The Monument Cafe in Georgetown lives up to its name. This small town cafe with a big city menu is a testimonial to fine dining in a comfortable atmosphere that won't soon be forgotten.
The cafe, just south of the downtown business district at 1953 S. Austin Ave., was opened in March 1995 by two Austinites, Clark Lyda and Rusty Winkstern. Rusty is a transplant from New York who has been involved in several Austin-area restaurants, including the Springhill Catfish Restaurant in Pflugerville and the Capital Cafe when it was across the street from the State Capitol.
The partners chose the name for their 1940s-style cafe because they wanted it to describe the food and service. The service is attentive, and the food is upscale without being pricey or pretentious. In a small town not known for its dining experiences, The Monument stands out as a welcome addition for residents and visitors. "We hit a niche that even we didn't realize the potential of," Rusty said.
The menu covers the range of small town favorites like hamburgers, chicken fried steak, ribeye steaks, and fried catfish, but then veers off into creative cooking realms. The Monte Cristo sandwich, for instance, is a combination of turkey, ham, and cheese covered in a strawberry sauce that shows the experimentation and confidence that went into preparing the list of meals.
Winkstern and Lyda chose a bill of fare for the restaurant that celebrates the days of roadsters and World War II with huge onion rings and milk shakes while embracing the 1990s with cappuccino and sautéed shrimp with garlic butter. There is something on the menu for everyone's taste buds.
The local gentry have rewarded the 45 employees of the Monument Cafe with a steady stream of business Sunday through Thursday, 7am to 9pm and Friday and Saturday, 7am to 10pm. Breakfast, which is served until 11am daily, has become the place to meet. Everything is made fresh from scratch daily, including the cinnamon rolls made in-house. Next to the migas on the menu is an old-style thin and crispy waffle. The breakfast menu also includes Irish Oatmeal fixed with cut oats instead of rolled oats.
Winkstern said the building was built new but made to look old. Lyda was responsible for much of the design that has the feel of a roadside diner. From the outside, the curved corner with a glass block window sets the mood. The whirling ceiling fans and constant chatter of families and clatter of dishes create a mood of controlled chaos that makes you feel like you found something special. The granite bar, made for the cafe in Marble Falls, gives the feeling that Mel from Alice might walk out at any time, but instead of a greasy T-shirt he would be wearing a starched white shirt.
Everything the Monument Cafe fixes is special, Winkstern said, but the daily specials on the blackboards are extra special. Besides a list of the season's fresh vegetables, the chef prepares a rotating variety of popular dishes like King Ranch Casserole. "I don't know why, but when we have meatloaf it is always very popular," Winkstern said, "Maybe because it's like Mom used to cook."
Like everything else on the menu, the desserts include the traditional and the exotic. The lemon meringue pie is from a recipe that has been handed down through Winkstern's in-laws. The Chocolate Pecan Pie was a two-time favorite in The Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin list for best dessert in town when it was served at the Capitol Cafe (and the Window Box before that).
Whether you're stopping by the Monument Cafe for a meal or desert, this is one dining experience that is sure not to disappoint and will have you coming back.
Coming up this weekend...
Frontier Days in Round Rock's Old Settlers Park includes the reenactment of Sam Bass' last shoot-out on July 19, 1878 and lots of other entertainment, July 11-12. 800/747-3479.
Spring Ho Festival in Lampasas goes all day at W.M. Brook Park and the courthouse square, July 11-13. 512/556-5301.
Jaycees Roundup Weekend in Mason features a rodeo on Friday and Saturday nights, music, arts and crafts, and food all day, July 11-12. 915/347-5758.
Bastille Day Celebration in San Antonio at Maverick Plaza in La Villita brings out the French food, beverages, and can-can dancers, July 12. 210/659-3101.
Space Week at the Johnson Space Center in Houston integrates special exhibits and events along with the regular attractions, July 16-24. 281/488-7676.
Mays' Bluegrass Festival in Glen Rose's Oakdale Park and Campground features pickin' and singin' along with special vendors, July 18-20. 817/897-2321.
Black-Eyed Pea Jamboree in Athens salutes the humble legume with cookoffs, dancing, food, and more, July 19-20. 903/675-5181.
100 Years of Scott & White Hospital, the current exhibit at the Bell County Museum in Belton, commemorates the Central Texas health care facility that had the first female full-time physician anesthesiologist in the U.S. and has grown to include 464 physicians and become a world leader in medicine, through Sept. 30. The museum is at 201 N. Main St. and is open Tuesday through Saturday, 1-5pm. 254/933-5243.