Restaurant Review: June’s All Day
Curated dining on South Congress
Reviewed by Brandon Watson, Fri., Oct. 21, 2016
Sun.-Fri., 8am-12mid.; Sat., 8-1am
During my college years, the least hip thing you could do is regard anything with sincerity. You might have a California Raisins poster taped above your bed and a Carpenters record on the turntable, but you didn't actually like those things. You certainly didn't hold any illusions that you looked good in press-pleated printed brown slacks, but they were funny and cheap, and besides, you wouldn't want anyone to think you actually tried.
But I am, of course, an old. The next generation replaced the stigma of trying with a stigma of trying too hard. Everything was supposed to look effortless, as accidental as crumbs falling off a cake. Of course that comes with its own set of absurdities. No one believes anyone ever #wokeuplikethis, but no one is supposed to challenge that either. If you let a freckle poke through, there's plausible deniability.
Which brings us to the McGuire Moorman Hospitality group, perhaps the most millennial of Austin's handful of restaurant empires – and perhaps the epitome of the insincere sincerity that has, fairly or not, come to define the generation. There's always the illusion of casualness in all of their eateries – the Fred Perry polos and shorts at Jeffrey's, say, or the string lights at Perla's – but in reality both of those highly referential touches are the result of very particular curation. Not even the soles on a pair of tennis shoes are left to chance.
MMH's latest venture – June's All Day – is no different. It's billed as a neighborhood concept, but of course that doesn't necessarily imply that Travis Heights or Bouldin Creek were the neighborhoods they were going for. The most obvious influence (the rattan bistro chairs in the slim patio and the herd of Thonet indoors) is 5,000 or so miles northeast, but that's pleasantly muddled with diner touches like the Wurlitzer jukebox (the Americana model, natch) and the custom plates that mimic vintage Buffalo or Syracuse china. There's also more than a small nod to the hospitality industry's current fascination for the fern bar, especially in the use of hunter green tile and rusty burgundy upholstery. June's isn't quite as beholden to that trend as San Francisco's Leo's Oyster Bar or New York's Oleanders (for one, there's nary a philodendron to be seen – that's replaced by a fusty Dynasty-era tall stargazer lily centerpiece), but it fits neatly in the general moment of cultural reconsideration. Even the sign is carved out of a Cooper Black-ish font. Now about those brown slacks ....
All that specific vintage detail sets the expectation that the food will follow suit – either by dipping into the cottage cheese and stuffed celery of the Me Generation or by doing that Austin trick of refining diner classics, but Larry McGuire and Tom Moorman's menu aims for something a little more sophisticated. For breakfast that means French touches like omelettes made with Boursin and radish ($16), a fairly doctrinaire take on the croque madame ($18), and cake donut made with crème fraîche ($4, but I would buy them at twice as much). At dinner, there's a bit more exploration.
Much of the food seems to keep drinking in mind, which is fair considering the restaurant is named for effervescent beverage director and master sommelier June Rodil. Her wine list is, of course, wide-ranging – a mixtape of unexpected wines culled from all over the world. The cocktails (all $12) are well-balanced with innovative touches like using olive oil in a martini instead of brine, or clarified milk in a rum punch. As one might expect, the staff has been well-prepped to deliver paired to both your specific meal and palate. Want something that can transition from the oceanic depth of salt cod croquettes with mojama ($10) to ham served with horseradish and mustard brown butter ($14)? They can rattle something off almost instantly.
Perhaps because of the focus on alcohol, the small plates are built for impact – starting out with a terrific salad. The Boston lettuce ($12) is dressed in black truffle vinaigrette, although the first part hardly seems to matter. More important is the mimolette. The import ban on the pumpkin-colored cheese has only fairly recently been lifted, making it a rarity on menus, but here it is insouciantly shredded like cheddar, giving the whole thing the slouched luxury of a country club chop. The burrata ($16) one-ups it despite the ubiquity of the cheese. Shaved Fresno chiles have pluck against the acidity of the dressing, interrupted only slightly by the bitterness of charred broccoli ends. The snapper carpaccio ($18) with tangerine supremes has no similar secrets, but its sprightly Californianess is still imminently eatable.
Unfortunately, the mains sometimes demur. The bone marrow bolognaise ($23) has a lot going for it. The eggy tajarin was a nice change from the thicker ribbons that tend to be paired with ragus and the bone marrow gave the sauce a buttery ground, but it stayed terrestrial without a final finish of salt. The chicken paillard à la plancha ($26), like so many other chicken dishes, is fine – even if the huff of shredded little gem doesn't do anything for it. But the matzo ball caldo ($18) – replete with slices of eared corn, avocado, cabbage, carrots, and cilantro – hugged the tongue with a fat-slicked broth, topped off with dumplings that were light, but not so ephemeral that they lost their form. And the couscous (we ordered it with a vegetable kebab – $18) is the kind of thing you want to steal for your home cooking – especially the lemony sumac yogurt.
All that is to say I liked the restaurant, would meet someone for happy hour and have a grand time, would even recommend it to out-of-town guests. But even if I lived nearby, I'm not sure if I would make it a neighborhood haunt. June's is the type of place you never really settle in, even when they don't have a DJ forcing you into false conviviality. My dining experiences there always seemed art-directed, with little room for soul. That's no reason to write it off yet, especially with so many dishes and drinks worth returning for. But I can't wait for all those bentwood chairs to scuff up that checkerboard floor.
June’s All Day1722 S. Congress, 512/416-1722
Sun.-Fri., 8am-12mid; Sat., 8-1am