The Austin Chronicle

The Take-Out

Remembering Congress Restaurant

By Brandon Watson, December 25, 2015, Food

When some restaurants close, it feels personal. It's not so much specific meals. Those can be approximated at almost any place with an open flame. But memories aren't so lucky. Those stay attached to place, even if the architecture becomes twisted over time. We take for granted that we will always be able to visit. Without those walls, who will guard the moments held in the clink of a glass? Without those tables, where can we relive them?

I never had the good fortune to become a regular at Congress, but for years it was almost a daily part of my life. Danielle, my best friend since forever, would come home with stories of eccentric customers or industry gossip. At the time, I didn't have very many friends of my own, but her co-workers provided a nifty surrogate. During most of that time, I was battling depression and a life I stumbled into but didn't choose. Congress couldn't be more different.

The first time I ate there, I felt like a celebrity. Danielle made sure of that. From the moment napkin hit lap, everything was perfect – from the foie torchon to the celebratory bubbles. Life may have been imperfect, but one thing better was within my grasp.

There are so many memories of Congress that can't be contained in those walls. There were so many times I dropped her off out front, car rides with Nineties house and louder giggles. There was the last Christmas she spent here, with its impossibly rich meal topped off with an impossibly rich dessert – Riesling-poached Bosc pears, foie gras vanilla bean ice cream made with advice and ingredients from one of the chefs. And there was one of the last days, impatiently waiting in the alley for Danielle to collect the boxes that would be filled with half the objects of our shared home and whisked away to Chicago.

I wonder if restaurateurs are aware of those ghosts, the way the restaurants can mean so much more than the meals they serve. I wonder if they appreciate the enormous privilege they have in being involved in so many beginnings and endings. Or that when we make our final reservations, it's not just because we want one more delicious meal; it's because we need to say goodbye to a friend.

And to one more time say thank you.

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