McGuire Moorman Hospitality can certainly set a scene. From the self-consciously ramshackle vibes of Pool Burger to the louche Parisian steez of June’s All Day, each one of the group’s restaurant evokes a specific time and place, and is more often than not a totem of midcentury American prosperity.
With Swedish Hill, the reincarnation of Clarksville’s iconic Sweetish Hill Bakery, the group had a much more difficult task, finding glamour in the mundaneness of 1990s Austin. Although the cafe only opened on August 12, it’s easy to forget that the details are all new. The Saltillo tiles clashing with the mulberry counters are not original. Neither is the expanse of marble on top.
In some ways, this Swedish Hill manages to feel more permanent than the first long-running incarnation. Of course, the original eatery was painted a saturated, Friends-era blue.
Wisely, MMH kept the restaurant’s first impression close to the original. Upon entering the space, guests are greeted with an eye-popping assortment of treats from pastry director Jen Tucker and baking director Alex Manley, including bagels, croissants, flaky kouign-amann, cookies, and tarts. Minimally decorated cakes preen in coolers, just as they have always done.
And the menu is still anchored by artisan bread sandwiches, albeit ones conceived by former Emmer & Rye chef Page Pressley. From hot pastrami to smoked turkey to tuna, the choices could have been plucked from former owner Patricia Bauer-Slate’s menu — only she didn’t confit the tuna, and the prices have since doubled.
The cafe, however, sharply veers from there. Guests who let their eyes wander from the carb overload will find cold cases stocked with smoked fish and caviar, a selection of cured meats and pate, and sides like roasted broccoli rabe or a Caesar specked with Parmesan bagna cauda merchandised as carefully as Fendi Baguettes.
Shelves and coolers behind the counter are stocked with Jacobson’s salt; bundles of herbs from HausBar Farm; Mill-King dairy; and grab-and-go containers of lasagna, bone broth, and pozole. It’s all redolent of another ‘90s icon: Dallas’ Eatzis.
Around the corner, guests can enjoy a proprietary June’s sparkling rosé and a prix-fixe dinner of dry-aged ribeye and peach crostata in an austere space spotted with custom furniture from Dwell-approved South Texas maker Garza Marfa.
It’s all upscale, of course. Even when MMH opens a food truck outside a dive bar, it simply doesn’t do downmarket. But for the first time since Lambert’s, the restaurant feels organically Austin. Swedish Hill might have been inspired by concepts like New York’s Russ & Daughters, but there is obvious affection for what can be found in its own backyard.
Clarksville has, of course, become considerably tonier than when the Sweetish Hill first settled there in 1991, and Swedish Hill is a neighborhood cafe for the neighborhood's current iteration.
Old Austin may not be able to go home again, but it can build a foundation for a new generation.