Upscale barbecue in an Austin landmark
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., April 20, 2007
Lunch/Brunch: 11am-2pm; Dinner: 5:30pm-11pm; Bar: Sun.-Tue., 5pm-2am, Wed.-Sat., 5pm-2am
401 W. Second, 494-1500
Monday-Saturday, 11am-2pm & 5:30-11pm;
Sunday, 11am-3pm & 5:30-11pm
With the Downtown landscape changing so swiftly, it's somehow comforting to find a 19th century structure such as the J.P. Schneider & Bros. building spared from rapacious high-rise development. At about the same time its neighbor, the fabled Liberty Lunch, was leveled, politically savvy members of the surviving Schneider family secured both local and national historic designation for the old store building, saving it forever from the wrecking ball. They later donated the protected property to the city of Austin. Business partners Louis Lambert and Larry McGuire invested two years of their lives and plenty of money into reimagining the old building as an upscale barbecue joint/music venue called Lamberts. The two-story brick edifice may look somewhat incongruous now amid swanky condo projects and the angular natural stone of the new City Hall, but when fragrant barbecue smoke wafts over the roof and soulful blues music emanates from the upstairs stage, it's obvious the genuine heart of Austin is still beating somewhere amid all that seemingly soulless Downtown progress.
Downtown business types have joined longtime fans of chef Lou Lambert's cooking, as well as many of those urban-loft pioneers, in flocking to Lamberts since it opened in late December 2006. The old building is alive with plenty of new energy, now sporting whitewashed brick walls, exposed pine beams, and distressed hardwood floors awash in natural light. Much of the bar woodwork, along with the distinctive and very comfortable sinker pine furniture, is the custom work of Ambrose Taylor from East Austin's Vintage Material Supply Co. (www.vintagematerialsupply.com). The "fancy barbecue" menu based on top-quality natural meats, a festive party atmosphere in the bar, and an eclectic live music lineup are proving to be a very inviting combination in the attractive new/old spot. Make no mistake, Lamberts is not the place for a hushed, sedate, fine dining experience, nor does it pretend to be. It's noisy, and it's fun, and that's just the way the crowd likes it.
Though I've thoroughly enjoyed several visits to Lamberts, my favorite meal there has to be brunch. At $22 a person, the large assortment of dishes available on the Sunday buffet makes it one of the best brunch deals in town. On one recent Sunday, an earnest young group of mariachis wandered among the tables, playing requests while the bar served restorative cocktails such as Ruby Grapefruit Greyhounds ($6) or Bottomless Mimosas ($6) made with local Good Flow juices. Brunch here offers plenty of options. Order eggs your way scrambled, sunny-side up, poached, in petite omelettes, or eggs Benedict. The Kobe Hangar Steak Benedict is particularly wonderful, with a fork-tender slice of flavorful beef topped with a perfect poached egg and some tangy Tabasco hollandaise. The egg dishes are just big enough to whet the appetite but won't fill you up. Once the eggs are ordered, amble up to the service bar to choose from a tempting array of salads, side dishes, fruit, meats, biscuits, muffins, and pastries. You can go the straight-breakfast route (my personal favorite) with the excellent cheddar and roasted-poblano grits, new-potato hashed browns, hot biscuits and honey, crispy strips of smoked bacon, or delicious spicy breakfast sausage. They've even got some House Smoked Gravlax to enjoy with cream cheese on buttery bagel chips, not to mention Brioche French Toast with warm maple syrup.
Hungry for lunch? Go for a slab of smoked prime rib, a few coriander-and-maple-crusted Berkshire pork ribs, or moist slices of brown-sugar-and-coffee-rubbed natural brisket. Finish those plates with a few deviled eggs, a scoop of the Classic New Potato Salad, and some crisp and astringent Jicama and Cilantro Slaw. Servers will bring individual bottles of the special house-made barbecue sauces and mustards directly to the table to complement the meat choices. At the risk of eating yourself into oblivion, be sure to stop by the dessert table, where slices of voluptuous coconut and/or chocolate cream pies await invitingly under snowdrifts of sweet whipped cream. If you ask politely, the kitchen might even bring forth one of their signature fried, fresh-fruit pies garnished with a scoop of homemade ice cream. Lately, the filling has been toothsome pears in vanilla syrup encased in a tender crust, paired with a decadent little scoop of chocolate ice cream. However, they are due to change to mixed fresh berries soon, and Hill Country peaches won't be far behind that. Regardless of the filling, the fried pies are not to be missed, no matter which meal you eat at Lamberts.