Eberly Restaurant Review
For months, I have been walking up and down South Lamar Blvd. wondering what was to become of the empty print shop holding prominent real estate between Paul Qui’s ever-bustling Uchi and the eventful Barton Springs cross street. With the Long Center and Zilker Park nearby whatever would come to the location was ripe with organic exposure.
You could imagine my excitement to find out a new restaurant helmed by John Scott and Eddy Patterson of Stubb’s Bar-B-Q fame would be filling the vacancy.
With a kitchen advertised as serving upscale American fare under the guidance of executive chef Jim Tripi (Spanish Oaks Golf Club) and executive pastry chef Natalie Gazaui (McGuire Moorman Hospitality), it seemed a new high-roller was looking to up the ante in South Austin.
Named after Austin’s famous heroine Angelina Eberly, the restaurant would also house the Cedar Tavern, a collection of drinking and contemplation spaces complete with a rooftop patio designed to mirror the famous New York tavern of the same name. In this space, Kelon Bryant, formerly of Justine’s Brasserie and the Continental Club, would be designing clever libations and pouring local drafts. The original Eberly served as the hub for many famous artists, including Bob Dylan and Jackson Pollock, and Austin’s Eberly hopes to serve as the hub for a new wave artists and free-thinkers.
The interior proved elegant, spacious, and thoughtfully designed. A vast dining room with individual tables connected by large velvet lined bench seats fills the front dining area. The decor is a conscious juxtaposition of lavish furniture and ornamentation reminiscent of the Harlem Renaissance and the sharp edges and reflective surfaces equated with modern architecture.
A central atrium, lined with rows of high steam punk style support braces encased with clear glass walls transects the floor connecting the dining room to the Cedar Tavern. A rectangular glass ceiling holds the steel arms at bay while allowing a flood of natural light to fill the atrium, much to the pleasure of the many plants that adorn the walls and floors.
To the right of this room runs additional table seating and to the left a walkway parallel to the mouth of the open kitchen, allowing guests to see the action as they wander to and from the tavern or dining room. The additional traffic along this threshold provides an added obstacle for the front of house staff, but they seemed to navigate with ease.
The Cedar Tavern maintained a palpable energy with busy chatter, pulsing music, and the collision of ice, glass, and steel typical of a full-service bar. The centerpiece of the Cedar Tavern is the wooden bar itself. The fifty-foot-long mahogany marvel, complete with extensive hand-carved filigree, was purchased from the original Cedar Tavern when it closed in 2006. After being shipped to its new Austin location in pieces, it has been restored to its glory and remains a sight to be seen.
Dispersed throughout the mahogany scented tavern are plush couches, over-sized leather armchairs, and poufs inviting prolonged conversation and welcomed intermingling. This intellectual lounge atmosphere is a refreshing addition in South Austin.
The drink menu is a smart, concise collection of local beers and select wines. Draft beers include popular selections such as Live Oak Hefeweizen and Austin Eastciders Dry Cider, along with more adventurous selections such as the Founder’s Breakfast Stout and Deschutes’ Fresh Squeezed IPA out of Bend, OR. Bottled options offer a larger variety including Sours, Tripels, and Ales.
A selective wine list displays the right amount of options without creating the exhausting paradox of choice. The menu includes personal favorites such as the 2013 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay out of Napa as well as the Italian 2012 Giodo Rosso, “IGT” Sangiovese. A selection of sparkling and fortified wines, scotches, and whiskeys are also available upon request.
The craft cocktails, however limited, are meticulously constructed. The list includes subtly playful gems such as the Lady Bond, which balances the floral notes of a sweet Lillet against a complex gin and the brightness Ketel One Citroen, along with bolder statement drinks like the Final Ward, a fascinating blend of Bulleit Rye and Green Chatreuse balanced with maraschino and lemon.
Ideally we will see this menu grow to ten or twelve options as the restaurant matures, but for now the choices are confident and invocative.
Now we discuss the most important part. No matter how radiant the interior nor mesmerizing the libations, if the food falls flat the restaurant will decay.
We began the meal with the house sourdough bread served with citrus fennel butter. The bread arrived warm with a distinctly sweet aroma finished with the tell-tale sourness of wild yeast. The interior showed a broad, albeit uneven, crumb with a chewy golden crust. The compound butter delivered its flavors accurately without proving overwhelming.
From there we were graced with a half-dozen expertly shucked New Brunswick oysters. The flavor was fresh and texture clean, without a hint of grittiness. The mignonette was well-balanced and nicely complemented the bivalve while the overall presentation was authentic.
I was surprised by the overall rustic nature of the cheese and crudité plate presentation. Not that it displeased me, more that I found it uncommon to the current norm of hyper-fashioned visages commonly seen in upscale eateries. Truthfully I found it refreshing. The choice of fennel and baby carrots acted as excellent palate cleansers after a generous bite of smoked jalapeno pimento cheese atop crispy flatbread. I especially enjoyed the latent note of coriander found in the pimento.
As a lover of foods from the ocean I could not help but order the whole red snapper. There are few things that compare to the exquisite texture of a whole fish gently pan-fried to encrust the tender flesh in a crispy skin with a slight charring for added depth. Unfortunately, I was not presented with such a dish. Instead, I received a fish so exceedingly fried that the skin was more akin to a sarcophagus than a crust. The flesh was dry and had taken on a mealy, inconsistent flavor. I did, however, appreciate the balancing act between the smoked tomato and gremolata.
The short rib buoyed the experience with a delicate texture and bold flavor profile highlighted by a playful celeriac apple fondue. The presentation was classical and utilitarian.
The third and final selection was the venison and quail. While the flavors of this dish were, again, well thought out and pleasant, the execution disappointed. The venison was surprisingly tough and lacking in moisture, while the quail was arranged haphazardly on the plate.
Additionally, we shared orders of the asparagus and squash, Brussels and cauliflower, as well as shells and cheese which all proved to be well-prepared, nicely seasoned, and delicious.
Eberly fancies itself a dining space serving contemporary American cuisine. Generally, the dinner menu reflects this with classic dishes prepared with flavor twists fashioned rustically without pretense.
I make that statement because the dessert menu stands in contrast of that. While providing takes on classics like PB&J and Donuts, they are more elitist than Americana.
While I hold no ill will towards the creativity that science has allowed us with cuisine, I fail to see how the dessert and dinner menus coexist. Perhaps it reflects Eberly’s romance w
ith “risk takers, creative types, and liberated thinkers” as stated on the “About” page of their website, but as a diner it feels disjointed.
That being said, the Basque cake with poached pears was delightful. The honeycomb and Marcona almonds provided a wonderful flavor and texture contrast, however the Manchego cheese ice cream was too earthy and drew away from the balance.
The sweet potato cake donuts were another solid standout. With bourbon ganache, marshmallow, and pomegranate interplay, each bite was delightful. Top marks for creativity and textural variety.
They say the devil is in the details. Eberly proves this is true. The components are in place but the execution is hindering the potential excellence of the restaurant. The contrast between the upscale, yet rustic American dinner fare and the avant-garde nature of the dessert menu creates a discernible chasm in the cuisine. Conceptually I am excited by what Eberly is undertaking. The veneer is beautiful, the menu is thoughtful and thorough, but the performance is uneven. I can confidently say the missteps seen in this meal feel more of youthful exuberance than reckless ignorance. I hope with time and experience they will overcome these obstacles to live up to their potential, but until then, I remain skeptical.
Eberly & The Cedar Tavern
615 S Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78704