Restaurant Review: Drop In, Have Drinks, Hang Out

New neighborhood hot spots

The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co.

1305 W. Oltorf, 512/298-2242, www.theabgb.com
Tue.-Thu., 11:30am-11pm; Fri., 11:30am-12mid; Sat., noon-12mid; Sun., noon-10pm
Drop In, Have Drinks, Hang Out
Photos by John Anderson

South of the river, near the railroad tracks, and nestled under giant trees on a two-acre lot almost entirely hidden from the street, lives Austin's newest beer garden. We spotted the on-site brewery, but it was not until we parked and walked up to the building that the spacious, welcoming watering hole fully revealed itself. On a recent Saturday night, the two-tiered patio, lit with twinkly lights and standing heaters, was bustling, but not overcrowded. Inside, the converted warehouse was booming and almost all of the long communal tables were full, but we only waited approximately five minutes in line before reaching the counter to order. Our first round was pints ($4.50) of two of their permanent beers on tap, Superliner IPA and Industry Pils. The latter was my favorite of the night – crisp, clean, and not too hoppy – but both were delicious, and we headed out to the top deck's wooden spools with our John Belushi Polaroid table flag to await our food.

Drop In, Have Drinks, Hang Out

First up was the Stuffed Portabella ($8): Served piping hot, the big mushroom cap was stuffed with calabrese and kalamatas, drizzled with tomato sauce, topped with fresh basil and mozzarella, and baked to perfection. Had the rest of the order been on par with this lovely appetizer, the ABGB would have knocked it out of the park. Professing a focus on local, seasonal ingredients sourced from Johnson's Backyard Garden, Antonelli's Cheese Shop, Salt & Time Butcher Shop & Salumeria, Pure Luck Farm & Dairy, and Easy Tiger Bake Shop, the menu has staple, "Always" items and daily "Sometimes" dishes. The Special Slice ($3.50) du jour was Muffaletta Pie, a white pie with ham, salami, provolone, and olive salad. Rich and decadent, it held up under the weight of a nice portion of high-quality meats and balanced well with the delicate béchamel and tangy olives. Gluten-free options are available on sandwiches and pizzas, and any sandwich plate is a great value at $10, though our Caprese prosciutto selection had a couple of hiccups. The prosciutto was divine, and the fresh mozzarella, basil, and perfectly crispy baguette would have stacked up had the out-of-season tomato slices not been, well, out of season and pithy. I would return just for this sandwich plate (and several more stuffed 'bellas and brews) if only the chef would remove it until the summertime when tomatoes are plump, red, and juicy.

The Caesar salad was fresh and crispy, but lacked enough dressing to touch every leaf. The atmosphere is exactly as promised – fun, friendly, and casual – and only when it was time for our second round of beer did we realize the main course had never arrived. Back to the counter for pints of the Day Trip Pale Ale (a close second-place favorite) and Big Mama Red (hop heads will fall in love with this formidable brew) and a reorder of one of their special 16-inch pies: sausage, caramelized onions, red and yellow bell peppers, and feta ($22). When it finally showed up, smelling like success, I thought, "Here we go!" Sadly, the pie took this dedicated pizza lover straight to Disappointment Town. Conceptually, it is a great combo, but the issue was strictly execution. The slices oozed grease, yet somehow the crust was dry (was it cooked in a bowl?). The caramelized onions were translucent – it was obvious they had never been given a chance to reach their beautiful, sweet brown potential in the short pizza oven cooking time; and we actually used a flashlight to look for the feta (it was there, but it was sparse). The crumbled sausage, fresh mixed bells, robust sauce, and bubbling cheese offered some redemption. However, the comparable combos and superior quality of East Side Pies still has my heart.

Still, with a few technique tweaks, this menu could be excellent, and I will certainly return to try the habanero bacon pie, deviled eggs, and beet salad. The ABGB embodies one of the best Austin pastimes – drinking good beer outside with friends – and it's already on the way to establishing itself as a popular neighborhood hangout.

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