Restaurant Review: The Meteor Turns a Convenience Store Into a Neighborhood Hang for a New South Congress
Before and after noon, diners find craveable carbs and chill vibes
Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, Fri., Jan. 31, 2020
Cafe: Sun.-Wed., 7am-10pm; Thu.-Sat., 7am-11pm; Bike Shop: Mon.-Fri., 10am-6pm; Sat.-Sun., 8am-4pm
Down at the end of the no-longer-seedy stretch of South Congress on the edge of the Bouldin neighborhood is a beautiful build-out in a defunct c-store. A midcentury-style starburst sign advertises "Espresso. Champagne. Chain Lube," effectively the mission statement of the Meteor, a coffee bar-cafe-bike shop from Doug Zell, founder of Intelligentsia Coffee, and his business partner, Chris St. Peter.
The interior is a sleek tribute to minimalist luxury, from the gleaming counters and tables to the small galley kitchen that contains no secrets. One side of the dining room offers bar seating alongside a wall of windows overlooking the parking lot and the bustling South Congress thoroughfare. A row of tables flanked by a running blond wood fence houses at its end a tooled leather pouch that holds the food and drink menus guests can peruse while waiting to place their order at the counter. Coolers display a diverse array of local sparkling waters, kombuchas, and beers, as well as a beautifully curated selection of natural wines complete with handwritten tags extolling their virtues and characteristics. A high-end espresso machine hisses and gurgles against the backdrop of an ultrahip soundtrack.
The menu, developed by Andrew Werth, previously of Fresa's, is divided up into three discrete parts: Before Noon, After Noon, and Brunch, which includes menu items not available on the daily morning menu. The first boasts a host of toasts alongside standard breakfast fare (an egg plate, a burrito, yogurt and granola). Craving both carbs and protein, I chose the Toad in the Hole on a thick slab of Hokkaido milk bread, and upgraded to add half of a perfectly ripe avocado, sliced and ready for smooshing onto the bread. It was simple, unfussy, and satisfying, especially when accompanied by an excellent Americano made using a chocolaty and smooth Intelligentsia espresso. This was probably my favorite visit to the Meteor, as the chill vibe lends itself to camping out with a laptop (for a respectful and reasonable amount of time) without interruptions.
We checked out the After Noon for a weeknight family dinner. After sunset, the ambience at the Meteor takes on a magical feel, with the pink neon "Open" signs in the window casting a rosy, ethereal glow into the dining room for maximum romantic vibes if you're there without your teens and tweens.
The kids ordered the al taglio-style pepperoni pizza, cut up with cool-looking scissors and sold by the ounce, served lukewarm on an aluminum tray. While chewy and delicious, on this visit, the dough didn't have the bracing sourdough tang of the brunch pizza. My spouse ordered the quiche of the day from the pastry menu, studded with tomatoes, bacon, and mozzarella and served on a flaky scratch-made crust; he's a quiche fan and gave this one a thumbs-up while noting that he would have liked for it to have been served hot rather than room temperature (but people's preferences vary, of course).
My Meteor Logical bowl took a really long time to prepare – the rest of my family was done eating by the time my serving of rice, greens, and avocado atop a pool of tahini was served. While the bowl was certainly delicious and light, I still can't fathom why it took 20 minutes to assemble something that required literally no cooking (the rice was served chilled). The kids shared a brownie à la mode while I finished my entrée and I was able to snatch a few bites of the cakey brownie topped with icy vanilla gelato from Dolce Neve before it disappeared. Normally I get irritated with my kids for colonizing a shared dessert, but I was happy to save the calories for something else in this instance.
I focused my brunch visit on pizza and pastries, and I wasn't disappointed with the shredded potato, egg, and Parmesan offering on the day of my visit. My husband enjoyed his (very aptly titled) BEC, a buttery homestyle biscuit with bacon, egg, and cheese. The biscuit was in the classic, flaky butter style, and the fried egg and bacon hung seductively over the edges of the bread. I also sampled liberally from the pastry case, from the excellent everything za'atar focaccia to the subtly sweet Earl Grey scone. My mimosa was a refreshing dance between a bitingly dry prosecco and fresh orange juice. My spouse ordered iced tea and was charged a dollar for a refill, which shocked us both, but maybe this particular iced tea was made with leaves harvested by Peruvian orphan llamas and brewed with unicorn tears.
Salads and bowls appear to be the best bet for gluten-free folks, but there didn't appear to be any gluten-free pizza options. Likewise, there is no vegan pizza available, but the bowls, salads, and soups are free from animal products.
Despite the fact that it's been a much-discussed issue on the Austin dining scene for years now, the acoustics here are painfully loud. There doesn't appear to be any sound dampening in the ceiling, and this led to the cashier mishearing my wine order and completely missing my spouse's dinner order on one of my visits. If I were any more hard of hearing than I already am (thanks, rock shows), dining here would be a likely insurmountable challenge.
This review isn't necessarily a paean to Old Austin, nor is it a nostalgic ode to the days gone by when you could get hookers and smack and all-you-can-eat sopapillas in a one-block stretch. But a recent feature on KCRW's Greater L.A. podcast centered on how the design of coffee shops in gentrifying neighborhoods determines who chooses to patronize them did make me wonder who the Meteor is for, from its curated wine collection to its bespoke bike shop. It's clearly meant to be a neighborhood hang, a reflection of who's paying property taxes there now.
The Meteor2110 S. Congress
Cafe: Sun.-Wed., 7am-10pm; Thu.-Sat., 7am-11pm
Bike Shop: Mon.-Fri., 10am-6pm; Sat.-Sun., 8am-4pm