First Look: Geraldine's

Riffing on the classics at the Hotel Van Zandt

photo by John Anderson

Of the new crop of Austin hotel restaurants, it’s fairly easy to see who has done their homework. Some throw a guitar on the wall, or something vaguely nodding to bats and call it a day. Others distill Austin into a planter full of cactus. But JMI Realty, owners of Hotel Van Zandt and Geraldine’s, seem to have connected in a more meaningful way.

For one, Geraldine’s is named after the mascot Guinea fowl that until 2014 roosted on Rainey. But the connection goes beyond naming. True, the fourth floor space with almost panoramic views of the city isn’t anywhere near the Austin of Liberty Lunch, but it is still a space that does not feel like it is solely reserved for moneyed outsiders. The restaurant is oriented around a stage, the most prominent feature besides the adjacent hotel pool deck, with live music from local acts scheduled in the later hours.

photo by John Anderson

But despite that stage (which we’ve heard often gets rowdy), Geraldine’s still is a grown-up space with an air of mid-century formality. Wingback chairs are upholstered with nailhead trim, brass fixtures provide some glitter, and club chairs gather around low tables. But it is not as stuffy as that may seem. It may have a bit of the aura of Kutsher's Country Club, but it’s at the moment when Patrick Swayze jumps off the stage.

The menu plays a bit off of the country club too. Early reports pegged Geraldine’s as solely Southern, but it isn’t as easily categorized as that. There are Southern influences in chef Frank Mnuk’s menu – including crispy pork ribs with a watermelon salad, buttermilk fried quail, and corn skillet cakes with Benton’s ham from Tennessee – but there are stops in Italy (burrata), the American Southwest (a tangy smoked yellowtail taco served in a taro shell), and Japan (the short ribs use edamame and furikake). Most of the dishes are meant to be small and sharable, but even those aren’t small portions. The cultured butter dish, served with a popover, country bread, and buttermilk lavash, almost filled the entire table.

photo by John Anderson

For those who want a true indulgence, the “epic feasts” serve 4-6 people (with 48 hours notice). Ranging from $220-320, they aren’t cheap family meals, but with mains like a 96 oz dry-aged prime roast or a whole roasted porchetta, served with salad, sides, and a dessert, they will hardly leave you wanting.

Jennifer Keyser’s cocktail menu is serious too. Highlights include the smoky-bitter Velvet Voice with mezcal, Campari, hibiscus-infused Dolin Rouge, and orange bitters and Mood Indigo with gin, manzanilla sherry, and crème de mure. Willie’s Cup, with double rye, hemp seed milk, and sage, cleverly pays homage to the grand saint of all cosmic cowboys while Blasphemous Rumor, with tequila, yucca, Punt e Mes, egg white, and blueberry got the balance right.

photo by John Anderson

For dessert, Geraldine’s has drafted one of the most recognizable names in Austin pastry chefs. Callie Speer’s playful sensibilities have inspired a cult following in Austin for their playfulness and innovation. Here, she riffs on classic Americana in dishes like biscuits and gravy featuring a chocolate gravy and a orange “yolk,” and brown butter cake, served flush with the edges of a deep plate dotted with roasted marshmallow. The menu also features a couple of bites that refine Little Debbie classics like star crunch and swiss rolls.

It’s worth noting that Speer, Keyser, and Mnuk are not brand new to Austin. From Contigo to Swift’s Attic to Uchi, the trio has worked at some of the best restaurants in town. That more than anything bodes well for Geraldine’s keeping an Austin spirit.

photo by John Anderson
605 Davis, 877/202-2191 Breakfast: Mon. - Sat., 7-11am
Brunch (coming soon): Sun., 9am-3pm
Dinner: Sun.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri -Sat., 5-11pm
Bar: Sun.-Thu., 10am-1am; Fri.-Sat., 10am-2am

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