Hyde Park Bar & Grill
While Hyde Park isn't an excessively distant drive, South Austinites rejoiced at the news that this institution was opening a second location on West Gate
Reviewed by Barbara Chisholm, Fri., Nov. 10, 2006
Hyde Park Bar & Grill
4521 West Gate Blvd., 899-2700
"Eatin' Good in the Neighbor-hood," while grammatically incorrect, is a powerfully evocative slogan. It conjures up hominess, community, familiarity; a sort of a Cheers with the emphasis on the eats. Applebee's, its source, has achieved significant success with the concept of epitomizing a neighborhood joint. As a corporate entity, however, Applebee's rarely reside in neighborhoods at all. They're likely to be found on interstate highways and in strip malls. A genuine neighborhood restaurant is a product of its unique environment. It reflects the culinary and social sensibilities of the place in which in resides. Vibrant communities are home to scores of such endeavors, and Austin is rich with them. One example of how a neighborhood restaurant is done right is the venerable Hyde Park Bar & Grill.Since 1982, Hyde Park Bar & Grill has been distinguished by its literal fork in the road, its singular and celebrated french fries, and its reliable and casual food. While Hyde Park isn't an excessively distant drive, South Austinites rejoiced at the news that this institution was opening a second location in Westgate, the shopping center that is home to Central Market. Anticipation was such that crowds awaited the newest location almost as soon as the doors were opened. Our first attempts to dine there were thwarted by a waiting list more than an hour long!
When we were able to secure a table on a recent Friday night, we found ourselves situated in an environment that bears little resemblance to the original location. While the Duval location is cozy in a former house, the South Austin spot is sleek and urban with wide expanses of glass. We don't expect or even desire a replication of the original; in fact, that's the antithesis of a unique neighborhood restaurant and more in line with a corporate manifesto. We were disappointed, however, that the lavish windows seemingly failed to take into consideration what is viewed through them: a garishly lit gas station on one side, a highway on another, and an expansive parking lot on the two remaining sides. The location just doesn't evoke a neighborhood. It's possible for the residents of the charming community behind Westgate to walk to Hyde Park, but the stroll would require passing by or through a major parking lot almost on scale of that of a mall.
Employing the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy, the menu at the south location is the same as that of the north. Exactly. As in, these are the same menus. Former Zoot Executive Chef Michael Hall is at the helm here, but he's waiting to make sure operations are running smoothly before he puts his stamp on things with specials. It's a good idea, too, as some kinks have yet to be ironed out.
We began with a couple of martinis and the requisite french fries. The martinis were properly prepared and satisfactory, but the fries needed another minute or two in the fryer. When you batter and dip your fries, you risk tasting only flour if they're undercooked. Not to mention your fries will be flabby.
For entrées, we sampled the meatloaf and the pork chop, both of which were served with green beans. Both meat items were perfectly acceptable, if unremarkable. The sauce napping the meatloaf seemed excessively sweet and the primary characteristic of the onion glaze on the pork was its familiarity. As is the case in many restaurants, the beans were undercooked, squeaking rather than snapping when bitten. We finished with one of our favorite desserts in Austin: Wom Kim's peach pudding. The spongy peach-studded cake was as moist and tasty as any we've sampled up north, but we encountered a flaw often evident at the Duval location: Microwaving the cake results in hot and cold spots throughout the serving. Still, we polish it off every time.
A satellite location of Hyde Park Bar & Grill at the corner of West Gate and Ben White is infinitely preferable to having a Grandy's there, which is what preceded it at this spot. It's going to take a little time before it finds its groove and becomes a genuine and unique neighborhood place.