sit down, stay awhile
New French-Italian bistro adds charm to historic downtown Austin building
Although parts of Congress Avenue may look new, there are some buildings left standing from their late-19th century origins. Those, if Austinites get something right, will keep evolving in place for years to come. One such place now houses a European bistro with simple, but chic taste from the decor to the dishes.
Gina's on Congress is a cozy new concept where guests can be transported from the fast-paced city to an intimate space to enjoy classic French-Italian dishes paired with a cocktail or a glass of wine.
The bistro is located in a historic building at 314 Congress Ave., which formerly hosted Italian restaurant La Traviata. The latter closed in 2020 after two decades in business. Gina's pays homage to the building's originality by displaying the exposed brick walls with minimal white trim, and keeping the decades-old spacious wooden bar.
Gina's is the newest addition to restaurateur Cameron Lockley's Flavor Hospitality Group, and is helmed by executive chef Jason Tallent. Lockley and Tallent have collaborated previously to open Gràcia Mediterranean in 2023.
"I'm excited to be the next steward of this historied address," Lockley said.Photo by Jody Horton
In addition to honoring the building's prior Italian tenant, Lockley also drew some inspiration from the former oldest French restaurant in Austin, Chez Nous, which closed in 2021.
"Downtown Austin has changed so much. I frequented La Traviata and Chez Nous 20 years ago when I was a student at The University of Texas and hope that I can, in some way, create a place that delivers the warm hospitality and delicious experiences those institutions were known for," said Lockley in a press release.
Gina's cuisine is inspired by the mantra "Paris meets Rome," and accommodates both casual diners looking for a quick bite after work and guests who want a sophisticated multi-course dinner.
"My approach with the Gina’s menu was to create classic dishes that feel good for your soul and inspire you to come back," Tallent said.
All dining menus offer small plates, such as a steak tartare topped with a quail egg, capers, fried shallot, and accompanied by potato gaufrettes; a shrimp and prosciutto dish on top of a blood orange gastrique; and an impressive plate of bone marrow served with a hunk of toasted sourdough bread, arugula, and horseradish.
Gina's small plates are a combination of complex elements and extravagance.Photo by Jody Horton
Light snacks on the menu include a smoked salmon dip with sea salt potato chips, crème fraîche, and chives; and gougères, a French savory choux pastry made with gruyere and topped with freshly cracked black pepper on a spread of whipped butter.
We've never had gougères before, but there's always a first for everything.Photo by Jody Horton
The dining menu includes robust options like the braised lamb shank with soft polenta, currants, and an orange zest gremolata, or a porcini mushroom-rubbed veal cop with charred scallion and a crispy potato au gratin.
No Italian dinner menu is complete without an pasta dish, which Gina's offers in two forms: a conchiglie pasta with pork sausage, broccoli rabe, and grana padano cheese; and the meatless mafaldine pasta with Austin-based HiFi Mycology mushrooms, escarole, brown garlic, and grana padano.
Unlike many Austin restaurants, Gina's will host a happy hour every day of the week from 3-6 pm. Lockley and Tallent tapped restaurant manager Ethan Murphy to develop the bistro's distinguished beverage program. Cocktails at Gina's are named for a spirit of femininity, like the sparkling wine and raspberry "Kiss Kiss,", or the cheeky "Wild & Dirty," combining Wild June Gin, Dolin Dry Vermouth, lemon, and a bleu cheese olive.
Apart from the 11 different cocktail offerings, Gina's also has a section dedicated to seven different variations of a negroni. A few of the experimental concoctions include the "midnight" negroni (Mezcal Derrumbes, Casa Mariol Vermut, Braulio Amaro); and the "old pal" negroni (Seagram's VO Canadian Whisky, Select Aperitivo, Dolin Dry Vermouth).
"From organic producers working biodynamically in harmony with mother earth, to female winemakers and master distillers, we hope to accentuate the feminine in our wine, spirit, and cocktail program,” Murphy said.
Gina's on Congress is open daily from 11 am to 11 pm. Reservations can be made online via Resy.