Steph and I went downtown on a lazy Saturday afternoon to try Moonshine Restaurant Patio Bar and Grill. The first thing I noticed was the name sounds like a bunch of corporate types did a focus group to find the best name for a comfort food restaurant in Austin, Texas that would resonate with the public and was also search engine friendly. They even make a point on their web site to tell us the word Moonshine is their registered trademark. I hoped that their chef, if they even had a head chef since they don't mention one on the extensive web site, cared as much about the food as the business side does about marketing. So far I'm not impressed, let's talk about the building.
Moonshine Restaurant Patio Bar and Grill is at the corner of Red River and 3rd Street. Right across the street from the Convention Center. They say the building was constructed in 1860 and give a very extensive history on their website. I think it's on their menu too. Makes for a good conversation starter I suppose. They have a nice front porch with a long row of rocking chairs. I sat and rocked while we waited for our table while staring patiently at the east wall of the Convention Center. Every now and then a smoker would come out and blow a big puff of smoke on me. I used to smoke so I'm not hating on smokers but they really should be a little more considerate. Sitting, waiting, it's hot and I don't know the chef's name. This isn't going so well but I'm optimistic at this point.
It took about an hour to get our table, they were very busy, and we were seated right next to the wait station. Cue butts in faces for the entire meal. It's a good thing this was just lunch instead of attempting a relaxing dinner. They were busy and we'd already waited an hour. Let's just see if these people can cook.
They start you out with a bucket of cayenne popcorn. It was nice and salty with a bit of burn. Just what I needed after sitting on the porch for an hour in the heat. Luckily they brought water soon after the popcorn. Steph stuck with water and I ordered an iced tea. I don't remember them asking if I wanted sweet tea so I guess they only have unsweetened. So much for being a Southern style restaurant. These people must be from the city. We start with the spinach and artichoke fondue.
YES! The appetizer was excellent. Nice and creamy with plenty of mozzarella cheese to make it a bit stringy and gooey at the same time. They serve it with big squares of toasted bread, like one inch squares. Now things are starting to pick up. My water and tea glass are empty though. It was hot outside and I'm still thirsty but it didn't take long to get refills. We are almost done with our tasty appetizer, well we were out of dipping bread, when the entrees came. Steph had the chicken fried steak with chipotle cream gravy with hand cut fries and baked macaroni gratin. I ordered the smoked half chicken with Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce. We dug in.
Steph loved her chicken fried steak. She said it was seasoned nicely, the crust had a little crunch to it and the steak itself was tender and moist. No sign of that chewy gristle that can ruin a good chicken fried steak experience. She wasn't too hot on the fries but I knew that before they came out. Moonshine hand cuts their fries but they are the big beefy taste a little like a baked potato kind. Steph doesn't like them like that and they went down in her fries list that way. The macaroni gratin needed some salt but otherwise was eaten with pleasure.
I thought my smoked half chicken was on the dry side. Perhaps that's why they serve it with the Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce. It was a good barbeque sauce but I really couldn't taste the Dr. Pepper in it so I racked that up to more marketing than describing the actual food. My mashed potatoes were good and I really liked my red beans and rice. They were seasoned perfectly with a nice balance of creamy and toothy texture.
The staff was great. They always had a smile on their face and we didn't really have to wait long for anything. Considering how busy they were I would have given them some slack.
Upon reflection I'm still undecided about Moonshine. They have some high notes but I don't know if they overcome the lows. In the grand scheme of quality, service and price I'm going to have to ask them to raise the bar before I'll be back.