Zax Restaurant & Bar
Zax still serves it
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., Sept. 30, 2011
Zax Restaurant & Bar312 Barton Springs Rd., 481-0100
Monday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-10:30pm; Sunday, 11am-3pm
When Mike Baldwin and Jeffrey Lynd moved to Austin nearly a decade ago, they couldn't help but notice that Austin, at that time, didn't have something that they'd grown used to in the Bay Area: restaurants with good food that served a wide variety of locally brewed beers. "There were a lot of places that had great wine lists, but the beers were mostly national and international brands, and most restaurants served bottled beer," recalls Baldwin. So he and Lynd opened Zax to fill the gap, bringing in as many crafted draft beers as they could find. "I like to think we were pioneers in Austin in that regard," says Baldwin. "When we started, I think the only two local brewers were Live Oak Brewery and Real Ale, out of Blanco. There has been such a tremendous growth in craft brewing since that time. ... There is a whole lot more to choose from these days!"
At present, Zax offers 20 varieties of beer on draft, roughly half of which are regional. The stock rotates with each brewery's seasonal offerings, and they change so often that the name of each brew is written above each cask on an erasable blackboard. "Every Wednesday is Pint Night," explains Baldwin. "A different brewery is featured each week, and when you buy a pint, you get to keep the signature glass it came in. Needless to say, it's our most popular happy hour."
While local brewing is so central to Zax's concept, the casks and full bar do not dominate the dining room; instead, they are tastefully located in the east side of the space, behind a slight partition. When you're in the dining room, you feel like you are in a restaurant, not a bar. The space is airy, with glowing yellow walls and natural light pouring in from banks of old-fashioned, many-paned windows. On the north side of the dining room, the greenery of the patio garden is visible, lending the room a far more restful air than one generally enjoys close to Downtown. It is a room particularly suited to brunch.
The brunch menu at Zax lives up to its setting. It is comprehensive, offering eggs Benedict, eggs Florentine, Cajun eggs with andouille sausage, migas, huevos rancheros, house-made corned beef hash and eggs, and the house specialty, Zax Eggs ($14), consisting of perfectly poached eggs resting on freshly baked crab cakes and covered with hollandaise sauce. Served with your choice of crisp potatoes, black beans, sliced tomatoes, or cheese grits, and your choice of toast, the egg dishes are cheerfully decadent. Banana bread French toast, regular French toast, and omelettes are also offered on the menu, as well as burgers, quesadillas, appetizers, salads, soups, pizza, pasta, and sandwiches.
The lunch and dinner menus are just as long and varied as the brunch menu. It seems as though every dish known to be popular with Americans is offered, which is initially a little off-putting. Most restaurants with menus this comprehensive fail at executing them. Remarkably, Zax succeeds. Over the course of several visits during both busy and slack times, the food was always well-made and reliably executed. The onion rings ($4) are made the French way, with thinly sliced, hand-breaded onions, just as they were made at Delmonico's at the turn off the century. The individual pizzas ($9) are crisp and thin-crusted, topped with excellent cheese and your choice of freshly prepared toppings; the shrimp and roasted-corn quesadillas ($10) are large discs filled with just the right amount of perfectly fresh shrimp, cheese, and corn. With so many different menu items available, Zax seems like a no-brainer for dining out with family, colleagues, or any other group whose preferences are likely to be all over the map.
Extra effort is put into the dinner entrées, many of which echo chef Lynd's partially French heritage. Nearly half of the entrées are seafood, such as seared scallops meunière ($23) and Mediterranean tilapia ($16), and the rest range from steak au poivre and frites ($23) to pan-seared duck breast ($20). The entrées are available at 6pm after several hours of intense preparation. "We make all our sides fresh every day," says Baldwin – "the mashed potatoes, the goat-cheese-pistachio polenta, the rum mashed sweet potatoes, the mushroom risotto, and of course the vegetables." The sesame-crusted tuna ($20), served with sweet ginger soy sauce and wasabi mashed potatoes, was fork-tender and deep pink, slightly crisp on the outside and perfectly satisfying.
On Thursday, Oct. 13, from 6 to 10pm, Zax will celebrate Oktoberfest with a live polka band, locally made bratwurst from Smoky Denmark, and a selection of specially brewed Oktoberfest beer from Live Oak Brewing Company, Saint Arnold Brewing, and Germany.