So close, yet so far out

Austin restaurant superstars quietly open anticipated South Congress Tex-Mex spot

Austin restaurant superstars quietly open anticipated Tex-Mex spot

Joann's Fine Foods
Joann's Fine Foods has put an upscale spin on Texas diners. Joann's Fine Foods/Instagram

Ever since it was announced in November 2017 that hospitality superstars Bunkhouse Group and Austin's restaurant behemoth McGuire Moorman Hospitality were teaming up to open an eatery on South Congress Avenue, it has been one of the most feverishly anticipated projects in Austin.

Now the wait is over. Servers confirmed during a morning visit that Joann’s Fine Foods quietly debuted on October 4 with an approachable menu combining Tex-Mex with classic Southern comfort food.

Housed in the former home of Snack Bar, and in keeping with the spirit of the playful Austin Motel next door, the interior of Joann’s has a midcentury feel, riffing on diner decor with touches like cherry red laminate countertops; sage green vinyl seating; gleaming aluminum napkin holders; and colorful Fiestaware cups, salt shakers, and cream pitchers.

The mostly white space (are popcorn ceilings cool again?) is accented with liberal doses of bright colors both indoors and out. Most of the pop on the patio comes from glass panels that filter sunlight onto the thatched roof over the bar. Inside, a rainbow of fiberglass chairs sets a kitschy vibe, played up by a row of celebrity autographs lined up on wood paneling above the host stand.

The food follows suit, with a menu that is friendly in form if not in price. The spotlight is mostly on familiar fare like huevos rancheros and migas for breakfast and enchiladas, chicken fried steak, gorditas, and tacos for lunch and dinner. The pozole rojo I sampled, with guajillo braised pork and a poached egg swimming in a vibrant broth, should be a hit going into the colder months.

If guests want something a little fancier, they can choose from entrees made on a pecan burning grill like a 10-ounce ribeye served with cilantro vinaigrette, potato wedges, and grilled scallions; Gulf snapper with a cherry tomato, green olive, and marjoram salsa; and a pork loin chop with French lentils and a fennel and celery chimichurri.

The drink program is a more sophisticated version of the crowd-pleasing drinks offered at Fine Foods, the cocktail bar that temporarily occupied the patio space when Bunkhouse took over the hotel and attached restaurant in spring 2017. Sippers range from a take on the Mexican Martini made with Spanish gin de mahón to a Paloma given a little bite with pink peppercorns.

There is a particular focus on agave spirits with a curated list of tequila and mezcal. Both can be sipped alone or ordered with a sangrita using unexpected ingredients like tomatillo and tomato. A small selection of national and local beers and a small wine list covering all the bases round out the list.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Joann’s is how the aesthetics of the two Austin restaurant juggernauts combine so seamlessly. Everything from the uniforms to the lip-shaped chocolates presented with the check blends the famously exacting standards of both Bunkhouse and MMH. It remains to be seen if Austinites will line up for $15 patty melts and $14 hashbrowns, but expect the cheerful dining room to blow up Instagram feeds in the months ahead.