Well, they sure didn’t pull out the marketing and research team in naming this joint. Second Bar and Kitchen sits as the casual counterpart to fancy fine dining establishment Congress Austin, both of which are located on the corner of Congress and Second. You see what they did there? Both restaurants are the domain of superrockstarmegachef David Bull. I’ll spare you the resume, suffice it to say he’s earned his stripes and is kinda a big deal in Texas.
So, as the more stripped down and approachable of the two restaurants, Second Bar has what I would refer to as a fancier menu of approachable comfort foods, executed with a higher level of refinement… but you can still get in there wearing jeans.
A slight wait for the table found me up at the bar ordering a drink I very rarely choose – gin and tonic. The Congress G&T is made with Amarillo hopped gin, house quinine and grapefruit bitters. And man, on a 100+ degree Austin evening, it will completely cure what ails ya.
The menu is split up into snacks, small plates, larger meals and sides. It basically provides the perfect solution for every level of hunger. I’m claiming this place as a great date night venue- elegant but casual, and you can sit up at the bar with cocktails and snacks until you decide if you in fact like your date enough to treat them to a table and the bigger menu. Everyone wins.
No matter how fancy the setting, I will forever be seduced by “dude food” and so I was compelled to order the buffalo fried pickle spears and chicken fried olives with pimento cheese. I was particularly excited as I’ve been looking for a replacement for Red’s Porch‘s now retired blue cheese stuffed fried olives.
I don’t want to trash talk what was ultimately a great meal and experience, but these were not as amazing as I’d hoped. The pimento was a little chunky instead of oozy and the pickle breading was too thick for my tastes. I think in a venue with such an innovative menu, I’d be better served getting a little more adventurous next time and ordering the blistered shishito peppers with miso aioli.
Whatever disappointment was brought by the appetizer was quickly undone by the Congress Burger, in all it’s might and glory. Seriously, sit the hell down and check this out: we’re talking about a house ground pattie of brisket and chuck, shallot confit, melted gruyere, lettuce, tomatoes and horseradish pickles. That’s how I chose to have mine. This baby was $12 which frankly, even by regular cheap US standards, is fantastic value particularly for higher quality ingredients in a fancier setting.
Now wait for it… here are some of the optional add ons:
This burger was everything I wanted and needed it to be. Incredibly fresh, perfectly cooked, juicy and pink in the middle. See how despite it being a classy venue, they didn’t see the need to make the pattie insanely big? I liked that too. The burger was well balanced yet incredibly filling. A two-handed meal burger, really. I loved the horseradish in the pickles, they added real flavour dimension and were a huge bonus for this Bloody Mary fan.
Don’t think the opulence stops there, because I also upgraded to black truffle and grana padano fries. Sensationally crispy with a pungent and intense truffled aroma. They are a “sometimes” food.
Bursting at the seams and yearning for Mylanta (purely self-inflicted from attempting to finish that whole burger), the true brilliance of the Second Bar menu became apparent. Because no matter how full you are, there is always room for dessert, and I reckon you’re about 76%* more likely to indulge in your sugar fix if you’re offered “dessert bites” instead of a whole dish.
And so children, that is the story of how a table of three extremely full adults ended up ordering these peanut butter marshmallow rice krispie treats.
When you go, try chocolate butterscotch pots de creme, or the cheesecake in a jar, or the lemon curd brûlée and tell me if I should leave more room next time.
I believe that there are different burgers for different occasions. Beyond the drive through snack burgers and cheap’n'cheerful greasy diners, this is the burger you go to when you want to enjoy the king of sandwiches in a befitting setting.
*this is a completely fabricated percentage but I’m sure science would back me up.