Restaurant Review: Redbud Ice House

The latest concept from MaieB Hospitality crafts a modern Austin spin on a Texas classic

photos courtesy of Giant Noise

Unless you’ve spent a lot of time in the Houston-San Antonio corridor, you’d be forgiven for reading the name of the new Mueller restaurant occupying the former home of Contigo and asking “... what exactly is an ice house?” And honestly, even folks who’ve visited longstanding Texas ice houses might struggle to explain what sets these spots apart from beer gardens, cantinas, and other casual open-air gathering places. Ice houses tend to fall into a nebulous space of “you’ll know it when you see it.”

Will you know Redbud as an ice house when you see it? Not exactly. But this laid-back hangout has managed to establish a clear sense of community in a very short time, which helps to justify its name.

Redbud Ice House is the latest Austin project from MaieB Hospitality, the team behind local favorites like Olamaie, Little Ola’s, and Maie Day. MaieB knows how to navigate the sometimes-contradictory vibes of present-day Austin, and their well-honed aesthetic is in full force at Redbud. Ironic yet sincere, trendy yet humble, chef-driven yet unpretentious: It’s a tough balancing act, but it’s one that Redbud Ice House achieves (for the most part).

Ice houses rely on an easy flow between indoor space and outdoor space, and Redbud’s sizable lawn just outside the building door and lawn-facing open windows at the interior counter help to reinforce that idea. The inside space clearly draws inspiration from old-school ice houses with concrete floors, wood-paneled walls, vinyl booths, exposed pipes, and plenty of vintage-looking Lone Star memorabilia displayed throughout. It feels a bit like an EPCOT Village reproduction of an ice house – there’s an obvious effort to honor the inspiration source, but the overall effect has a polished and sanitized quality that’s hard to shake.

Arguably the best item on the Redbud Ice House menu is an adopted dish from its predecessor Contigo: fried green beans.

In true ice house “order at the bar” fashion, Redbud operates under a counter-service model, with amiable staff members ready to take orders and answer questions. Lines can become lengthy during peak hours, but the team knows how to keep things moving with impressive efficiency, so don’t let a crowd daunt you. The food menu is displayed on a large sign above the counter, which makes it simple to decide on an order while waiting, but you’ll need to sneak up to the front of the line and grab a laminated beverage list if you’re in the mood for a drink. Once your order is in, the employees will hand off your beverages right at the bar and send you with a number sign for your table, which will be collected when the surprisingly speedy servers deliver your food.

Ice house bar programs traditionally focus on canned and bottled beers, so it was with some skepticism that I perused the “Cocktails” section of the Redbud menu. But Redbud lets itself have a bit of fun with its cocktail selection, and along with some winky choices like a Cosmo and a Boulevardier (which could be viewed as a jokey jab at overbearing ice house purists), they offer not one but two frozen options: a no-frills and satisfying margarita and a potent Painkiller. These playful spiked slushies fit the theme and pair nicely with the low-key culinary offerings.

As for the beer, Redbud homes in on a small and carefully curated selection of Austin-based draft brews. Particular attention should be paid to the Throwback, a clean and refreshing “house beer” brewed exclusively for Redbud by their next-door neighbors at Batch Craft Beer & Kolaches.

The food at Redbud reflects MaieB’s restaurant pedigree, but it also pays homage to the uncomplicated dishes that make ice houses such beloved institutions. When you order a dip at Redbud – whether it be queso, bean dip, or pickle dip – you’ll receive it with an open baggie of Tostitos or Ruffles. This reflects the history of the ice house, as these venues often doubled as neighborhood convenience stores (complete with mini chip bags). The queso bears resemblance to the classic Velveeta-and-Ro-Tel version that we’ve all made in our own microwaves, but the flavor profile also features a deeper umami layer indicative of “real” cheese and an extra hit of heat for the spice fiends out there.

But if you’re only going to order one dip at Redbud, make it the fried pickle one. This creamy spread emphasizes the herbaceous tang of dill pickles while tempering it with sour cream smoothness and subtle seasoning that pairs flawlessly with bagged potato chips. It’s an ideal party snack, and Redbud Ice House visitors owe it to themselves to give it a try.

Another menu triumph comes in the form of the Redbud Cheeseburger. This smashburger with quality Texas wagyu patties – pressed to a perfectly crisp texture, served on a Texas French Bread bun dusted with poppy seeds, and garnished with tart pickles, American cheese, lettuce, and tomato – boasts the right amount of salt, fat, sweetness, and tang to activate even the most discerning of palates. This burger knows exactly what it’s going for, and it succeeds completely.

Arguably the best item on the Redbud Ice House menu is an adopted dish from its predecessor Contigo: fried green beans. These beans outshine any fry (or fry-adjacent) side dish on offer with their impressive confluence of delicate breading, a fragrant hint of sesame oil, natural vegetable freshness, and a rich mayo-mustard blend from the accompanying dipping sauce. Nothing against Redbud’s fries; they’re crisp and thick and satisfying. But the green beans lingered in my mind long after I left Redbud, and it’s the dish that will keep me coming back.

Dessert options at Redbud consist of soft-serve ice cream, which fits the theme as exactly what you’d want from a roadside bar. I also credit Redbud with its decision to add a kids’ menu, as the venue’s playscape and open lawn lend themselves to a very youthful clientele. Local parents could and should embrace Redbud as an ideal place to gather with the whole family, and adults looking for kid-free dining and drinking should plan to visit after 8pm.

Redbud Ice House is a hip Austinite’s version of a Texas standard. Authenticity might be questionable, but Redbud excels at the most important quality of any ice house: It serves its community. Mueller is an upwardly mobile neighborhood with plenty of young families, and Redbud caters to that with aplomb. Anyone in search of a quality burger, some whimsical drinks, and warm all-ages energy can find that at Redbud, which indicates that it’s a place with real staying power in the Central Austin of today. 

Redbud Ice House

2027 Anchor Ln.

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