East Side Show Room for Gourmet Bar Food in Austin
Half throwback European cabaret, half sustainable artisan food house, the East Side Show Room on East 6th Street in Austin combines an artistic, low-lit ambiance with a "slow food" approach to dining that pivots on the experience—and encourages you to stay a while.
Chef Sonya Cote opened the Show Room with a vision of serving food as art and art with food. Cote tailors the menu monthly to make use of the freshest local ingredients available. With some cocktails taking 7 minutes to prepare and a 12-foot kitchen making every meal from scratch, it might take a while to get your order—but according to Cote, that's the point.
Take a look around while you wait. The space doubles as a gallery and venue, regularly showcasing local artists, performers and musicians. Silent black-and-white films play on a antique screen over the daily drink specials, and the 1920s-inspired decor combines preserved elements from the original building with hand-crafted furniture.
The menu is an innovative blend of Cote's French training and the local flavors of Texas, described as a rustic French spin on soul food. Start out with The Showroom ($14), a tasting plate of local cheeses and homemade charcuterie and condiments. Depending on the night, you might get a coarse, creamy Broken Arrow Ranch venison pâté, a hothouse tomato-braised lamb rillettes, beer-based tomme, aged cheddar with candied Texas pecans—whatever is freshest that moment.
ESSR's vintage and experimental cocktails are designed using fresh-squeezed juices and house made syrups and tinctures. The back bar boasts spirits from around the world, including 10 different bourbons and a revolving list of specialty draft beers. We had to try their Old Fashioned ($5), our go-to bourbon cocktail, which went nicely with the bacon-wrapped antelope special, served with organic yellow curried grits (divine) and fresh veggies. Sometimes called the "veal of the wilderness," antelope is extremely tender and flavorful, and this free-range, bacon-coated cut was no exception.
Nabbing a killer special from a locavore kitchen can be an incredible experience. The night we dined, softshell crabs had just come in from Palacios, Texas. Lightly fried and served in a lemon beurre blanc over leafy endive, garlic, chives and roasted Sun Golds (all picked that day from Springdale Farms, two miles down the road), it might've been the most incredible dish on the table. And it was only available that night.
For a perfect pairing, try Hares and Pears ($19) with a Pear Julep ($8) made with a pecan-smoked bourbon. Rabbit is brined for 12 hours and marinated in herbs and lemon, wrapped in house cured bacon and grilled on the bone. It's served with a sweet potato mash and spiced pears for a wild mix of peppery, spicy and sweet. Wash it down with Texas pecan-smoked bourbon, Canton Ginger, pear, clove and mint. Pairs of pears!
If you're feeling adventurous, try the Smoke and the Fury ($9), a fascinating combination of tequila, creme de cacao, lemon, chocolate bitters, jalapeño and a smoked sugar rim. Tangy and chocolatey, rounded out with a smokey undertone and hint of heat, it works as a starter or a dessert drink.
Speaking of dessert, save room for some ESSR pastry. The crust on the apple custard tart ($8) is dangerously crisp and flaky, and the homemade vanilla ice cream has that distinctive icy, hard-freeze texture. If you're handy with a fork you can get a perfect bite of crust, smooth custard, tender apple and ice cream, dragged through the drizzle of honey and maple on the plate.
Now that's art, no?
East Side Show Room
1100 East 6th Street # A, Austin TX 78702 (map)
About the author: Katie Walsh is a native Austin writer passionate about food and all things cultural. She holds a degree in sociology and Spanish from UT Austin and is both a columnist and senior editor for multicultural publication TODO Austin.