EastSide Tavern Has Proven You Can Burn the Brisket
When I say that it’s hard to be disappointed by barbecue in Austin, Texas, I mean it’s extraordinarily difficult to find a restaurant serving subpar bbq classics and sides. Hell, our gas stations often have pretty decent sausage and potato salad. Today, sadly, I experienced some of the absolute worst barbecue I have ever eaten. It makes my little Texan heart sad.
The man and I decided to break our usual Sunday afternoon tradition and try a new, or at least new to us establishment over on the East Side for a late afternoon lunch. We had both driven past The EastSide Tavern on East Cesar Chavez Street multiple times. The place always appeared hopping with your expected young, beautiful and fashionably relaxed smattering of Austinites lounging about on their outdoor patio. The menu online looked promising – barbecue meat plates with the traditional sides, a selection of sandwiches and burgers, as well as salads for lighter fare. They also offered a wide selection of craft cocktails, wines, and beers. Again, it seemed promising.
We arrived and stood at the bar for a good ten minutes while the bartender flirted with a patron. Finally I pushed past the patron who seemed spatially and situationally unawares that she was impeding the usage of not one, but three barstools as she leaned sideways along the bar top. When trying out a new eatery with a bar I often like to sit at the bar itself. I find in this way I can chat with the bartenders and find out more about the place and what their recommendations are, which are often very different from the waitresses. The bartenders seemed rather disassociated with their patrons, floating about with vacant expressions of vague disinterest leeching any emotion from their faces. They seemed…elsewhere.
I ordered a Moscow Mule, my standard for testing the abilities of the mixologist. The man ordered an Old Fashioned, his standard (and he is still on the hunt for the best in Austin…). While the Old Fashioned was pretty good, though missing the signature Luxardo maraschino cherry garnish, my Moscow Mule tasted watered down and flat. It was obvious the bottle of ginger beer they were using had lost its bite a long time ago. We also placed a food order – a brisket plate with potato salad and caramelized brussel sprouts sides for me, and the BLT sandwich with fries for the man.
Perhaps it was due to our famished state, but it seemed like the food took a very long time to arrive. When it did there were two extra ribs I had not ordered on my plate. Without asking the bartender rolled his eyes and, just as I was about to cut a piece of brisket, whisked the food away from me and marched off to the kitchen with a sigh. A long moment later he returned with my food, sans ribs, but not the extra pickles or sauce I had requested. It took another couple of asks to receive the sauce. The pickles never appeared. And it was a good thing I asked for extra sauce because the brisket was dryer than Death Valley. And tasteless. I’m not sure how they achieved brisket that had the choking hazard consistency of tree bark while being absolutely absent of even a smokiness to it, but even two tins of their house bbq sauce made it barely palatable. And to top it off, the plate came with only two small, thin slices of brisket. That’s it. Not even enough for a sandwich.
The sides were the saving grace to the meal. The potato salad was decent – creamy, well-seasoned, with pickles and red onions for a fresh crispiness to balance the potatoes. Was it the best potato salad I have ever had? I wouldn’t be mad at it if it was served at a backyard picnic, but honestly it was nothing spectacular. The brussel sprouts were probably the brightest note about my lunch at EastSide Tavern. Caramelized until nice and crispy and tossed with pickled onions and a creamy garlic (?) sauce – I could see myself reordering those again sometime. I did not sample the BLT sandwich the man was having, but he was “good enough, but needed more bacon, even just one more slice”.
Two quasi-passible cocktails and two mediocre lunch plates and they hit us with a $58 bill. Insert my skeptical raised eyebrow here. Me thinks EastSide Tavern thinks too much of their humdrum fare. Makes me wonder who the owners are. Because, in Austin, restaurants, GOOD restaurants come and go quicker than a bullet train. So if you want to survive, especially in a high rent gentrified hipsterville neighborhood like E. Cesar Chaves, you better be Master Chef quality if you’re going to be demanding Master Chef prices. I can name ten food trucks within five blocks of EastSide Tavern with food that will blow your culinary minds for a fraction of the price. That’s not hyperbole; that’s facts.
Is it possible we were there on an “off day” when the kitchen wasn’t at its peak functionality and a cook or two maybe called in sick? Maybe. Anything is possible. However, there was something about EastSide Tavern that made me think whoever owns it doesn’t really know the restaurant business or the Austin food scene. My advice to EastSide Tavern: learn to smile and step up your bbq game or the next meal you guys might have is a good ole dose of crow.
1510 East Cesar Chavez