When we last left The Townsend bar, we raved about their speakeasy ambiance and clever cocktail list.
Almost one year later, this vintage-inspired lounge has added gourmet, yet accessible, bar bites to their repertoire. The Townsend is now one of the premier spots on Congress Avenue to eat, drink and get your Jimmy Stewart/Barbara Stanwyck on.
Classic Meets Contemporary
Before we get to the eats, let’s recap. Walking into The Townsend is like entering a ’40s era Billy Wilder film. The vibe is pure film noir. At the entryway, an elaborate chandelier hangs from the ceiling, bouncing soft light off the black bar and walls. All of it is inspired by the 141-year-old building The Townsend lives in.
Vintage inspiration runs rich through The Townsend’s cocktail list and just-released food menu. The menu, created by The Townsend’s new head chef Justin Huffman, is a flavorful, yet unpretentious, blend of small bites, cheese boards and charcuterie. Director of Hospitality and bar program creator Justin Elliott shared the staff’s vision for the new menu:
“The chef and I have similar sensibilities in the food we present and what we like to eat. You’ll see a lot of Latin, Southeast Asian and Mediterranean/North African flavors.”
To give myself the full Townsend experience, I paired three cocktails with three items on Huffman’s menu. Time to dig in!
Note: According to Elliott, the bar bites menu may change on a weekly or even daily basis.
Pairing 1: The Lamplight With Trout on Toast
Before moving to Austin from New York, my ideal breakfast was lox, cream cheese and capers on a fresh bagel. An upscale take on that classic concept, the Trout on Toast is fresh, clean and not in the least bit fishy. The frisee salad that blankets the trout is more than a garnish. Crisp and lively, it would work as its own dish. Add to the mix a zesty lemon thyme crème fraiche and sprinkle of trout cracklins (fried skin), and this dish made me forget all about Jersey delis.
The Lamplight, one of The Townsend’s signature cocktails, is a blend of Old Grandad bourbon, Drambuie, lemon and a “Chinese 5 spice.” Presented in the classic style with a lemon peel garnish, the cocktail is beautifully balanced. The bourbon base is masked up front by a refreshing citrus, but makes itself known in the finish. Deceptively simple, it’s an excellent go-to, especially for those new to the world of whiskey.
Pairing 2: Bar Italia With the Gordita
Long relegated to food carts and Taco Bell menus, The Townsend’s gordita elevates the experience with rich, complex flavor. An earthy, melt-in-your-mouth braised chicken thigh sits upon a firm gordita shell. The chicken could stand on its own. But with the salty/sweet pickled vegetables and velvety queso fresco, the meat is kicked into another gear. Hearty, without being overpowering, this gordita is a must-try.
Alongside it, I had the Bar Italia, a cocktail comprised of Old Highborn gin, Cocchi Americano (an aperitif wine), amaro nonino (an herbal digestif) and saffron. Very spirit forward, the juniper booziness stands first and foremost. This quickly gives way to subtle earthy undertones. With a floral yet spicy nose, this cocktail is all about aromatics, rewarding those who like to give their drink a whiff before quaffing it down.
Pairing 3: Canopy With Dumplings
Simply put, The Townsend’s dumplings are comfort food kicked up three notches. The biggest victory is texture. There are few things worse than a mushy, over-cooked dumpling. Chef Huffman’s version has a delightfully crispy, yet tender, texture. Inside lives a delicious beef and pork mixture, backed by a spicy/sweet salsa verde. Top it all off with fresh pico de gallo, and these dumplings are a clean and savory addition to the new small bites menu.
While a whiskey-based cocktail would have been perfect with the dumplings, I needed a bit more gin in my life. Enter the Canopy, a decadent blend of Old Highborn gin, becherovka (an herbal bitter), lime juice and mint. Although I generally prefer cocktails with a bit more bite, the Canopy was absolutely sublime. The gin and mint play beautifully with each other, creating a velvety, luxurious mouth feel that’s at home with the bar’s upscale, speakeasy vibe.
Old and New School Combined at The Townsend
With a fresh food menu that complements the already exceptional cocktail list, The Townsend has upped the ante on the Austin cocktail bar concept. Cary Grant and Mae West would have been proud to hang their hats at this downtown venue.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Where do you go for a world-class cocktail in Austin?