Not so long ago, anywhere south of Slaughter Lane would have been considered by many Austinites an out-of-town location. But even way South Austin is getting closer by the day, and businesses with local feel and style are making a run at it in this chain-dominated neighborhood. Independence Fine Foods may be in a less-than-hip shopping center (sharing space with Planet Fitness and Austin Regional Clinic), but the sleek, minimalist diner is as chic as any Downtown cafe.
Although it has only been open a few months, chef/owner Casey Livingston is hoping Independence will connect with nearby clientele who are longing for some Central Austin creativity. The dining room has a warm interior with modern banquettes, exposed wood, and an inviting deli case filled with side salads and desserts. Cuvée Coffee is the house choice and it can be ordered in an array of ways – from cold brew to a bottomless personal press.
Our first visit was for weekday lunch, and the place had only one other table seated. The server who took our order at the counter was friendly and helpful with our questions about sides.
Throughout the meal, she kept a watchful eye on the dining room and made sure we had everything we needed. Even if there were only six of us, her attitude and care were appreciated.
The speciality sandwich of pork belly bánh mì ($8.50) came on a house-made baguette with garlic mayonnaise, carrots, jalapeños, and cucumber. While the bread was a little on the airy side, the pork belly itself was fatty, thick-cut, and delicious. My side of Greek pasta salad was perfectly seasoned and balanced with tomato, olive, and feta cheese. Of the two composed salads on the menu, my husband ordered the roasted beet offering ($7.75) with gorgeous golden and red varieties and all the usual suspects of chèvre, mixed greens, and toasted walnuts. Salt and pepper were needed here, but overall it was very good. The broccoli cheese soup ($5) was rich in flavor, smooth, and silky.
Other interesting options include a braised and shredded beef cheek sandwich, a turkey meatloaf panini, and a burger on brioche bun. Tuna salad, chicken salad, pimento cheese, and a kids' grilled cheese round out the traditional sandwich menu. But some of the most popular offerings are the daily, ready-to-go dinner specials ($11.99-15.99), which can be ordered ahead for pickup. Daily specials are posted around lunchtime on their Facebook page, including plates like Vital Farms oven-fried chicken, roasted brussels sprouts, Hatch chile macaroni and cheese, grass-fed beef meat loaf with organic broccoli, and mashed potatoes with white truffle oil. With a kitchen running a sandwich-heavy lunch menu, the nightly dinner special is smart.
On a morning visit, I tried the only breakfast sandwich on the menu ($7.25) – a delicious pressed panini on rosemary bread with heavily peppered bacon, scrambled eggs, wilted spinach, red peppers, and provolone. With the addition of a cold-pressed coffee ($3.25), I was locked and loaded for the day. The food here is simple, but well-prepared and entirely elevated over anything else close by. Here's hoping the neighborhood steps up and embraces the efforts at Independence. They are clearly giving it their all.
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