Sunday, June 02, 2013

Josephine House, Spectacularly Reinvented

I can barely imagine the Austin Jeffrey's opened into nearly 40 years ago. The city was a third of the size it is now, the downtown skyline stretching up only half as high. In a town like ours, a restaurant from 1975 is monumental, it stretches into legendary history. And over the decades, Jeffrey's kept on plugging away, a fancy neighborhood hangout getting a bit worn around the edges as more and more ambitious dining options opened all around it. Finally, it just didn't fit anymore, and there was a moment of hesitation where I don't know that any of us really knew whether it was going to pull through.

Over the last year, the McGuire Moorman Juggernaut has been restoring and reinventing Jeffrey's and its sister restaurant (they share a kitchen and a breezeway) Josephine House. I have yet to try the mother ship, but Tracy and I stopped by Josephine for a memorably lovely lunch this week.

Josephine House - the teeny tiny house that has mostly served as an event space for years - is Jeffrey's outpost for lunch and a bit of an early happy hour. The indoor dining space isn't much larger than a typical suburban dining room - a handful of tables under a gorgeous front window. To supplement, Josephine House spills outside onto a side patio under a giant ancient tree, onto to the front porch, and even onto a picturesque 8-top on the front lawn. It's getting a little steamy for al fresco dining, but you settle into it, and at least on a breezy 90 degree day in late May, it just works. Every design detail here is thought through - the contrast of  navy and white details, the buckets of lilies, the copper gutters and downspout, the marble table tops. You can't find a space that isn't beautiful.

The menu is straightforward and simple, with first rate details and execution. This is a place that has every potential of being stuffy and pretentious, and while it's definitely a fancy lunch, it's completely approachable. Case in point - Tracy had the BLAB. That would be Bacon Lettuce Avocado Beet. The house made bread was a little spongy with a hint of sour, the bacon deep and smokey, the beet sweet and the green just the faintest hit of bitter. It was brilliant - in just one bite, the tastes bounced from one flavor to the next to the next, trailing on.  In one way, this is just a sandwich with potato chips. But it's one of the best damn sandwiches and some of the best damn potato chips I've tried. And just try to say "I'll have the BLAB" and have it sound pretentious.

I had the Chicken and Egg - again very simple and beautifully conceived - cannellini beans, roasted carrots, roasted brussels, chicken thighs, garlic, with a fried egg balanced on top. With a bit of their sourdough to mop up the broth, this was a stunning, simple stew, and a perfect lunch. We lingered on for a bit, ordering a pot of the Stumptown french press (not bad) and an incredibly rich, dense chocolate torte with marscapone cream and macerated local strawberries. 

I assume that this menu will be shifting on a regular basis - strawberries like that are fleeting - but if what we ate was any indication of how brilliantly it will continue to come together, we have a revival on our hands that could go another 40 years. We'll see what Austin looks like then.

Josephine House on Urbanspoon

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