Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review

Check out Bess for the welcome atmosphere, friendly and efficient service, and well-executed menu with something for everyone

Bess Bistro on Pecan

500 W. Sixth, 512/477-2377,
Sun.-Thu., 4:30pm-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 4:30pm-11pm
Restaurant Review
Photo by John Anderson

Bess Bistro on Pecan

500 W. Sixth, 477-2377
Monday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday, 11am-11pm; Saturday, 5-11pm; Sunday, 10:30am-2:30pm & 5-10pm

I have been a fan of Bess Bistro's unfussy yet upscale cuisine since it first opened in 2006. Through the years there have been a few chef changes, and while each chef has added signature dishes and tweaked the menu, the eclectic take on classic comfort foods has remained. After this spring's departure of chef Mizael Saucedo (now at Urban at the Westin), chef Camden Stuerzenberger of Walton's Fancy and Staple took over at Bess, juggling both jobs and keeping the menus significantly different while relying on talent from both kitchens. We visited Bess recently to check out the new menu, which we found very much to our liking.

We were happy to see the place hopping with customers engaged in lively conversation on a warm Friday evening, much like when the bistro first opened and the buzz about its famous owner had reached a frenzy. Too hungry to wait 45 minutes for a table, we cozied up to the bar, where we were greeted with a smile and prompt service. We started with a generous bowl of crispy, fried, semolina-crusted artichoke hearts and thin lemon wheels tossed with grated Parmesan and served with a roasted garlic aioli for dipping ($9). I loved how the tanginess of the artichokes remained intact under the rich golden crust and was complemented by the lemon slices, a marriage made in heaven and lovely with a glass of crisp Argentine Torrontes. We also shared the seafood gratin ($10): diced shrimp, crab, and crawfish tossed in fontina cream, baked with a Parmesan crust, and served with crostini. I shamelessly scraped every bite off the baking dish.

A few of the old standby menu items remain, perhaps in slightly different preparations: The flagship Shrimp Bess ($14)with creole butter and ciabatta is still as delicious as we remembered; the shepherd's pie ($12) now has cheddar cheese atop the mashed potato crust and comes with greens tossed in balsamic vinaigrette; the croque monsieur ($13) is made on toasted pain au levain (all bread is made on-site at Walton's) with shaved Niman Ranch ham, toasted mustard, béchamel, and Mornay, served with Bess' addictive pommes frites. But there are also new items that captured our eye. The pan-roasted halibut ($22) came atop creamy parsnip purée with an herb brown butter sauce, although the announced pea-shoot tendrils were just two sprigs for garnish instead of the sautéed greens I had imagined as a side dish. The lamb scallopini ($20), a lamb loin cutlet sautéed until crispy, topped with lump crab meat, fried spinach, and lemon beurre blanc, was every bit as satisfying as it sounds. I was almost too full for dessert, but I'm a sucker for a lemon tart ($6), and Bess' was everything I wished for: a crumbly crust and a tangy filling, served with blueberry coulis and candied lemon peel.

Although the prices are a bit higher than I'd like to spend on a regular lunch, the afternoon menu also features a few new items that I was eager to sample. The fresh baby spinach salad ($9) with yellow tomatoes, crispy chunks of pancetta, and a generous slice of goat cheese comes topped with a panko-crusted deep-fried egg, a unique topping that makes this salad a complete, balanced meal. We chose the thyme-lemon dressing, but the homemade blue cheese would have likely been just as good a match. There are daily specials on weekdays, and on our visit we tried the bacon-wrapped meatloaf ($14), a portion huge enough for two to share, studded with carrot and celery cubes and topped with a savory sauce that may just be the definition of umami. The accompanying mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus were the perfect sides. Bess also hosts happy hour during the convenient hours of 2:30-6:30pm with half-price, full-sized appetizers and drinks – as well as an enticing Sunday brunch that includes $3 mimosas, Bloody Marys, and other brunchy libations plus Bess Eggs Benedict and shrimp and biscuits, among other offerings.

I'm happy to confirm that despite changes in personnel, Bess is still a place that I enjoy for the welcoming atmosphere, friendly and efficient service, and well-executed menu with something for everyone. Nothing is too weird or esoteric; it's just downright comfort food that hits the spot every time.

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Bess Bistro on Pecan, Camden Stuerzen­berger, Walton's Fancy and Staple

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