If you are an Austinite wearing reading glasses right now, wondering when the print in the Chronicle got so small, then you probably remember when the french fries at Hyde Park Bar & Grill were the apex of Austin's culinary possibilities. Yeah, that's right, you recall the Eighties, when those battered, seasoned fries accompanied by mayonnaise dipping sauce formed the center of many a family dinner, Friday night student gathering, or romantic first date. Back then, Hyde Park Bar & Grill was the place to entertain outside the home, and no meal was complete without the fries. Fast forward 31 years: Hyde Park Bar & Grill is still serving those same fries ... and I am happy to report, they are still yummy.
In fact, Hyde Park Bar & Grill has managed to withstand the test of time with surprising grace and flexibility. Known for its cozy, suburban take on Southern comfort food, Hyde Park Bar & Grill has modernized their menu over the years but the comfort food stalwarts still hold center stage. Hamburgers are fat and juicy, served on a fresh-made, sturdy bun. Hyde Park's Reuben ($9.99) is still one of the best of in town, made with thick-sliced grilled pastrami and toasted rye. These days, they make the pastrami themselves, in-house, with fantastic results. Chicken-fried steak ($12, Hyde Park location), meanwhile, is manly enough for any linebacker. Crisp-battered, amply seasoned, and smothered in bacon-y cream gravy, it is a classic not to be missed. Do order the bright bacon collards and mashed potatoes to go with it. End it all with Wom Kim's legendary peach pudding ($3.99), moored in a little lake of sweet cream. Sticky and gooey, peach-scented but not too sweet, this is the kind of dessert that tastes like a hammock nap on a lazy Sunday.
Less thrilling are the Yankee crab cakes ($17). And here it is possible that Hyde Park is simply playing too much outside the pocket. The crab cakes themselves are competent: well-seasoned and not too bready, even if they are slightly soggy. However, whoever's idea it was to accent them with caramelized onion relish should be publicly flogged. The sugar and acidity in the relish are simply overpowering. Let's face it – no self-respecting Yank would ever violate a proper crab cake this way.
There are two locations now: the homey original Hyde Park bungalow on Duval, and a tonier modern space in the Westgate Shopping Center. Currently they have different menus. The original location leans more heavily on the standbys that have made the restaurant popular for more than three decades. The new location features a more contemporary menu that blends Southern comfort with urban culinary sensibility. (Owner Bick Brown is using the Westgate location as a test site for menu updates, and plans to roll out the Westgate menu at the Duval location in early 2014, once they iron out the kinks.)
After dining at both locations, I am certain I prefer the fare currently offered at the Westgate restaurant. For instance, the nutty-flavored browned cauliflower ($2.99) served as a side is satisfying enough to be a meal on its own. Although the fried trout ($10.99) I ate recently there was overcooked and a little fishy, their grilled salmon over beurre blanc is consistently moist and plate-licking good. The Friday special, a pulled-pork sandwich ($9.99) with cheese and greens, is properly piggy and may even be habit-forming. The Westgate location also has a wider selection of desserts, including a very fine warm blueberry crumble ($3.99).
It turns out that Hyde Park Bar & Grill still knows how to please a crowd with its old standards and its updated take on modern comfort food.
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