Restaurant Review: Ranch Dressing
Jacoby's does country for city folk
Reviewed by Rachel Feit, Fri., Nov. 7, 2014
Tue.-Sat., 5-10pm; Sun., 10:30am-2pm
Just when we all thought that Western-themed restaurants serving big steaks and chops were relics of former days, there's Jacoby's. This latest Eastside foodery has taken an old concept – the ranch restaurant – and made it fresh and interesting once more.
First, there's a great story. Adam Jacoby grew up working on his father's cattle ranch and in the feed store's cafe in Melvin, Texas. The cafe became well-known for its terrific steaks and burgers made from the beef the family raised on their ranch. When Adam came to UT's business school in Austin, he had an idea that he wanted to bring the feed store cafe to the big city. After college he went to work managing and remodeling his parents' cafe in Melvin. He then returned to Austin to work in a few restaurants here, while he honed his concept for a modernized version back home.
Enter a great property. According to Adam, he and his interior designer boyfriend Kris Swift were biking in East Austin when they came across a vacant storefront. As it turned out, the property backed up to the Colorado River. That's when the concept for Jacoby's Restaurant & Mercantile really coalesced.
The restaurant takes full advantage of its location with a spectacular shaded outdoor porch, and rope lights that twinkle when the sun goes down. Inside, the old storefront is pleasantly decked out in Dallas chic, although the hard surfaces along wall, floor, and ceiling make it deafeningly loud. Hold out for a seat on the porch, which at night feels like an enchanted world.
Cocktails seem like an absolute must in this glam-ranch setting, and fortunately the bar has plenty to offer. In homage to cowboy style, whiskey and brandy drinks feature prominently. A good place to start is with the Midnight Train, made with whiskey, amaro, lemon, and simple syrup ($9). You can please your sweet tooth with the East-Sidecar ($11), mixed from brandy, Cointreau, fig syrup, and lemon.
On my first visit, I knew I had to try the chicken-fried steak. The dish is one of those culinary touchstones that measures a kitchen's competency. It is also the simplest of all cowboy dishes to make – fried cube steak covered in cream gravy. Yet it is too often done terribly. The meat can be tough or flavorless, the breading too heavy or soggy, and the cream gravy a pasty mess. I'm happy to report that Jacoby's CFS is none of those things. Their steak is tender and well-flavored, the breading on it is light and crisp, and most importantly, the cream gravy is made from real pan drippings and not from a mix. Instead of a pile of leaden mashed potatoes, the steak comes with a light arugula salad and gently fried fresh okra. I do think it is spendy at $19, but all of it is emblematic of Jacoby's craft approach to ranch-style cooking.
In fact, the same can be said for all the dishes I've tried. From the Bibb lettuce salad with crispy fried shallots, bacon, and paper-thin radish slices in a light buttermilk dressing ($9) to the pumpkin and goat cheese "dumplings" (these are really just house-made ravioli) over sour cream, caramelized onions, and toasted pumpkin seeds ($18), every detail is well-conceived and executed. The menu here is approachable enough to tempt the most dedicated meat-and-potatoes stalwarts, but has enough glimmer to please foodie types. You'll always find a plain steak and mashed potatoes on the menu. But for those craving more adventure, there could be a grilled skirt steak over barley and hatch peppers accented with Romesco ($26), or a gulf fish over brussels sprout slaw with lemon aioli ($28).
At Jacoby's, house-made pimento cheese ($8) is given equal honor beside acorn squash stuffed with farro and roasted mushrooms ($9). Simple deviled eggs ($6) seem just as dandified as smoky barbecued shrimp over cheddar grits ($23). The onion rings were the only real disappointment here. Not only were they overpriced at $7, but the rings themselves were too wide to eat with any real delicacy, and the batter on them was bland.
Happily, desserts at Jacoby's suffer from no similar flaws. My daughter's eyes grew to the size of saucers after a glance at the delightfully pink, and irresistibly moist, strawberry cake ($7). It tastes as pinkalicious as it looks. I love the silky coconut pudding ($7), which is really nothing more than a crustless coconut cream pie served in a jar.
Currently the restaurant is open for dinner only, though plans are already in the works for a Sunday brunch. Big hair and rhinestones are not essential in this urban ranch-dressed habitat, but you may want to consider bringing along a Texas-sized appetite.
Jacoby's Restaurant & Mercantile3235 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/366-5808
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