The Austin Chronicle

Opal Divine's Penn Field

SoCo Dining Spots

Reviewed by Wes Marshall, March 3, 2006, Food

4) Opal Divine's Penn Field

3601 S. Congress K100, 707-0237

Daily, 11am-2am

Count me as one of the biggest fans of Opal Divine's Freehouse, the original snug and funky location on West Sixth. The first thing you notice in its new location is the openness and modernity, the high ceilings, concrete floors, and tailored seating. One look at the bar, though, prove some things never change: Owners Susan and Michael Parker stocked it with more than 60 whiskeys and 36 taps. Meanwhile, the best appetizer is one that's not on the menu: It's a combination of two that are. Order the stunning Cracked Pepper Fries for $4.25 and the Chips and Queso Divine, which is a queso and beef concoction, for $8.95. The chips are your mediocre standard fare, but dip the fries in the queso. Unbelievable! Several of their main courses are also worth trying. The Cilantro Pesto Chicken Wrap ($5.95) is a spinach flour tortilla stuffed with big chunks of chicken breast, sprouts, lettuce, and tomatoes, with a tasty cilantro sauce. That massive tortilla makes it slightly dry, but dipped in the pico de gallo it comes out perfectly. Their burgers are made with Harris Ranch beef, delicious stuff and fairly priced at $6.50 for a third of a pound and $7.75 for a half pound. Just be sure to specify that they aren't overcooked. With meat this lean, it's easy to get it too dry. Also recommended is the Wurst Plate ($8.95): two big brats, grilled and placed atop sauerkraut. It comes with your choice of a side, and did I mention the Cracked Pepper Fries are incredible? Fans of the original might find the Penn Field location a little tame. The staff doesn't have that cohesive camaraderie and joyful helpfulness that you get at the Freehouse, and the structure itself lacks the cozy feel. Plus, they really need to hire someone new to clean the women's bathrooms. But, we've noticed that Michael Parker is spending time at Penn Field, and whenever the owner is present, good things happen.

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