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What makes Winebelly a neighborhood gem

Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, December 6, 2013, Food

What does it mean to be a "neighborhood" restaurant, as compared to just a restaurant? I would say it means it isn't expensive, there is plenty of free parking, and you can usually just walk in and get a table. These are the very things that set Winebelly apart from the other tapas bars that have opened recently in Austin; it truly is a neighborhood wine bar. It isn't pricey, with most of the bar snacks costing around $5 each, and the tapas hovering around $10. Every time I have gone in I have been seated immediately, and whether driving or walking, there is none of the hassle that heading Downtown invariably entails. Unsurprisingly, Winebelly has been warmly embraced by area residents.

The wine list is priced aggressively, which means that both bottles and glasses are intentionally affordable. By the glass, prices range from $6-$10, the pour is generous, and the wines are commendable. Most of the bottles fall into the $20-$30 range, with many well-known vineyards represented, such as Pine Ridge, Macon Villages, McPherson Cellars, and Bonny Doon, as well as Spanish, French, and Italian bargains. On Sundays and Mondays, to make the deal even sweeter, there are half-price specials on many of the bottles of wine. Though Winebelly does not serve hard liquor, they do serve a charming variety of wine cocktails, three premium local beers on tap (each $4), and 13 bottled beers, largely microbrews.

Most of the Spanish dishes are in the "Bar Snacks" category, which includes roasted shishito peppers with Maldon salt ($6), a dish that is nearly identical to pimientos de Padrón. These small, mild roasted peppers (with the occasional hot one) are a flavorful, satisfying appetizer not to be missed. Marinated olives with roasted nuts ($5) is another Spanish mainstay, as are the cured white anchovies ($4) and the tomato bread ($5). Winebelly also offers two different types of excellent, crisp french fries, served in generous cones: Parmesan truffle, made with truffle oil and Parmesan cheese, and bravas, lightly flavored with pimentón and chile pepper (both $5).

The tapas are more seasonal and local, with little of the Spanish emphasis on seafood. Standouts include the fried quail ($10), an ample portion served with arugula, roasted pears, and black-pepper honey, and the roasted carrots ($10), a superb dish of sweet, jewel-toned carrots and parsnips served in a pool of crème fraîche, and topped with cool slices of perfect avocado. Although all the bar snacks deliver great value for your dollar, among the tapas the mileage varies: The grilled lamb ribs ($12), while delicious, are a very small portion, and the orecchiette ($10) is a mere handful of pasta with a sprinkling of Italian sausage bits; a rather silly economy, as pasta and sausage are notably inexpensive.

Menu items change with the growing seasons, and along with the printed menu, there is a crudo of the day (market price) and one or two ambitious specials every evening. Recently Winebelly has begun serving dessert, which on my most recent visit included a divine chocolate and walnut paté, served with fresh berries and almond cream ($6), and a gelato of the day. The service is knowledgeable, swift, and genuinely friendly. From the affordable wines and beers, to the bountiful bar snacks and elegant tapas, Winebelly offers Downtown quality with neighborhood prices, convenience, and friendliness.

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