East Austin - Like so many places around the country and certainly here in Texas, Austin suffers from the curse of space; for decades the vast openness of the city's surrounding areas beckoned residents away from the urban core with its siren song of larger homes, better schools, greener grass, and all the other hallmarks of sprawl. So it has been interesting to watch its reversal over the past ten to fifteen years as the
Both of my parents grew up on the east side of Austin - my father in Govalle and my mother off E First on Canterbury Street - in what are now predominantly Hispanic, working-class neighborhoods. Even though my brother and I weren't raised nearby, that part of town naturally has a some unique meaning... if for no other reason than every time we would come home from the airport my mother would want to drive us past the old Allen Junior High School, from which she still has her cheerleading megaphone. We've got history there, so when change started coming to the neighborhood, as it ultimately does to all neighborhoods, I maintained a certain detached curiosity.
The question is: can East Austin "progress" while holding onto its inherent character and flavor?
Enter: Justine's. The impossibly hip brasserie started by owners Pierre Pelegrin and Justine Gilcrease who, and I'm paraphrasing the Chronicle review, wanted to start a bar/restaurant that was reminiscent of their living room. They did a pretty darn good job, fixing up an old 1937 cottage home on far East Fifth St. and turning the "yard" into an adult playscape where diners can linger over drinks and fromage while waiting for a table.
Ours was a group of twelve - ranging in age from early twenties to late sixties - and we overtook a great old farm table outdoors for the entirety of our dinner. It was a forgiving May evening, weather-wise, and placing bets on bocce ball games was good clean fun.
What to expect: the Bobo culture
Succinct and Classic are two words that describe the menu best. Just enough to satiate your craving for casual French fare, w/ the requisite frites, escargot, steak, duck, and plenty of cheese, which is what we started with. Three of them. And bread...
Then came the sizzling plate of mollusks swimming in butter, garlic, thyme and parsley. And bread...
Pâté and foie gras...
And at last... the entrees: two of which were a well-prepped and seasoned Steak Tartare adorned w/ quail egg and an alternating skewer of pork and poultry.
The atmosphere, the menu, and the fact that doing it right doesn't ever have to be more than doing it simply... this is the flavor that Justine's brings to the table, and the neighborhood is better because of it.
4710 E. Fifth