Saturday, March 02, 2013

Contigo - Eating Al Fresco in February and Loving It

Strings of miniature bulbs are strung over long picnic tables all across the courtyard. A set of yard games are laid out past the tables, where kids who didn’t know each other 15 minutes ago are playing like old friends. The barn door to the bar is wide open and warm light glints off of shelves of exotic liquors and onto the gravel. We really don’t need the warmth, but a fire pit off to the edge of the courtyard springs to life as the sun sets.

This is what it’s like it to eat outdoors in February in Austin, at least at Contigo, over by the old airport. There is hardly any building at all – just an open space covered by a simple roof, and an open space that is not covered by anything. Somewhere, there is a kitchen nestled back in there, churning out amazingly nuanced dishes, but it’s pretty well hidden from view.

I don’t mean to get all whimsical on you guys. I know how you all hate that, but there’s really no other way to describe this place. The food by itself is fantastic, but it’s made even better by the idyllic simplicity and camaraderie of the surroundings.

Like many in the new crop of East Austin trend setters, everything here that can be made in-house is - bacon, bread, pate, sausage. But this is not so much comfort food reimagined, as it is comfort food rediscovered. The sausage in the pigs-in-a-blanket is what a lil’ smokey was meant to be; the dough surrounding them is chewy, freshly kneaded, wrapped and baked. Green beans are tempura fried and served with a kicking little Asian aioli. Pate is lush and accompanied by the single best preparation of eggplant I’ve ever had – sliced razor thin, tempura fried, drizzled with honey. More bread (or less pate) would be welcome – the proportion seemed a bit off – but it was all delicious. And that’s sort of the way Contigo rolls.

Big plates are a little more mixed than the small ones, with some really spectacular bright spots, and a few small misses. Our kids gravitated to the burgers, and while I appreciate that they were not fancied up and messed with in any fundamental way (predominate spicing was salt and pepper), the buns were a little sweet for our taste and the fries were well seasoned but a little floppy. You get the sense that the kitchen’s primary love is not churning out burgers. On the other end of the spectrum, the Pot Roast with spaetzle was absolutely luscious – unbelievably tender, with layers of flavor and winey broth that defined and rounded out the spaetzle beautifully. The mussels were also good, with a booming thai-inspired lime/coconut broth and julienned root veggies. Not a lot of variety on the desserts, but what they have are lovely – apple handpies with a little glass of spiced milk and dense, lovely buckwheat chocolate cake.

You leave this place feeling like you’ve done more than eat well – you leave Contigo feeling like you’ve lived well.

Contigo on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

The DSO said...

Lovely food, great service & they allow dogs. (My girls were in heaven.) I only wish their pigs in a blanket were a bit more pedestrian; the sausage was too spicy for the kids.


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