What happened to Austin? I moved away from the land of academic breakfast tacos in May, only to return this past weekend to find that parking's as bad on East Sixth Street as it is Downtown and everything west of Congress Avenue looks like Uptown Dallas, but with better signage. I swear, this all happened in just six months. I've long argued against people who think that Austin's jumped the weirdo city shark, but I think I'm about ready to give in. The place is out of control. I think Dallas might be generally more edgy and welcoming, in many places, than Austin these days.
Which isn't to say that there aren't some very bright spots in our state's blue bellybutton, even as it panders ever more to the tight-jeans-and-privilege set (of which I count myself a part, so slow the hell down, Mr. Sassy Commenter) whose disposable incomes are dedicated to cheap beer, local food and raising formerly reasonable property values. One of those bright spots is Olivia, the city's newest, buzziest locavore hangout bursting at the seams with lovingly prepared, locally sourced smugness.
If your town is going to evolve into a precious, progressive enclave that's finally on the "foodie map" or whatever, Olivia's the way to do it. The South Lamar Boulevard restaurant is perhaps the greasiest-spooned fine dining spot ever. We ate lamb chorizo, frite pie and buttery whole wheat toast. Our meal was a high-end hangover cure for the 48-hour bender that is a weekend in Austin.
Southern food seems to particularly lend itself to a fancified brunch -- Restaurant Ava, Fearing's, Hattie's and Tillman's all serve some of the finest brunch dining in Dallas -- and Olivia is a case-in-point for Austin's proud South-meets-Texas-meets-Mexico food heritage. Have a look at the brunch menu: chicken-fried steak, croque senora, pickled pig's ear and pork chops are all on offer.
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SHOW ME HOW
The Man of the Hour nearly changed his order from the South Austin Omelette to chicken-fried steak when a waiter walked by us with a serving platter -- not a plate -- of the Southern classic, but he was glad he stuck with the lamb chorizo-filled egg dish. MOTH really likes lamb -- says "It tastes better because they're so damned cute!" -- and wasn't disappointed by the spicy salsa nor the huge pile of cilantro atop the eggs. Me? I can take or leave lamb, possibly because I have a soul, but still couldn't stop myself from ordering the "Dandy Don Meredith" chili frite pie, featuring lamb and beef chili. And I didn't even know that dude was going to die today, either.
I think Olivia toasts Meredith's memory properly with the food pile of thin, crispy French fries, beer chili, cheddar and fried eggs. The cheese was sharp and melty over the fries, which pooled into a gooey grease gel at the bottom of my dish. I couldn't bear to look at it, personally, but the MOTH said it was pretty impressive. The chili was more beef than lamb and the eggs were nice and runny. I couldn't have designed a better hangover helper.
Olivia's a beer and wine only joint, so this Brunch Drunk Love is devoid of Bloody Marys in favor of Bloody Beers, their take on a Michelada. It's Lone Star poured with a homemade spicy tomato juice and bloody fixings. They were fine, certainly, which is surprising considering Lone Star is pretty much bottom-of-the-barrel in the beer world. Good, even. But hardly worth writing home after a meal of such high calibre. I could have done with more lime, more salt and less horseradish, and a garnish of any kind. But at $5 apiece for a spicy brunch drink, they're reasonable enough to order two.
It's hard to reconcile a great meal at Olivia with the knowledge that really, Austin was pretty great the way it was before all of this high-end silliness set in. As we navigated the street-widening construction on Oltorf Street, pulling away from Olivia, mostly I kept thinking of the eternal words of The Wire's Brother Mouzone: "Slow train coming." A slow, delicious train.