24 Diner is the newest addition to Austin's many round-the-clock establishments. Located at Sixth and Lamar next to Waterloo Records, 24 has enjoyed a massive and enthusiastic response from the public since the day it opened. "It has been overwhelming," says chef Andrew Curren. "The numbers have exceeded every projection."
Despite its name, 24 Diner does not specialize in typical diner fare. Instead, it serves what Curren describes as "elevated comfort food": meat loaf, chicken pot pie, roasted chicken, shepherd's pie, chicken and waffles, and the like, made with premium ingredients. By "premium," I mean top-notch, farmers' market-quality foodstuffs. Curren uses local purveyor Farm to Table, and the restaurant keeps a chalkboard over the bar identifying exactly which ingredients local farms and ranches are contributing to each day's fare.
"The menu will always be subtly shifting to reflect the seasons," says Curren. "Right now we are featuring a lot of warming foods, but as the temperatures rise we will be adding to our salads and introducing lighter dishes."
24 Diner occupies the space previously housing Waterloo Ice House and is still associated with the Ice House empire. Bob Gillett, one of the partners, explains: "Most of our Ice House locations have developed over time to be very family-friendly, with playscapes for the kids and so on. The Downtown location just didn't have the space, literally, for us to stay with that model." Deciding to forge into 24/7 territory, Gillett and other investors hired Curren, who graduated as valedictorian of his Culinary Institute of America class in New York. They set him loose to design the menu, and Curren delivered with a bill of fare that has people packing in not just late at night but at lunch and brunch, too.
The interior has been redone to be chillingly modern, all clean lines, chrome, and pale tones. The very colorlessness of the design accentuates the appearance of the food the way a white plate does: The food itself seems to almost glow with vibrancy and color in contrast to the subdued background.
The portions at 24 are enormous, which is good because the prices are higher than average. The appetizer order of french fries ($6.45) is enough, seriously, for a table of eight. The fries are fresh-cut from the whole potato and served crisp, hot, and sprinkled with coarse salt. They couldn't have been better.
The bacon Gorgonzola burger ($11.95) is also massive. 24 grinds its own hamburger from all-natural brisket, and the flavor of the beef is outstanding, fully capable of standing up to the strong flavors of bacon, Gorgonzola, caramelized onions, and aioli. Since I had already eaten my weight in fries, I opted for the bacon-braised greens as my side. A mixture of local collard and mustard greens, they were perfectly tender and deeply flavorful. M's Grilled Cheese ($8.65) is also outstanding, the bread perfectly toasted on a buttered grill, the cheese abundant and fully melted. The macaroni and cheese side was rich and creamy, the noodles swimming in a superabundance of sauce.
Having heard raves about the roasted-banana-and-brown-sugar milk shake ($4.95), I ordered one for dessert. Bananas Foster, chilled, in a glass, made even more decadent with hand-whipped cream: It deserves the accolades it has received. 24 serves beer and wine as well as milk shakes and offers the standard array of espresso drinks to complement its round-the-clock breakfast.
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