First Look: General Tso'Boy

Rock Rose newcomer breaks fast-casual rules

photo courtesy of General Tso'Boy

As legend has it, during New Orleans’ 1929 streetcar conductor strike, brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin developed the po’boy: a French loaf stuffed with fried seafood or meat. With a uniformly rectangular shape, the Martins' bread did away with wasteful tapered ends – helping feed hundreds of hungry strikers for free.

Some forty years later, former Chinese Nationalist government chef Peng Chang-kuei was among the first to introduce General Tso’s chicken to New York City and, notably, instant fan Henry Kissinger. The dish may be named after a Qing dynasty statesman, but General Tso’s is not a traditional Hunan dish. Rather, it is an adaptation of characteristic Chinese flavors to the American palate: hot, salty, and undeniably candied. Considered too sweet by many native Hunan chefs, General Tso’s chicken nevertheless occupies a defining role in Western conceptions of Chinese cuisine.

photo courtesy of General Tso'Boy

How could such geographically and culturally discrete dishes find common space? Enter Austin’s brand-new General Tso’Boy, owned and operated by husband and wife team Gary and Jessica Wu. Located in the Rock Rose district of the Domain Northside, it’s the first brick-and-mortar iteration of their original 2014 NYC flea market pop-up. Jessica, a Cornell hospitality management alum, and Gary, a lifetime restaurant industry veteran, have traded in their tent and gingham tablecloth for a trim, bright spot in the up-and-coming North Austin area.

In the design of the space, Chioco Design (Counter 3. Five. VII, the Torchy's locations at Mueller and South Congress) nods to vintage style. Guests order at a counter featuring wood latticework backlit in red, where they’re greeted by a serene maneki-neko perched above the register. A light-up menu hangs above the counter, a throwback to midcentury American Chinese restaurants. The seating is simple, with several two- or four-top indoor tables and a small outdoor area in front of the store, both in a simple palette of white and red.

photo courtesy of General Tso'Boy

For the menu, the Wus have kept the m.o. from their pop-up, serving up fun, satisfying food prepared with local ingredients. Easy Tiger’s generous French sandwich loaves are stuffed with American Chinese fillings like char siu pulled pork, black pepper beef, honey walnut shrimp, General Tso’s chicken, and vegan mapo tofu – the latter three fried in house beer batter. For sides, try the Szechuan crinkle-cut french fries, which come sprinkled with peppercorns that gently numb the tongue, or the cheeseburger spring roll, a gooey combination of ground beef, onions, and American cheese bundled in a crispy shell. Finish the meal with a swirl of soft serve featuring milk from McGregor’s Mill-King Creamery and rotating flavors such as jasmine tea.

Careful sourcing aside, General Tso'Boy doesn't have a trace of preciousness. The sandwiches come wrapped in brown paper, served picnic-style on metal trays. And the eatery skips a wine selection for a small but considered local beer list. The combination of quality and playfulness should help establish the eatery as a weekly haunt for the neighborhood and a essential stop for visiting shoppers. The maneki-neko can take it easy.

General Tso'Boy
11501 Rock Rose Ave. #152
Mon.-Sat., 11am-9pm; Sun. noon-8pm

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General Tso'Boy, Gay Wu, Jessica Wu, Rock Rose, Domain Northside, Easy Tiger

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