Second Helpings: Home Away From Home

Tasty, bite-sized restaurant listings compiled from new and previous reviews, guides, and poll results. This week's entries, compiled by Virginia B. Wood, feature local hotel restaurants.

Ma Ferguson's
Ma Ferguson's (Photo By John Anderson)

Tasty, bite-sized restaurant listings compiled from new and previous reviews, guides, and poll results. This week's entries were compiled by Virginia B. Wood. When you need quick, reliable information about Austin eateries, check here.

The Cafe at the Four Seasons

98 San Jacinto, 478-4500

Breakfast: Mon-Fri, 6:30am-11pm; Sat, 7-11am; Sun, 7-10:30am

Lunch: Mon-Sat, 11am-2pm

Brunch: Sun, 10:30am-2pm

Light Fare: Daily, 2-6pm

Dinner: Sun-Thu, 6-10pm; Fri-Sat, 6-11pm

Every aspect of the Cafe lifts it a cut above other hotel restaurants. The lovely dining room that looks out over Town Lake is casually elegant, the service professionals are knowledgeable, the wine list inviting, and exec chef Elmar Prambs' artfully presented cuisine is consistently interesting. What more could you ask for in a vacation repast or a pleasant mealtime escape from life's harsh realities? The menu features a Texas influence in many dishes, an Asian flair in others, and they've added vegetarian and heart-healthy meals for health-conscious travelers. Though it's pricey, it's also one of the best places in town for a special-occasion Sunday brunch.

Ancho's

Omni Austin Hotel Downtown, 476-3700

Seventh & Brazos

Breakfast daily, 6:30-11am

Lunch daily, 11am-2pm

Dinner daily, 5-10pm

This attractive dining room benefits from its location in the hotel's dramatic atrium lobby, making it an interesting place to eat as well as people-watch. Sunday brunch here comes complete with one station for waffles, another for omelettes, and a bountiful array of fresh fruits and baked goods to complement the meal. Lunch and dinner menus reflect the influence of Southwestern flavors with a variety of choices to satisfy even the most discriminating, weary traveler. Our only disappointment was discovering dinner no longer comes complete with the song stylings of UT's very talented opera students.

La Vista

Hyatt Regency Austin, 477-1234

208 Barton Springs Road

Sun-Thu, 6:30am-11pm

Fri-Sat, 6:30am-midnight

La Vista bills itself as the "Fajita Capital of Texas," and they've got the goods to back up their claim. These fajitas are so popular the hotel had to create an off-premise catering operation just to satisfy demand. Choose either a pound of spicy beef or chicken with all the required traditional condiments and two can dine like royalty for under $20. If fajitas aren't your thing, there are several inviting salads (we're partial to the Cobb), hearty burgers and sandwiches (try the Texas Philly), and a choice of reliable Texas standards: steaks, BBQ brisket, chicken fried steak, and fried catfish. It's all served in a comfortable dining room overlooking Town Lake.

Driskill Grill

Sixth & Brazos, 474-5911

Breakfast daily, 6:30-11am

Lunch, 11am-2pm

Dinner, 5:30-10:30pm

The grand dame of Austin hotels that was once famous as the showcase for the cooking of Texas culinary legend Helen Corbitt has undergone a complete restoration in the past year. The new management hired away several staff members from Dallas's tony Mansion on Turtle Creek to turn the once-dowdy dowager Driskill into a world-class hotel. One of the new employees is former Mansion sous chef David Bull, now executive chef in charge of the dining operations. Look for an enticing menu with an innovative twist on Texas and Southwesten favorites and the possibility the Driskill will be famous for food once again.

Ma Ferguson's

Austin Hilton, 206-3030

6000 Middle Fiskville Road

Mon-Fri, 6:30am-11pm

Sat-Sun, 7am-11pm

Miriam A. "Ma" Ferguson was the first female governor of Texas, and the Hilton management renamed their dining venue in her honor in 1997. The newsprint menu is a take-off on Ma's Ferguson Forum newsletter, and some of the dishes bear the names of her family members and political rivals (Ouida's Hot Roast Beef Melt, Bullington's Appetizer Platter, Joe Wallace Chicken Fried Steak). We doubt Ma ever served any Jerk Chicken or Vegetarian Sandwiches on Grilled Focaccia, but we bet a fiscal conservative who worked to overturn Prohibition would approve of the $7.95 daily International Lunch Buffet and a wine list featuring several affordable Texas vintages by the glass.

Onion Creek Grille

Omni Hotel Southpark, 448-2222

4140 Governor's Row

Daily, 6:30am-2pm; 5-10pm

This pleasant South Austin dining venue attracts a hungry business lunch crowd with an affordable menu with Texas, Southwestern, and Cajun/Creole influences. Try the baby spinach salad with Texas goat cheese and pecans in balsamic vinagrette or the tasty Jalapeno & Crawfish Fritters. For $7.95, fill up at the Pasta and Salad Bar or the Soup, Salad, Sandwich & Baked Potato Bar. Dinner features a selection of certified Angus steaks from the grill served with fried onions and a choice of homemade sauces. Other dinner entrees include Pecan Crusted Sea Bass with Lump Crab Meat, Chipotle Pork Tenderloin Medallions, a Cajun Bowtie Pasta with Crawfish Tails, plus an interesting assortment of à la carte side dishes.

Trattoria Grande

Renaissance Austin Hotel, 795-6100

9721 Arboretum Blvd.

Sun-Thu, 5-10pm

Fri-Sat, 5-11pm

For many years, the lovely Trattoria dining room was the only fine dining outlet to be found in the Arboretum area, featuring a great view of the rolling hills west of town and an upscale menu of traditional Italian specialties at upscale prices with a relatively pricey wine list to accompany them. The Crema Di Aragosta al Finocchio (cream of lobster soup with fennel) and Carciofo Ripieno (stuffed artichoke with crab, spinach, garlic, and parmesan) are particular favorites and there are several inviting pasta dishes in the $13-17 range. Steak lovers will appreciate the Filetto alla Gorgonzola (beef tenderloin with bleu cheese) and the Bistecca con Cippola (grilled New York strip with pan roasted onions and mushrooms).

Garden Cafe

Renaissance Austin Hotel, 795-6100

9721 Arboretum Blvd.

Daily, 6:30am-2:30pm

Breakfast at the comfortable Garden Cafe covers all the bases: juices, fruit, a house blend of granola, old-fashioned oatmeal, waffles, pancakes, French toast, breakfast tacos, omelettes, migas, and bagels with lox. The $10.95 breakfast buffet allows you to mix and match a variety of culinary influences every morning. Lunchtime brings an impressive array of pastas, salads, or hot and cold sandwiches. Try the excellent Peppered Seared Tuna Nicoise in citrus chive vinaigrette or the hefty Southwestern Cobb Club on sourdough bread with ancho chili mayo. This hotel boasts an accomplished pastry department, so save room for dessert.

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