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Feb 28, 2011 07:12 AM

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.