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Second Bar & Kitchen / Bar Congress

Any feedback? Thinking it might be a good place to walk in with some friends and have small plates and drinks during SXSW. There's some Yelp feedback (mixed) but I don't really trust Yelpers, and I wanted some CH feedback.

The cocktails sound great.

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    1. re: NWLarry

      I'd like the Chowhound take. Friends are telling me that Bar Congress has the best burger in Austin (and these people know how seriously I take that claim), but I'm going to be unable to get out for a bit.

      Can someone get down there and let me know the haps? Calling Agent Scrumptious...

      Oh, I've also heard that the burger is scandalously priced -- something like over $20 if you get a couple desirable options.

      1. re: tom in austin

        I'm fairly suspicious of a food blog featuring a dog myself. But I think it was one of the chronicle's top food blogs, so it's something. My last two expensive dinners were disappointing affairs at Trace and Jeffrey's.

        1. re: NWLarry

          I happen to know her (Foodie is the new 40) personally and she is very legit.

          I've been to Second once back in January. We went for happy hour and had some really great glasses of wine a few different dishes. The baked ricotta and goat cheese with a shallot marmalade were phenomenal. Super rich and creamy, but at the same time, really light. How is that even possible?

          The short rib pizza was incredible as well. I'm a sucker for short ribs. I'm a sucker for burrata cheese. Put them together and you've got heaven on a pie.

          We also had the buffalo fried pickles. They were completely different than anything I'd eaten, but were totally familiar at the same time. I keep meaning to get back but haven't had a chance. My experience was great and I highly recommend it.

      2. re: NWLarry

        Thanks. But I was asking more about the small plates at Second Bar & Kitchen, and cocktails at Bar Congress. Not the dining room at Congress (which looks more formal and expensive).

      3. there's been a smattering of talk:

        steve dilley posted about bar congress here:

        and, austinr and foodiegal74 wrote about it here:

        12 Replies
        1. re: dinaofdoom

          So it looks like the cocktails at Bar Congress are getting some good reviews (though no specific drinks mentioned).

          I'm hoping someone has had the FOOD at Second Bar & Kitchen!

          1. re: kathryn

            Billy and Brian at at 2nd bar can make a pretty good drink. Billy was at the good knight and brian was at ESSR before.

            I've had about half the menu there. for the price and for bar food its pretty good. wasn't wild about the pizzas. gnocci and fried pickles have been the standout thus far. I had a pretty good seafood chowder there too. I like the spot for its location and (compared to surrounding bars) its lack of pretention.

            1. re: ieathereforeiam

              I think you mean Adam (Bryan). And the drinks are good, though I was less impressed with the food at 2nd. Gin + Jam, Golden Arrow, and Appleseed Cup were the drinks we had. I think it was a wise idea to let Billy and Adam run with the menu. I still think that Bill Norris has the execution down better, but the creativity at 2nd, and the fact that they're moving away from the traditional regional liquor fare (citrus, tequila, rum) is nothing but a good thing.

              1. re: poryorick

                Poryorick, have you tried their superburger that everyone is talking about?

                1. re: tom in austin

                  went to congress tonight and had a sampling of the cocktails. the mestizo was ok. I liked the forty nights, and the preferred lies was pure bliss.

                  Tom, it looks like the burger goes for $12, but when you add the foie gras the price jumps to $26. I'll try it next time.

                  Me and the old lady had the tasting menu tonight and were both impressed. Actually got to meet Chef Bull as well. can't wait to go back.

                  1. re: tom in austin

                    The Man and I went back during SXSW for an early dinner. We split the burger (no additions), salmon salad sandwich, the Brussels sprouts and bacon in brown butter, and the buffalo fried pickles.

                    I enjoyed all of it except the burger. I liked the way it was cooked (medium rareish), but it needed some seasoning. Also, the bun didn't hold up to the heft of the burger. If they'd fix those two things, it'd be a really solid burger that I would happily return to eat. For now, I'll stick with the other things.

                    1. re: ieathereforeiam

                      For Clarification: Bar Congress and Second Bar + Kitchen have totally seperate cocktail menus. Billy Hankey of the Good Knight and Brian Dressel of ESSR are craftng your libations @ Second while Adam Bryan is at the helm of Bar Congress. The Bar Congress menu is much more extensive and itensive than the more casual Second Menu catering to different venues and clientele.

                      1. re: Motosavoy

                        Does Bar Congress have food? A subset of the menu at Second Bar + Kitchen?

                2. re: kathryn

                  Went to Second Bar last Friday with 3 friends. We tried a bunch of stuff.

                  I had a cocktail first while waiting (the mestizo) and I really liked it. The wine by the glass list is also good~ lots of choices between new & old world wines.

                  We had the pizza w/ burrata & short ribs, chicken fried olives (yum!), paparadelle with rabbit confit (outstanding), the 'bacon & egg' dish, the truffled french fries, and several other dishes which are escaping my mind at the moment and I can't peruse their online menu because their website is down.

                  I really liked everything we had. Good consistency as far as balance & seasoning, some of the dishes rising to the fabulous level. I'd go back in a heartbeat.

              2. What a disapointment! First impression was the design, poor...I was less than impressed, it should have been cutting edge or edgy or at least impressive, but it was the opposite. I did think the waitresses and hostesses were extremely attractive, but even that didn't help. Next impression...who in the hell calls a Lone Star Long Neck beer a Pilsner....and who pays $5 for the pleasure of drinking on? You can buy the brewery for $10. But there it is on the bar menu...oh well, it was the best thing I tried all night. We started by asking what some of the appetizers were, the descriptions were not all that helpful. Our waiter pointed out that we probably wouldn't understand...we'd have to try them. We passed. We opted for the overpriced and poorly described guacamole...they call it something else. The won tons they serve with it were the opposite of crispy...tough and stale, and the dish itself was rather bland, also no hot sauce to go with it. I'm from here, I know guacamole and this stuff was a weak offering. Next up, fried pickles. They were ok, nothing to write home about. There were a bunch of them and we ate them but I wouldn't walk across the street to get a serving. Last appetizer was the fries. I guess the star of the dish was suppose to be the truffle salt, but in my humble opinion they can't hold a candle to the fries at Hyde Park Bar and Grill. The entres were even weaker. I split a pizza, the burrata cheese and short rib variety as well as the bacon and egg small plate with one of our dining partners. We both agreed that the pizza was lousy. It could have used about 3 more minutes in the oven, then it might have rated a 6 on a Mr. Gattis 10 scale...come on guys get your act together. I guess it was a spare rib pizza, but you couldn't tell from the miniscule portion of spare rib meat decorating the pool of runny burrata cheese. Made me wonder...guys could you spare a rib? The bacon and egg plate was just ok. I guess I'm spoiled, I just got back from New Orleans and had probably the most amazing pork belly appetizer ever at Commander's Palace, their Pig and Peach dish. Second Bar's take on the belly was second rate. The only real flavor came from the tomato jam which was fine, but not note worthy. Oh well, live and learn. I sampled the burger which was fair, not as good as a Hut's burger or even one from the Tavern. I tried the chicken which was ok, but tell me, where in the world do they make these little chickens? Maybe it was a chick and not a chicken...who knows. Again I'd rate it a 5 or maybe a 6. The meat balls looked good, but I didn't even ask to try them. And the Brussel Sprout side was demoralizing. It appeared to this observer as if they had taken one sprout and deconstructed it, cooked it, and haphazardly thrown it on a plate. Not only was it miniscule it was unappetizingly presented. One rave so you won't think I'm ragging on the place too much, and that was the gin and jelly drink (don't remember the actual name). It was A+. Take a shot of gin, over ice, and stir in a spoon of Mango jelly and there you have it. Very refreshing and yummy. Would I go back? No. Would I recommend the place? No. Was it overpriced? Yes. Was it overhyped? Yes. Still, its on 2nd street, and that's a plus, because if you aren't into 6th street then there isn't a better avenue in the Americas to walk down on a cool Spring night on the way to a concert at the W!

                7 Replies
                1. re: edberliner

                  "Last appetizer was the fries. I guess the star of the dish was suppose to be the truffle salt, but in my humble opinion they can't hold a candle to the fries at Hyde Park Bar and Grill.... I sampled the burger which was fair, not as good as a Hut's burger or even one from the Tavern."

                  This is a troll, right?!

                  Frozen battered fries better than fresh cut fries drizzled with truffle oil?? a Hut's burger is better than one where the meat was actually from one cow & ground that day? Wow. Alrighty then.

                  1. re: malarkey

                    Austinites and Hut's . . . I'll never understand.

                    1. re: Pmd669

                      I don't usually get involved in food fights, but I felt like I had to respond to malarkey and Pmd669 just to defend the honor of those of us who do get Hut's and do enjoy the fries at Hyde Park. First of all, to get Hut's you sort of have to get Austin. Hut's has only been around since 1939...that my friend is staying power. It must be doing something right or it would be history, just like Second Bar and Kitchen will be in five years. I promise you, nobody will remember what was at Second and Congress in 2011 when the calendar strikes 2083, but Austinites are still eating burgers from Hut's 72 years after its founding. It has been under the same ownership for a mere 30 years. By the way malarkey they use fresh ground beef, never frozen, purchased locally from Johnny G's meat market in South Austin. I've only lived here for 47 years so I am a relative newcomer, but I get it. I'm happy there is a new vibe here and I'm thrilled that Second street is vibrant and awash with young upwardly mobile hipsters, but don't knock what you don't understand. As for the fries at Hyde Park, well they only get voted best fries in Austin year after year, but then they have only been working on them for 29 years. I'll go out on a limb here and tell you that they aren't frozen. I'm guessing that if they drizzeled a little motor oil on them and charged you double, and served them at Second Kitchen you'd rave. Maybe not, but maybe so. If you don't get Austin, I feel for you. If you do then rejoice with a burger at Hut's and fries at Hyde Park...and maybe have a soft cone at Sandy's for dessert. Then walk up to Zilker and take a dip, or maybe over to Lady Bird Lake and take a hike, or maybe up to Mount Bonnell and take in the view. Get with the program.

                      1. re: edberliner


                        I'm afraid your response is my precise criticism against Hut's (and Hyde Park’s fries, now that you mention it). Austinites have a way of promoting Austin-local places and history, even if the food doesn't (or no longer) warrants it. No restaurant is good simply because it has been around for 50, 75, or 200 years. I judge a restaurant based on what is present when I walk in the door today. I haven't been to Bar Congress or Second Bar & Kitchen, but will judge them by the same standard as I do every other restaurant. Nothing gets a pass because it is "new & trendy." Likewise, nothing gets a pass because it is an "old standard."

                        I would not rave about fries drenched in motor oil. Would you rave about fries drenched in motor oil just because they had been served that way for 73 years?

                        In the end, you are right, I don't get it. My post was seeking an explanation from those of you who claim to "get it." However, your only response seems to be, "a lot of people other than me like this place, so it has to be good." Isn't that the type of herd mentality that Austin claims to avoid?

                        1. re: Pmd669

                          I'm guessing that sentimentality is what flavors the foods that edberliner & others who 'get it' love. This is fairly common, and really, there's nothing wrong with it, but it would be wise to at least be aware of it.

                          I have myself a few foods that I am sentimental about, and I admit that their flavor evokes memories for me, and there are other people who upon tasting it, won't 'get that' ~

                          1. re: Pmd669

                            Damn, we should all meet at Hut's, then go to the Second place, then donkey-punch each other in a back alley.

                  2. Alrighty then...a throwdown! I decided I can play this game myself. I'm not new to Austin, and I think I get the Austin concept, but I also enjoy good food, not necessarily just because its served at a place that has been around forever. So to do it right I took my wife to 2nd street and tried Second Bar & Kitchen's burger and fries (We've wanted to try it and this was as good an excuse as any). The burger was, as the original poster said, uninspired! The fries, sprinkled with truffle salt were ok, again nothing to write home about. I like the venue, and wish it well, but it will not be here in 39 years or 3 or 9. That was Tuesday night. Last night my bride of 38 years and I loaded the Saab and headed for Hut's. I will say this, it is a totally different experience. It is close to being the third 3 D in Diner's Drive-Ins and Dives, but not quite. It's been around a long long time and there is a reason. The burger is excellent. Not pretentious, just excellent. Juicy, loaded with whatever you order, and delicious. So I give that round to edberliner. To make it a fair fight I made the little lady ride with me over to Hyde Park Grill, the original on Duval, not the one out south. We were full mind you, having polished off the Chili Cheese burger (I forget what the menu called it) at Hut's but the object was to compare the burger and fries so we did. Again, delicious. I know they weren't dusted with truffle salt, but they were damn good. So I give the decision to edberliner and not just because of history, because of taste and value---mostly taste. By the way, I don't think the fries at Hyde Park were ever frozen, but I didn't ask.

                    1. I've been meaning to mention the veal meatball slider w/ veal sweetbreads that's been on the menu at Bar Congress for awhile now... very good. Recommended.

                      1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought this place was overrated. When we went there was a 45 min wait (which is fine), but after we left, I could not seem to understand why they were so packed out.

                        My husband ordered ribeye steak, and it was over-cooked and masked with some sauce (almost like a homeade A1 tangy sauce - they call it oak barrel steak sauce), which is totally sacrilidge to people who want to taste the meat. I ordered the roasted salmon, and it was OK, but with an intense sauce with it as well.... it just didn't mesh to me. It was almost like the 'tail-end' of a salmon filet, a little dried out. The service was alright, but felt a little tightly packed with people walking behind you the whole time. The server was very nice and good.

                        I really thought that out of two plates, one would be spectacular. But, I'm still willing to go back to try the burger.

                        The bar (in the middle?) was great... The cocktails and bartenders were awesome. I'd probably go again and just have apps and cocktails. I'm thinking the real star of this place is the prix fixe place next door.... We have lots of better choices in Austin, with lots better atmosphere.

                        1. finally checked out Second Bar & Kitchen last night, and i loved it. there was a forty five min wait, so we had a few cocktails at Bar Congress, which was pretty cool in and of itself. i would like to try some of the bar menu food offerings sometime. at Second, we started with the Buffalo fried pickles and the truffle fries. the pickles were enjoyable enough. they were lengthwise chips as opposed to spears or coins, and came doused in a tasty hot sauce. i wish the blue cheese sauce had been a bit more pungent. hubs and i are have decided that fried pickles aren't really our thing, but the Buffalo aspect of these definitely elevated them over any others we've ever had. the fries were good...but they were just fries. well executed fries although the truffle was not all that present in either the aoli or the salt. Both of these items from the "Snacks" list were fine, but i doubt we'd repeat order either of them b/c there are much more interesting things to try.

                          next we had a couple of the small plates. the Garlic and Chive Gnocchi were killer. nice bright flavors with the garlic/chive and the tomato and i thought a citrus element, although the menu description lists none. really enjoyed this dish. the baked ricotta and goat cheese was a no brainer, rich and creamy with a fruity sauce to cut contrast that. i would definitely order it again.

                          finished with two sides, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower gratin. cauliflower was great, again with that creamy cheese factor again =). but the shining star of the meal was the Brussels. granted i'm a Brussels sprouts fanatic...these were roasted perfectly with bacon, feta and mint. YUMMMMMM!!

                          i am still getting warm fuzzies remembering all the flavors from last night. i cannot wait to go back and try more of the menu, although its going to take a little while to get through that as well as the Bar Congress menu. none of the big plates really jumped out at me, but i'd much rather try several of smaller things anyway. and will give that burger a day in court sometime.

                          1. Just wanted to pop in here with a recommendation for the brussels sprouts, if you are a brussels sprouts fan. We went the other night (late-ish) and I got a burger with sprouts on the side. The burger was just okay - lacking in seasoning, as someone else mentioned - but the brussels sprouts were something else. They tasted like they had been seared or roasted, then braised in wine and butter, and the crispy bits of bacon and the feta accompanied it perfectly. I could not detect the mint. The charcuterie plate was also very nice, though I wished for more cornichons to have between meats.

                            On a weird note, they were playing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on the two screens over the bar, and as much as I love the movie, I do not want to see Benicio del Toro upchucking red salmon along the side of a white Cadillac as I nosh on my food. After it was over, they turned on Mommie Dearest, which was far less graphic.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: addlepated

                              Oh, I decided long ago that I can't watch Mommy Dearest whilst eating charcuterie. Brings up too many memories....

                              1. re: rudeboy

                                Because I am NOT... one of your HAMS!!

                            2. Want a great burger? Try the Buffalo Burger at Casino El Camino. Want atmosphere? Try this place. I'm telling you that their burger can't hold a candle to the food at the Dive on 6th street. Its a totally different crowd, no doubt about that. But if its food you crave then your stomach will thank me a hundred times over when you taste what they are serving just a couple of doors west of Ester's Folleys. Try it and tell me if I'm wrong. (Its a dive, I admit it up front, but when you take your first bite you'll forget where you are and wonder where this burger has been all your life.) Seriously!

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: gntlmn6464

                                I disagree. About 3 years ago the praise about Casino El Camino led me straight there. The burgers were huge, sloppy, greasy and simply not flavorful of quality ground beef. That along with the "meh" attitude of the people that work there guaranteed that I'd never go back.

                                Plenty of other great burger places in town.

                                1. re: gntlmn6464

                                  Disagree totally! The burger was sloppy and greasy and took almost an hour to get. Maybe this joint was great a few years ago, but it has fallen off the map now.

                                  1. re: Pmd669

                                    Casino is a dive and the burgers totally unremarkable. I've also seen some questionable hygene things going on in the kitchen. Service is bad, you'll likely get angry surly Austin hipsters. The only thing I'd recommend is the chili cheese fries. Really great stuff but I was treated so poorly last time I was there I vowed to never return. Congress on the other hand is expensive but I liked my burger a lot and the rest of the food too. I'm not caught up in the Austin hype. My favorited specia. burger in town is the one at Austin Land & Cattle. My favorite everday burger is P. Terry's, since it' so good and cheap, and Mighty Fine. There I said it. Let the rock throwing begin!

                                    1. re: Rptrane

                                      Cat Mountain had a pretty good burger the one time I was in, but I haven't been back to verify. I need to remedy that.

                                      1. re: addlepated

                                        If you can handle the heat (this isn't an idol threat), the Chupacabra burger there is amazing...messy as heck, but amazing. Really nice staff, too. Just wish there weren't so many feral kids.

                                2. Have been to Second twice. First we went to Congress and had a fabulous experience. So when we tried Second we expected good, casual food at much cheaper price. The food was awful. Simply, awful! We were so shocked that we felt this terrible meal must have been a one off, so we tried it again. Awful again. There won't be another chance to disappoint us. We'll save our pennies for Congress.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: BarkNFly

                                    I would echo this exactly. I try to discourage people from going to the Second part. The Bar is great. Congress is great. The Second part is for bachlorette parties to sit pretty in the window and order cheap appetizers.

                                  2. Charcuterie Plate and Fried Pickles were good. The bar staff, just to creepy. Would never go here again.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: jjbourgeois

                                      Just curious.....creepy in what way? Molester creepy? Violent creepy? Just plain ole creepy?

                                      1. re: rudeboy

                                        They didn't seem to be to with it. Confused looking, staring off into spaced, just really weird.

                                        1. re: jjbourgeois

                                          Ya know, funny looking. More than most people, even.

                                            1. re: Pmd669

                                              That's hilarious, and timely - I just recorded Fargo on DVR b/c I hadn't seen it in years........