The Bakehouse Restaurant and Bar
Reviewed by Rachel Feit, Fri., Aug. 4, 2000
Bakehouse Restaurant and Bar5404 Manchaca, 443-5167
The Bakehouse restaurant is one of those diners that you would expect to find in a small East Coast town that recalls a time in America when beef Stroganoff epitomized gourmet cuisine. It is one of those places with a bakery case up front, containing a glittering assortment of homemade pies, cakes, and pastries, that tempts diners with dessert before they have even begun their meal. And finally, the Bakehouse Restaurant is one of those places featuring a menu studded with specialties, from stir-fry to filet mignon to chicken Florentine, that reflect the profound influence of the immigrant experience on our collective taste buds.
Open since 1983, the Bakehouse Restaurant has defied classification by most Texas food standards, crossing ethnic boundaries with its diverse and voluminous menu. International flags next to every item suggest that each dish bears its own unique cultural provenance. In fact, the Bakehouse fare is pure Americana. Beef Rouladen, shrimp scampi, liver with onions and bacon, and shrimp tempura may ostensibly be German, Italian, French, and Japanese, but like the immigrants who brought them to this country, once on New World soil, they have evolved into entirely new sorts of species. "These are the foods of many nations, brought from many lands to nourish one land," Nelson Algren wrote almost 70 years ago. "These are the blue plate specials, the streamlined steaks, and the laborer's lunch pail." Indeed, the Bakehouse Restaurant's food is classic diner food, designed for the everyday American who wants an inexpensive meal, yet who nevertheless craves the honest, homemade flavors of mama's cooking, whatever nationality that may be.
And all of the foods at the Bakehouse are homemade. Pies and quiches are made fresh daily. Where else in town can you get a real chicken pot pie ($5.25), made with a flaky, homemade Crisco crust, filled with creamy chicken, and with whatever leftover vegetables the kitchen happens to have on hand that day? Who else in Austin has been serving beef Wellington ($7.95) and roast prime rib for over 15 years?
To the food purist, dishes such as the German beef Rouladen (a thin beef filet rolled with pickles and onions, topped by mushroom burgundy sauce, $6.95) may not seem ethnically authentic, however, the food lover will be impressed by the mushroom burgundy sauce, made with deglazed meat juices and real red wine. To the food snob, the quality of the meats and fish may not seem first-rate (the meat, for instance, can be chewy), but any food taster will acknowledge that the generally well-flavored fare indicates the kitchen does its best with the resources at hand. And although their recipes may not always be the trendiest versions of longtime favorites such as shrimp scampi ($9.45) or Boston baked cod ($7.25), lunch or dinner at the Bakehouse will always guarantee a wholesome, filling meal.
Breakfasts, however, are where the Bakehouse truly shines. In a city groaning under the ballast of Mexican breakfast joints, it's nice to know that a good old-fashioned bacon-and-eggs place still floats. Order an egg dish (generally under $5) and be presented with a plate spilling over with extras such as potatoes, biscuits, muffins, bacon, or sausage. Biscuits are homemade. The bacon is always thick and crispy. The hash browns don't come frozen, but, rather, are made of real potatoes, cooked skin-on, then grilled to order with every meal. French toast ($3.95) comes six fat slices to a plate, accompanied by a heart-clogging cup of whipped butter.
My only disappointment at breakfast came with the eggs Benedict ($4.95), which, the menu boasted, are topped by "the best Hollandaise sauce in town." In fact, the hollandaise sauce arrived at our table bubbling, and slightly parched from too much time spent under a heat lamp. The biscuits and gravy with sausage ($2.80), on the other hand, were highly respectable. The gravy is made with a chicken stock base and smothers two large, crumbly biscuits. And for those who just can't say no to a Mexican breakfast, the Bakehouse also serves a respectable huevos rancheros, smothered in tangy red sauce and accompanied by starchy, bacony refried beans -- praise the lard!
Located in far South Austin, The Bakehouse Restaurant is one of those rare places that locals have known about and loved for years, but has remained a secret from the larger community of newcomers. The Bakehouse Restaurant is not showy, it's not hip. But its simple fare reminds us of that old-fashioned and slightly naive American melting pot ideal, so prevalent in American small towns of the Fifties and Sixties. It reminds us of the communities and the feasts chronicled by Nelson Algren when he wrote, "Many foods, many nations. Yet one food, one nation." It reminds us of a small town called Austin.
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