The Austin Chronicle

Restaurant Reviews

Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, January 14, 2011, Food

Cherrywood Coffeehouse

1400 E. 38½, 538-1991
Monday-Friday, 7am-12mid; Saturday-Sunday, 8am-12mid; weekend brunch, 10am-3pm

Restaurateur Ryan Marks recalls that he had his eye on the property where he now operates Cherrywood Coffeehouse from the time he moved into the nearby French Place neighborhood in the late Nineties. He watched various eateries pass through the building, from the post-fire incarnation of Pato's Tacos and a couple more Mexican eateries through Quack's Maple­wood Bakery, each struggling and failing to succeed. Two years ago, Marks and his wife, Jen, finally made their move on the space they coveted, and Cherry­wood Coffeehouse was created in February 2009. Things have certainly been on the upswing since then. Judging from the enthusiastic neighborhood support and the frequently full parking lot, the Marks have a hit on their hands. Cherrywood is a casual and comfy neighborhood joint with a friendly, welcoming vibe. The New Orleans natives proudly present Saints football on TV and will make your pooch at home on the patio. The sign outside proclaims "Real Food" – and the kitchen delivers. Every neighborhood should be so lucky.

The menu is an inviting amalgamation of pastries, tacos, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and smoothies, as well as beer and wine, enhanced with excellent coffee beverages using Fair Trade Ruta Maya coffee. Breakfast at Cherrywood is an anytime affair, and it also offers a wonderful weekend brunch. In addition to a selection of muffins, scones, and pastries from various local bakeries, the breakfast taco menu features several worthy choices. My daily go-to favorite during the recent busy holiday baking season was the Sol taco ($4.39), a hearty behemoth with an omeletlike layer of eggs, savory black beans, sausage, crisp bacon, grated cheese, crunchy shredded potatoes, and green onions. One of these will get your day off to a righteous start. Vegetarians or folks with daintier appetites might opt for the Terra taco ($4.39) with tofu or the Artist taco ($2.77) with your choice of three ingredients from a long list. My current favorite brunch dish is a soul-satisfying bowl of low-country shrimp and grits ($6.99) paired with an order of cinnamon-tinged pain perdu ($4.60), but I've got my eye on the crawfish and eggs Benedict ($8.99) for next time.

The lunch and dinner menu is currently weighted toward hearty sandwiches and burgers, although Ryan Marks says he and chef Kevin Jackson are in the process of developing some dinner specials that will debut over the next few months. Meanwhile, you can't go wrong with the award-winning burgers (a 2010 "Best of Austin" Critics Pick) or a genuine New Orle­ans-style muffaletta ($9.79 full, $6.79 half), appropriately dressed with a generous serving of chunky olive salad, served with Zapp's chips. The sandwiches are built on French demi-baguettes from the Fiesta bakery just down the street, offering a good balance between a soft interior and a crispy crust for a satisfying sandwich experience. Seafood is a relatively new addition at Cherrywood, and I can highly recommend both the catfish and the shrimp po'boys ($7.49 and $7.99) complemented by the tangy house rémoulade and fries. It also offers platters of fried catfish ($8.99), shrimp ($9.99), and oysters ($9.99) with fries and house slaw.

As pleased as he is with Cherrywood's current success, Marks sees his business as a work in progress. He eagerly describes improvements he'd like to make: changes to the interior decor, an exterior paint job, enhancements for the patio, and more new menu items. Consid­er­ing how much I appreciate having this gem so close to my house, I'm all for its continued success. In fact, if Cherrywood adds a good beignet to the menu, I might be there every day.

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