An old-fashioned vibe encapsulated at Josephine House
Reviewed by Rachel Feit, Fri., July 26, 2013
Breakfast: Mon.-Fri., 8-10:30am; Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11am-3pm; Happy Hour: Daily, 3-6pm; Dinner: Mon.-Sat., 6-10pm; Weekend Brunch: 10:30am-3pm
Josephine House1601 Waterston, 512/477-5584
Lunch & brunch daily 11am-3pm; snacks & drinks daily 3pm-10pm
What's the fastest way to take a trip through time? Go to Josephine House for lunch, where everything is staged with Southern Living nostalgia in mind, right down to marble counters, whitewashed shiplap walls, and the seersucker-uniformed staff. The design works. Josephine House is the type of place where you can easily dither away the afternoon sipping iced teas and grazing on cool melon salads. A huge oak shades the patio while the low hum of oscillating fans lulls you into a lazy midsummer languor.
Josephine House is the latest acquisition in the ever-expanding empire of the McGuire Moorman Hospitality Group, which has perfected the art of entertainment dining. Nestled up against the new Jeffrey's and serving only snacks and drinks during the evening hours, it seems like Josephine House's initial concept was as a stylish waiting area for the main attraction next door. However, since it opened in February, Josephine House has taken on a life of its own. Lunches and late afternoon comestibles at Josephine House stand on their merit.
The menu changes daily and generally features healthy foods that belong to the season; the summer menu, for instance, relies heavily on tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and melon, all brightened with fresh herbs and local cheese. Smoked Gulf snapper on a salad of minted watermelon and cucumber ($18) struck the perfect note for a 103-degree day. A puff-pastry savory tart with roasted tomatoes and eggplant ($12) evoked picnics and croquet on grass-covered lawns. Chef Jen Jackson, formerly of Lenoir and Swift's Attic, has taken a few classy old standards and injected new life into them using a modern farm-to-table sensibility. Ho-hum empanadas, for instance, thrill again when they are filled with roasted onions and shishito peppers ($12). A croissant sandwich is a novelty when pastry is flaky and the meat inside it is thin-sliced smoked duck breast accented by tart cherry jam and cabbage slaw ($16). A BLT is elevated by grilled sourdough, roasted tomatoes, herbed pesto, and mustard greens.
Blackberry cobbler with homemade ice cream, peach upside-down cake with ginger ice cream and bourbon sauce, or blueberry tart with sweet corn ice cream ($8 each) are well-deserved after the strenuous exertions of a slow repast. Why deny yourself? The desserts are splendid.
But beware: Portions are small and prices are high. I am still baffled by how Josephine House gets away with charging $3 for bread and butter when most places offer it gratis. And I felt a bit chintzed over a chicken leg terrine ($9) served with no bread or toast. To be sure, the combination of the terrine with a sweet onion marmalade and radish pickles was divine, but it would have been nice to have something to put it all on. None of this seems to bother the West Austin leisure crowd this restaurant attracts. And in the end it didn't really bother me, because I left Josephine House feeling that I too could indulge in the fantasy of a bygone era, if only for an afternoon.