The newest eatery at the South Congress Hotel is now open, and at first glance it looks like the New Waterloo folks have another winner. The much-anticipated Central Standard features a classic American menu by Executive Chef Michael Paley and Executive Pastry Chef Amanda Rockman, and joins Sway, East Side King, Qui, Goodall's, La Condesa, and Café No Sé in the portfolio of the successful restaurant group.
The ample but comfortable space boasts floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the hotel’s courtyard and South Congress Avenue, plus a cozy wraparound patio. Inside, the stylish design includes an open kitchen with a wood-burning grill and a spacious bar with seats for 18 people. The wall behind the bar is covered in handmade tiles imported from Japan, whose earthy blue hues change depending on the lighting. The centerpiece is a raw bar featuring cold-water oysters, clams, mussels, and mixed seafood platters. We can vouch for the poached Maine lobster half, served chilled with lemons and seasoned with fresh herbs.
The cocktail menu is varied and fresh, which isn’t a surprise since award-winning mixologist Nate Wales is in the mix, and the wine list features interesting selections we hope to explore further on our next visit. The bar is large enough to accommodate three bartenders, so we didn’t have to wait long for our very well-crafted drinks. The staff is professional and amiable, eager to answer questions and chat with customers despite them being busy. We absolutely loved Central Standard's take on its house gin and tonic, which actually includes no tonic at all. Death's Door gin is enhanced with fresh herbs and botanically rich liqueurs Salers and Byrr, which makes it at once refreshing and complex. A bottle of Topo Chico comes on the side for customers to tweak it to their taste.
The dinner menu is small but very enticing, and includes starters like roasted bone marrow with frisee, mostarda, and grilled bread and a grilled artichoke with warm anchovy vinaigrette, which came highly recommended. There are a few salads with intriguing global flavors, as well as main dishes and specialties from the wood-fired hearth. The prime rib roast was suggested as a house specialty, and the grilled lamb kebab with dill labneh and sofrito-braised garbanzos sounded intriguing. After much deliberation we settled for the grilled Berkshire pork chop, marinated in hot pepper paste to give it a hint of spice, and served with charred leeks and fennel pollen. This seemingly simple dish was ethereal, succulent, and juicy, with excellent flavor and texture combinations.
We could not leave without tasting something from esteemed James Beard Award semi-finalist Rockman. Like everything else at Central Standard, her menu is short and simple. But if her lemon tart with white chocolate ginger Chantilly, basil seed compote, lemon confit, and St. Germain granita is any indication, dessert lovers are in for a treat no matter what they order.
Much is made of Austin restaurant openings these days, and sadly some do not last much past the hype. But in the case of Central Standard, we think you should definitely believe it.