There are rare interludes when everything comes together, when from the moment one enters a restaurant to the end of a meal all meshes and flows with a pleasing grace. Service and hospitality are refined and exacting, the menu thoughtful and intriguing, the food honest and full of bold and nuanced flavors.
Rare, yes, and even rarer at brunch at a casual restaurant. If you like such experiences, I urge you to brunch at Odd Duck in Austin, because on a recent Sunday that is exactly what was on offer. A hostess who knows what she is doing and evinces professionalism, bartenders — we brunched at the spacious bar — who pay attention and know about the dishes on offer, and food that is cooked well and pleases one’s palate: Odd Duck, at least on my visit, has it going on in a good way.
We started with a Bloody Mary, spicy and full of tomato flavors and salt and pepper and a touch of Worcestershire, decidedly not from a mix or bottle. The brunch menu before us, we enjoyed the drinks and took in the atmosphere, which is a bit rustic, a bit industrial, and full of natural light, which streams through large (floor-to-ceiling) windows. Lots of wood and color finish the vibe.
How about a chimichanga made with peaches and scamorza? And a chorizo corn dog? We ordered those, plus a bacon tamale. The latter was a dish finished with mole beans, escabeche, green chili hollandaise … all topped with a poach egg. After that, there is always the grilled banana and cornmeal crepe.
The chimichanga was the first dish to arrive at the bar, which was a good thing, because the ethereal nature of the chilled soup made of corn and chile was marvelous coming at the front of our meal. Diced watermelon and some yogurt were fine touches here, as was the chile oil that floated on the surface. A spoon dipped in produced a happy moment: heat, acid, coolness, a wonderful mingling of bold flavors. The chimichanga added welcome texture, the mint and peaches lifted the palate.
The corn dog came to us as we were finishing the chimichanga. It’s served in a small Mason jar, a jar full of fried egg foam, with some spicy maple syrup mixed in. The batter on the chorizo dog is light and crisp and a delight to eat. The meat was a tad salty, but if you dip it in the foam you might not notice.
Oh, that tamale. My friend and I loved it. A better-than-decent mole in the beans — time was spent there — and a deft mixture of peppers and salt and acid and richness. The escabeche with the egg would have sufficed, but add the bacon and the deconstructed tamale and the earth moves, if only slightly.
Final course? Dessert? Or Savory? How about both? You take a banana grown in Texas, make a cornmeal crepe, add some chèvre and lardo and shishito peppers, and the result is deep and unexpected and wholly satisfying. A light yet substantial crepe, a banana with a touch of sweetness, the marriage of shishito and chèvre: This deserves your attention. (Bonus: Dine here Sunday through Thursday from 2:30-6:30 and bottles of wine will cost you half of what they regularly would.)