Cafe Mueller Debuts Friday, July 26

First H-E-B in-house restaurant is just what neighborhood ordered

Just as they did with the Central Market concept in the Nineties, San Antonio-based grocery giant H-E-B is using Austin as the test market for a new environmentally sustainable grocery store. And when folks in the surrounding area said they wanted the new store to be a neighborhood gathering place, H-E-B listened.

The patio entrance to Cafe Mueller (Photo by John Anderson)
So along with the fascinating energy and water saving features, the covered bike racks, a community meeting room, and the walkable approach to the store, H-E-B Mueller (1801 East 51st) is home to the chain's first in-house restaurant, Cafe Mueller. The quick-casual eatery offers indoor and outdoor seating, beer and wine, live music programming on weekends and a full-service menu with affordable prices. What's not to love?

The open kitchen behind the selection of wines and growlers (Photo by John Anderson)
Austin Chronicle photographer John Anderson and food section contributor Kate Thornberry joined me for a tour of the store and a menu tasting at the Cafe. (For a photo gallery of John's shots in the store, go here.) We met Cafe Mueller chef and restaurant manager Sidni Hargroder, a graduate of both the Texas Culinary Academy and H-E-B's leadership program. Hargroder worked at Asti and a few restaurants in San Francisco before returning to Texas and joining H-E-B. The Cafe Mueller kitchen is her first project from the ground up and she's justifiably proud of the restaurant's menu.

Craft beer sign (Photo by John Anderson)

Cafe Mueller offers a little something for everyone, from small, sharable snacking plates to hearty servings of wood-smoked barbecue. There are hearty sandwiches, pasta and rice bowls, two sizes of Neopolitan-style pizzas, fresh-made soups and salads, and desserts that include homegrown favorite Miles of Chocolate plus selections from the store's scratch bakery. All this food is complemented by a rotating choice of Texas craft brews on tap (available by the glass or two sizes of growlers)and a selection of Texas and international wines by the bottle and the glass.

5-cheese pesto pizza (Photo by John Anderson)

Orders will be placed at the inside counter or the outside bar and delivered to tables when the food is ready. (Hargroder said she was pleased that ticket times were running in the 5-8 minute range during the sold-out soft opening trial runs.) We sampled a variety of dishes and were impressed with them all; the pizza crusts are chewy and flavorful with fresh and tasty toppings ($8-$12); hot and cold sandwiches come with sweet and blue waffle cut potato chips (beef & brie sliders were particularly appealing), and the tender pork ribs have a nice smoke ring and a lip-tingling spice rub. The food is most definitely several cuts above what we're accustomed to finding in H-E-B in-store delis, the portions are generous, and the price point is very approachable. I can envision lots of neighborhood families eating here.

Prime beef & brie sliders (Photo by John Anderson)

One innovation we didn't get to try is the new line of gluten-free breads that are being developed in the store's in-house scratch bakery. The Cafe offers a gluten-free pizza crust option and several flavors of gluten-free bread have been developed for sandwiches and for sale in the bakery, but there weren't any samples available when we visited. I'll be sure to see that contributor Margaret Shugart gives them a try once the Cafe is open.

The outdoor bar (Photo by John Anderson)

I'm betting the Cafe's outdoor dining area will be giving Contigo (2027 Anchor) a run for its money, what with fans and misters to keep things cool and live music programming on the weekends. I told Sidni Hargroder to prepare for a full-on neighborhood embrace. Cafe Mueller will be open daily from 10am to 10pm, and the store itself will be open from 6am to midnight. I'm looking forward to it being my new neighborhood store.

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