeling of placement in an entirely separate era.
Factoring in brisk conditions and our tame appetites, we elected to split a pot of Turkish Spice Mint Tea ($4), a cup of Cauliflower & Leek Soup (Soup Du Jour - $5) and a bowl of Brussels Sprouts ($7). Coupling both the fact that brussels sprouts are rumored as something of an Austin staple and that my mother once fixed a mean cauliflower soup, the selections seemed appropriate.
Though varying in consistency; the childhood recipe being cream based, this version was hearty, a little rich, but impressive in its balance. The leeks, while naturally subtle in flavor, offered a distinguishable sweetness and proved complimentary to the cauliflower. A tinge of black pepper and underlying buttery flavor showed through as well, all together making the soup a relatively complex and filling dish.
Meanwhile, as Marty McFly quarreled with Biff, my tea steeped and developed a strong sweetness that I assume to be the result of steeping the leaves in stevia. With varying opinions on the herb, this could mean different things for different people. Otherwise soothing and layered, the tea was an adequate pairing for the food.
Our brussels sprouts, advertised as flash fried, carried on the outer shells a light and crispy texture. Offering a pleasant crunch from the outside, nearly each sprout was cooked through and remained firm but still chewy at the center. Accompanying the sprouts was an herb aioli which, when combined with sprouts, brought out a stiff and almost unpleasant saltiness in the mouth feel. Overall, though, the dish was a fresh and savory representation of how brussels sprouts can taste if executed well.
All together, the portions proved too much to conquer and we were forced to give up midway through each dish. Once again, a handful of staff floated in our vicinity without acknowledging us, or the forfeited portions, and what was intended as a brief stop for snacks turned out to be nearly an hour ordeal.
In considering the retreat and satisfaction provided by the atmosphere and food, the experience was mostly memorable. Perhaps on the next visit it would be wise to arrive early and with a larger appetite.
(Items ordered - Soup Du Jour, Brussels Sprouts, Turkish Spice Mint Tea)
Rating - 8 Brussels Sprouts (out of ten)
Snack Bar - 1224 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
Note: Snack Bar officially closed its doors on Sunday, October 30, 2016. It will be missed.