Azul

Azul opened quietly a couple of years ago in a refurbished two-story home on East Cesar Chavez, but it quickly became an important cornerstone of the gourmet sandwich revolution in Austin

Sardine Rouge
Sardine Rouge (Photo By John Anderson)

Azul

1808 E. Cesar Chavez, 457-9074

Monday, 7am-4pm; Tuesday-Saturday, 7am-10pm

Azul opened quietly a couple of years ago in a refurbished two-story home on East Cesar Chavez, but it quickly became an important cornerstone of the gourmet sandwich revolution in Austin. At first, they only opened for lunch, but thanks to the popularity of their excellent sandwiches and comfortable atmosphere, they decided to expand their hours and add breakfast and dinner sandwiches to their menu. What's more, they added a few selections of unique bar snacks that match their approach to healthy yet delicious and creative offerings.

I recently visited Azul as an alternative to a Downtown bar to enjoy a quick after-work drink and snack while sitting on the interestingly landscaped patio under the shade of huge pecan and cypress trees. Although their wine list consists of "white" and "red," they were both very decent wines, and the beer selection offers good options, as well. Among the bar snacks, we sampled the Relish Tray ($7.95), a platter of assorted tidbits for noshing that included cured olives, dolmas, delicious deviled eggs, roasted almonds sprinkled with sea salt, and lupini beans. These coin-shaped, yellowish seeds are actually in the pea family, and are traditionally consumed cooked or pickled in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. They were new to me and very tasty.

The Gougers ($4.25), tiny French choux pastries flavored with Gruyère cheese, are a popular snack in the Burgundy region of France. They were warm and soft, and disappeared quickly from the table. The Leek and Crimini Gratin ($6.95) – sautéed leeks and crimini mushrooms smothered in a rich Parmesan bechamel sauce, served with slices of baguette and house-made crackers – was very satisfying. The Sardine Rouge ($7.95) is another gratin dish, this one made with sardines covered with plum tomato wedges, caramelized onions, and Parmesan cheese. Although the taste was delicious, it could benefit from the use of fresh tomatoes instead of canned and longer broiling to allow flavors to meld and the cheese to melt completely. All these wonderful bar snacks are really screaming for more wine options, and I couldn't help but fantasize how a small, yet well-conceived wine list could make snacking at Azul even better.

On our next visit, we were pleasantly surprised to see how a creative sandwich can indeed become a very satisfying dinner. Azul's Mediterranean Tuna Melt ($6.75) is still my favorite tuna sandwich in town, made with roasted bell peppers, capers, olives, cannellini beans, and parsley in a tangy vinaigrette. Grilled to perfection with melted Gruyère cheese, it is just delicious. The PLT ($6.75) didn't disappoint either, with crispy prosciutto, lettuce, and juicy tomato on grilled Italian bread with herbed mayonnaise and fontina cheese. The flattened Italian Sausage Sandwich ($6.50) with roasted tomato and fontina cheese was spicy and filling. The evening's special was a good version of the Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich, filled with roasted pork and dressed with fresh jalapenos, cucumber, carrot, and cilantro.

For those in need of a caffeine fix, Azul has an excellent selection of cold or hot coffee drinks flavored with unusual ingredients such as Ovaltine and cajeta. I chose an iced version of coffee with piloncillo, the Mexican cone-shaped raw sugar, which was refreshing and had just the right amount of sweetness.

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