When the original Gourdough's trailer was profiled on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations in the summer of 2010, a friendly local testified – much to the great joy and pride of her parents, I'm sure – that "You can just walk down from the bar in a drunken haze ... and this makes the best drunk food." This must have been a major eureka moment for owners Paula Samford and Ryan Palmer, because a little over two years later, Austin drinkers were blessed with Gourdough's Public House, one-stop booze-and-carbs shopping that eliminates the need to wander the streets in a drunken haze.
Situated at the site of the former Kerbey Lane on South Lamar, Gourdough's opened on Halloween and since then has done a brisk trade in local beers, creative and refreshing cocktails, and fried discs laden with ingredients that would make even the most hard-bitten cardiologist cry. As the name suggests, this brick-and-mortar iteration isn't a restaurant, it's a bar, and one should adjust one's expectations accordingly. The decor is typical of American pubs attempting to look like British ones: all dark walls, low lighting, and wooden floors and benches. Naturally, a bevy of televisions scream sports channels from all corners, and the music is cranked to 11. But if Gourdough's is a bar, it's a bar with above-average bar food.
We made our first visit to Gourdough's for a Sunday morning brunch, arriving a few minutes after they opened. A chipper waitress greeted us promptly; she was friendly and attentive and delivered both our drinks and our meals in a blink of an eye. I chose the Count Gourdough Cristo ($10), featuring turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, basil, and roasted red pepper enveloped in doughnut dough and deep fried. It was tasty enough, but the flavors were a bit out of balance; I found myself wanting to taste less basil and more meat. My husband chose the Dirty Plucker ($9), fried chicken atop a doughnut, slathered in maple icing and honey. We found the chicken to be overly greasy and the breading did not stick to the meat, suggesting that the cooking oil wasn't hot enough.
We returned a couple of weeks later with a larger group on a Saturday night, and while the service wasn't quite as smooth as on the quieter Sunday morning, the food was hot, fresh, and hit nearly every mark. We tried the Gotchie Yo Kolache ($7), a Smokey Denmark jalapeno kielbasa wrapped in doughnut dough and fried; the sausage exploded with heat and savory porkiness and was the perfect size for sharing among five adults. Our lawyer friend splurged on the Drunken Hunk ($12), an unabashedly decadent bacon-wrapped meatloaf. It was moist, tender, and perfectly seasoned, but the bacon was unpleasantly squishy. I can't envision how one might crisp up bacon that enrobes a hunk of meat, but I would encourage the kitchen staff to explore the possibilities.
Despite our previous experience with fried chicken, I took a chance on the Country Clucker ($11), mostly because it seemed so outrageous on paper: With a doughnut at its base, a fried chicken breast rests atop a potato pancake, drenched in creamed corn (!!) and candied jalapenos. When my plate arrived, a triumph of edible architecture, our entire party breathed an awed "oooohhhhh," and I had to guard my precioussss, Gollum-like, from my greedy friends. It was the hands-down winner of the night. Until dessert, that is.
In the spirit of sampling, we ordered a wide variety of sweet doughnuts. The Sin-a-Bomb ($4.75), was a rich, gooey simulacrum of a cinnamon roll and a testament to truth in advertising. The Black Betty ($4.75) suffered from too much clove in the blackberry filling, and the Southern Belle ($5) somehow made pecan pie boring. But it was the Salty Balls ($4.75), doughnut holes swimming in salted butter caramel sauce and topped with cream cheese icing and dry roasted peanuts, that nearly caused a riot at our table. We simply could not get enough of the salty-sweet bites; woe betide the diner who doesn't save room for them.
Historically, public houses served as central gathering places for a community, and that is definitely true of Gourdough's. On our last visit, we were flanked both by families with young children and large groups dedicated to drinking 120-ounce towers of Live Oak beer. While the novelty of the food and the rotating calendar of drink specials are a foolproof attraction, Gourdough's Public House is also a surprisingly pleasant place to hang out with friends. Just be sure to log some serious time at the gym in preparation.
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