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Where to eat in Austin right now: Top dining picks if you're looking to lunch

Austin photo: Places_Food_The Backspace_Oven
The Backspace Courtesy of The Backspace
Austin Photo Set: News_dupuy_where to eat_march 2013_josephine house
Josephine House Photo by Jessica Dupuy
Josephine House restaurant in Austin
Josephine House Photo by Bill Sallans
Epicerie Epicerie
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_local markets_jan 2013_epicerie
Epicerie Courtesy of Epicerie
Austin photo: Places_Food_The Backspace_Oven
Austin Photo Set: News_dupuy_where to eat_march 2013_josephine house
Josephine House restaurant in Austin
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_local markets_jan 2013_epicerie

It’s easy to get into a rut of going to the same old spot for lunch. In a pinch, I’m a sucker for a good sandwich, but when it comes to meeting a friend in the midst of a harried work day, sometimes you need something just a little more special. This month, we’ve got a few spots that should fit the bill.

The Backspace 

If, like me, you’re more of a "snacker" during lunch, news that The Backspace is now open during lunch hours should entice a few smiles. Though it has long been a favorite of mine for brick-oven pizzas — yanked straight from the hot coals of an Italian-imported oven — as well as the provocative Italian-only wine list, I also love this cozy little side-street restaurant for its clever antipasti plates.

You can find anything from balsamic-marinated tomatoes and cipollini onions to roasted squash with lemon, walnut pesto and peppers or roasted apples with fennel and red chili flakes. Each plate comes in a petite serving that’s perfect for sharing. When meeting a friend downtown for lunch, we usually split three or four with an order of warm house-made focaccia bread.

Larger orders of lamb and pork meatballs with stewed tomatoes, asiago cheese and a sprinkle of fresh mint or baked ricotta cheese with lemon-poached tomatoes add a little more heft and round out an ideal “snacking” lunch.

Epicerie Café and Grocery

The reasons are endless for lunch at this bright and cheerful French-inspired cafe in the Rosedale neighborhood: a friendly environment, an extensively stocked cheese case, the clever array of specialty curated grocery items and hot beignets served all day certainly entice a visit. 

The French-Louisiana inspired menu is the design of chef Sarah McIntosh, who first wowed Austinites with her work as sous chef at Olivia, is a clear labor of love from her Cajun-country roots. (She previously worked in Napa at chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc.)

You’ll find roasted chicken with lentils, mussels in white wine broth with French fries, and a delicious rendition of a fried shrimp po-boy. McIntosh’s red beans and rice served with Andouille sausage are a soulful pleasure and the made-to-order beignets are a perfect afternoon treat — especially with a strong cup of fresh-brewed Blue Bottle coffee.

The clean white interior, warm wooden beams, butcher block table tops and excellent selection of wine along the front shelves creates a cozy, yet sophisticated communal space true to the comforts of home.

Josephine House

Once the special events room at the former Jeffrey's restaurant, the historic Josephine House has recently opened for lunch (and late afternoon cocktails and snacks). Though it short-stops the much-anticipated opening of the new Jeffrey's restaurant from the ambitiously crafty McGuire Moorman Hospitality team — the ones behind Perla's, Fresas, Elizabeth Street Cafe and Clark's — Josephine House is a welcomed treat to tide us over until the main restaurant is complete.

My husband and I recently stopped in for lunch and savored a plate full of hot brandade fritters with paprika aioli, which sort of bridge the gap between fish sticks and hush puppies with a decidedly more grown-up appeal. The playful display of Marble Counter dishes hosts an array of seasonal salads and antipasti style selections from red grapefruit and orange salad with olives and Meyer lemon vinaigrette to roasted beets and cauliflower with avocado, yogurt and mint. We also loved the open-faced chicken salad sandwich with currants, tarragon and crunchy walnuts served on fresh artisan-style bread.

This mid-day feast paired with a couple of cocktails from craft cocktail bar manager Josh Loving elevated the experience. (Still torn between which was better — a refreshing grapefruit and Tapatio Silver tequila Paloma with lime and Topo Chico or the tasty twist on the simple gin & tonic with Plymouth sloe gin and a dash of orange bitters.)

Of course, we weren't about to leave without dessert. The pear upside down cake with molasses-prune Armagnac ice cream was ridiculously good and made even more decadent with a glass of French Sauternes (dessert wine).

The pricing may be a little on the steep side for the average luncher. The aforementioned chicken salad sandwich was $16 for what was essentially half of a sandwich, and a simple order of bread and butter is $3. But if you're familiar with the McGuire-Moorman Hospitality concepts, then you know that the culinary team behind them opts for the best in quality food first, and worries about whether or not people are willing to pay for it later. From the steady stream of customers to their growing list of restaurants — Josephine House included — I'd say they're on to something. 

Lunch is Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m., but cocktails and snacks are available from 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. Starting in March, cocktails will be served Friday and Saturday nights from 6 p.m. - midnight.

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