Restaurant Review: Maie Day

Michael Fojtasek’s new South Congress chophouse turns up the fun … and the volume


The bar at Maie Day (Photos by John Anderson)

We weren't steakhouse people when I was growing up. The closest thing we got to it was after-church lunch at the Golden Corral, where the main attraction for me was the all-you-can-eat salad bar (those baby corns!). But if one of my grandparents or uncles was feeling fancy, they'd order a sirloin steak to go with the hot mac & cheese and baked potatoes on the bar, to be enjoyed amid a backdrop of dark wood-paneled walls and carpeted floors scarred with years of abuse from chairs and foot traffic.

And – stay with me here – I found myself visited by a faint feeling of nostalgia for those Golden Corral days when visiting chef Michael Fojtasek's newest concept, Maie Day. Not because the food is anything in the same universe in terms of execution and quality, but because Maie Day is so steeped in Southern church-lady-style hospitality that I can't help but form an association, however imperfect, with those Sunday afternoon meals in East Texas.


Grilled green beans

Located in the former Central Standard space in the boutique South Congress Hotel, Maie Day is the latest concept from the rapidly expanding MaieB Hospitality empire, in collaboration with New Waterloo. Billed as a "community chophouse" where there's "always a party," Maie Day is the younger sibling to upscale Southern concept Olamaie and the, uh, cool uncle to Little Ola's biscuits. It's splashy and loud (more on that later), with bright murals evocative of Matisse, courtesy of Fojtasek's friend Xavier Schipani, adding verve and sparkle where more traditional steakhouses are staid and dark. It's a space that communicates party vibes rather than stuffy business dinners; indeed, every time I've been to Maie Day, there have been groups there celebrating various special occasions.

I took a vegetarian friend with me for my first review visit to Maie Day as a sort of stress test. While it may seem silly to take a vegetarian to a chophouse, in this age of inclusivity, it's nice to know which restaurants can accommodate as many people in your party as possible. I appreciated the opportunity to explore Maie Day's expansive menu through a narrower lens, trying out salads and sides that might have otherwise been neglected in service to more carnivorous desires. After selecting our cocktails – the bright and herbaceous Do Some Thyme for me and the strong and powerful Maie-Jiu Look for her – we ordered just about every vegetarian item on the menu (which was too much food for two people): Caesar salad, mac & cheese, funeral potatoes, charred okra, and grilled green beans. I can say without any equivocation that the Caesar salad, tart and garlicky, is one of the best I've had. A literal mountain of freshly chopped Romaine lettuce is tossed with an anchovy-free dressing, and topped with thick shreds of Parmesan and sourdough crumbles. I could eat this salad every day and not grow tired of it.

I can say without any equivocation that the Caesar salad, tart and garlicky, is one of the best I’ve had.

The carby sides we chose showed off Maie Day's Southern bona fides. The mac consisted of fusilli noodles drenched in Tillamook cheddar and bechamel sauce, and topped with those same breadcrumbs from the Caesar salad. The funeral potatoes, diced small, swam in a salty cream-of-mushroom-type sauce studded with sautéed onion and topped with potato chips. These were great, but we should have picked just one (the mac & cheese). Among the green veg we chose, we really loved the charred okra, which was expertly seasoned with apple cider vinegar, sorghum, and paprika, topped with sunflower seeds and served with a slice of lemon for a much-needed hit of acid to dance with the dairy in the other sides. We topped off our decadent, meat-free meal with the seasonal cheesecake, an architectural beauty resting atop a bracing lime granita and topped with a graham crumble and blueberry compote. It was absolutely stunning.


Mac & cheese

My next review visit was a double date with my spouse and another couple. This time I tried the Face Your Fears, a mezcal-based cocktail spiked with Aperol, for my aperitif, while my spouse chose Nomadic's Peak Season IPA and our friends went with the überfeminine Garden Variety gin cocktail and the robust We Don't Give a Fig whiskey-based concoction. Taking lessons from my previous visit, we ordered a bit more conservatively even though we were all pretty hungry. We selected crab claws for our starter, creamed corn and the Bodacious Bloomin' Onion for our sides (no green veg for us on this visit), and one strip steak. The onion arrived with the crab claws (a puzzler: Why is something that's clearly an appetizer classified as a side but served as an appetizer?), and both were delicious. The onion was crisp and surprisingly not greasy, served with a classic comeback-style dipping sauce. We received a generous portion of wee crab claws, swimming in a garlicky butter sauce that we sopped up with the accompanying slabs of grilled sourdough. The strip, a 16-ounce cut from Dean & Peeler, was gorgeous, served a succulent medium-rare, and helpfully sliced. The creamed corn was fine – fun, even, with various textures of sorghum and corn kernels playing together – but I found myself wishing for a reprise of the okra.

The vibe is elegant and convivial, upscale without being stuffy.

Even though we were nearly full, we went ahead and ordered dessert. Two desserts, actually, because it was my birthday and I wanted two desserts. (*Narrator voice*: It was too much dessert.) I chose the Texas chocolate cake and the Cookie Tower Extravaganza. The chocolate cake, a three-story behemoth, arrived topped with freeze-dried raspberries and caramel sauce and was flanked with a thin, almost savory praline. It was the birthday cake to end all birthday cakes, rich and chocolaty, a testament to former MaieB pastry director Jules Stoddart's sweet legacy. The cookie tower arrived with four types of cookies, which I took home and packed in my kids' school lunches. I appreciated that they looked homemade (not a dig) and ranged in flavor and style from a deep, dark chocolate crinkle to a church-lady sugar cookie bar.

(One menu item I am sorry I missed, due to my vegetarian and ham-hating dining companions, is the Ham Plate appetizer, with three types of shaved country ham and cornbread muffins. I may have to make a separate, solo visit to try this delightful-sounding dish.)


Maie Day's top-notch Caesar salad

On the whole, I really like Maie Day and will definitely add it to the list of places to take out-of-town visitors. The vibe is elegant and convivial, upscale without being stuffy. The sprays of dried and drying flowers add a shabby chic touch that speaks to the "y'all come" ethos you'd expect from a community chophouse in Austin, Texas. The waitstaff are competent and friendly without being overfamiliar, and willingly answer any questions diners may have about menu items.

My primary concern is the frankly dangerous sound levels in the space. During both of my review visits, the Noise app on my Apple watch warned me that the noise levels had exceeded 90 decibels (as a point of comparison, at the recent Pavement concert at ACL Live, my Noise app warned me that the sound had reached 95 decibels). While this created an at-times unpleasant dining experience in that we had to shout over the din of the kitchen, other diners, and the upbeat pop-rock mix (which could have easily been turned down a couple of notches), it made me very concerned for the employees at Maie Day, particularly the waitstaff.

In fact, I asked a few workers about this issue during one of my visits; one of them said that their ears are ringing at the end of every shift. The other grimaced and said that they are constantly having to shout while at work. My hope is that Fojtasek and company will reduce noise exposure in the restaurant by adding some acoustic panels and other sound bafflers and turn down the music (the place will still be cool, I promise).

When I think of steakhouses, I think of dark rooms and waitstaff in tailored uniforms, with hushed conversations taking place across highly polished tables. There may be cigars involved. (It's possible I've watched too many lawyer shows.) Maie Day turns that stereotype on its head with easygoing party vibes that match both happy hour and birthday party energies. I might not take my hard-of-hearing father-in-law here, but can definitely see myself making a beeline here for a fun dinner date or Sunday afternoon drinks and snacks with friends (attending church beforehand not required).


Maie Day

1603 S. Congress
Tue.-Sat., 3-10pm; Sun., 3-9pm; Mon., closed
maieday.com

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