For a restaurant reviewer, the possibility of turning the public on to an undiscovered gem is just too irresistible to pass up. So when a reader e-mailed me raving about the fried catfish he'd enjoyed at a well-hidden little breakfast and lunch spot near Mitchie's Gallery, I was intrigued. Finding the Southern Hospitality cafe tucked into a big North Austin business park required some hunting, but I soon discovered that the cozy eatery is aptly named. Proprietors Gail and Fred Warren are a friendly and hardworking young couple who know how to make their customers feel right at home. After his military career, Fred Warren spent many years working in institutional food service, most recently on the Huston-Tillotson campus. Now he's parlayed those years of experience into his own operation. Currently, Southern Hospitality serves breakfast and lunch weekdays, and the Warrens are available for on- and off-site catering on nights and weekends.
The affordable breakfast menu, available from 7 to 10am, includes breakfast tacos ($1.59), sandwiches ($1.79-2.59), French toast ($2.79), and a big breakfast plate with eggs, potatoes, sausage, and a biscuit ($3.99). At lunch, the regular menu features entrées, sandwiches, and a burger, as well as a fully-stocked, economical all-you-can-eat buffet ($7.99) with two meat options that change daily, plus fresh salads, many (vegetarian) vegetable side dishes, pasta, and rice. Tuesday's buffet offers fried chicken and meat loaf, both worthy choices. Fred Warren's fried chicken is the real deal – bone-in breasts, thighs, wings, and drumsticks in a crackling golden-brown crust. The lean and hearty meat loaf has plenty of beefy flavor but could benefit from the enhancement of a tomato sauce or mushroom gravy, in my opinion. We paired these meats with creamy mac and cheese, toothsome sautéed carrots, crunchy green beans, and white rice. We finished off the meal with moist slices of lemon-coconut and chocolate Bundt cake ($1.79) – sweet and homey, perfect in keeping with the overall comfort food theme.
We returned for the catfish buffet on another visit and ate a pile of thin, crisp fillets with house-made tartar sauce, corn, buttery stewed cabbage, sautéed mushrooms, and spinach. The vegetables here are seasoned simply, each dish maintaining its texture and integrity. As much as we enjoyed the catfish, the highlight of that meal turned out to be the chicken and dumplings my guest ordered from the regular lunch menu. It's a soul-satisfying bowl of tender poached chunks of white meat bathed in a rich, creamy chicken broth with soft, flat dumpling pillows. At a mere $3.99, this 10-ounce bowl of down-home goodness served with a buttery dinner roll is a sure contender for the best under-$5 lunch in town.
The food at Southern Hospitality is simple and straight-forward, satisfying and reasonably priced. The Warrens will treat you like a member of the family and send you back to work with a full stomach and money left in your wallet. Seek them out.
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