Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review
A diner by day and global plate purveyor by night
Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., March 12, 2010
Mon.-Fri., 10am-11pm; Sat.-Sun., 9am-11pm, Open ALL Holidays though times may vary.
Snack Bar1224 S. Congress, 445-2626
Daily: 8am-4pm for brunch, 4-6pm for Snack Happy Hour & 4pm-12mid for global plates
For many years, Austin has been an incubator for "natural" and "health food" restaurants. Lately, there seems to be a growing trend of establishments with menus offering healthy alternatives, using organic, eco-friendly, and local products complemented by green practices such as composting and recycling. The great thing is that this new generation of nutritionally and environmentally conscious establishments operates without a holier-than-thou vibe that tends to turn people off from what could otherwise be an embraceable notion. One such place is Snack Bar, which provides all of the above characteristics in the freshly refurbished restaurant space next to SoCo's venerable Austin Motel. After a remarkable remodel, the space is now a retro-modern diner, done in cool colors, with vintage lamps and minimalist furniture. There's a counter alongside the windows so diners can watch the daily parade along South Congress, as well as a section with tables for dining patrons. The main room is lounge-style, with low tables and comfy chairs. Most noticeably, it's clean and inviting with friendly staff who care for their personal hygiene. To me, "keeping Austin weird" doesn't justify a dirty restaurant and unkempt servers. But I digress.
The concept at Snack Bar is quite different from anything we've seen locally. A diner by day, with an eclectic menu for breakfast and lunch, it offers a small-plates format at night, featuring international dishes meant to be shared or combined to make a full meal. This format should be especially welcomed by guests at the motel, since the menu offers a wide variety of options and it delivers room service!
Brunch features egg dishes, Rockstar Bagels with house-cured salmon, French toast and homemade waffles, and huge tacos with breakfast and lunch fillings. There are burgers, salads and soups, and tasty sandwiches, including variations on the LT (lettuce and tomato). On our first visit, we enjoyed the open-faced crab-salad sandwich ($8) with avocado, lettuce, and tomato on a brioche bun, with a side of tangy carrot-cabbage-apple slaw. The daily special omelet ($7.50) featured goat cheese, spinach, fresh tomatoes, and mushrooms and came with a really tasty griddled hash cake of potato, leeks, and cabbage. Further explorations have included an ample bowl of shrimp and herbed goat cheese grits ($8), a welcome breakfast on a rainy morning but lacking a bit of spice and flavor. The tacos ($3.50 each) are good, substantial, and flavorful, with fillings such as chicken apple sausage with spinach, mushrooms, and jack cheese, and BBQ pulled pork with tangy slaw, tomato, and red onion slices. A special beer and cheese soup ($4 cup) was too thick and tasted more like a chunky carrot soup heavily spiced with cumin.
The daily Snack Happy Hour from 4 to 6pm offers $1 off the cool beer selection and $3.50 glasses of house wine to enjoy with its snack dips, spreads, and cheese plates. Snack Bar has made an extra effort in selecting a short wine list, bypassing the standard cheap options offered everywhere and focusing instead on boutique producers that use organic, biodynamic, and sustainable methods with great results. Other potables include sparkling wine and fruit juice cocktails, as well as good micheladas and some exotic-sounding offerings (sake Bloody Mary?). Add the supercool refurbished dog-friendly patio, and you have an ideal hangout for an inexpensive afterwork – or after-the-dog-park – gathering.
The dinner menu features a global plates concept, with regional sections (American, Latino, European, Mediterranean, and Asian) that are a series of small plates including vegetable, starch, and protein choices. The idea is that diners can order an entrée plate of any one region or mix and match small plates from various regions as sharable snacks.
The general concept at Snack Bar is ambitious, and the menu is obviously all over the place, and we found the food (and service) to be hit or miss. "We won't please everyone," the menu states. I give Snack Bar an "A" for effort for at least trying, offering a convivial, nonsnobby atmosphere to share a fresh – albeit not spectacular – meal. Here's hoping Snack Bar has the opportunity to fine-tune the concept and make the food consistently better in the future.