A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the great state of Maine. In two short days, I had lobster four times. There wasn’t another choice. It was expected.
What’s not expected is to be eating fresh Maine lobster in Austin. What’s an even further surprise is for this type of restaurant to be smack dab in the middle of suburban North Austin, Wells Branch to be precise.
But there on Bratton Lane, in a strip mall featuring Polvo’s, pizza, and generic Chinese, lies Garbo’s, the long-awaited, brick and mortar version of the beloved lobster roll food truck. On a recent Friday night, there was no shortage of people wanting to try a little slice of New England. By 6pm, a waiting list had formed.
Space is well used. A small deck has been converted to communal-style seating – just like the large tables inside. Some foliage helps disguise the fact that the eating area is just a few feet away from the street, but it’s the food that transports one far away the asphalt.
We started with the clam fritters. Fried food is a universal language, so I expected to like them, though they still managed to surprise. Instead of a crispy, crunchy offering, these clams were hidden in a batter that was eggy, moist, and light, and served with a amiable mayonnaise-style sauce.
For a middle course, we chose the clam chowder. Made in the creamy version that we are most used to in Texas, the soup was not overly rich with cream but had lots of flavor, both from the clams and vegetables as well as from a generous use of spice. The oyster crackers looked a notch above what Nabisco makes, and I confirmed that they are indeed imported from the northeast. It showed; they left just the right about of butter on the napkin. These could be snacked on by the bucket full.
For the entree, we stuck with Garbo’s most famous offering, the lobster roll. It’s available in two styles: warm with butter or cold with mayo. (Actually three, if you count the extravagant caviar and truffle option.) Both choices are valid, but that night the butter called. Not only is the lobster so fresh that it confirms its provenance, but the bun, made locally by Sweetish Hill, almost steals the show. It’s firm enough to handle these rich ingredients, but flavorful enough to make this sandwich a beautiful dance.
For dessert, we settled on the blueberry pie. It came out on a wooden tray, scooped more in the style of a cobbler, but in the end that distinction didn’t matter. Ice cream helps break up the sweetness of the filling, but its the strong blueberry flavor that makes this dish work. Between two spoons, it didn’t last long.
As evidenced by this meal, Garbo’s is not just a lobster roll joint. It’s New England comfort food that shines not only because of the freshness of the ingredients but the execution of them as well. While the trucks will still be out-and-about for lunch, Garbo’s will open six nights a week serving the dinner crowd. If this first visit is any indication, the word ‘crowd’ will continue to be accurate.
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