100 Austin Burgers: The Townsend
Hours: 4pm-2am daily
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 04.13.16
With Josh Loving at Small Victory, Bill Norris at Midnight Cowboy, Chris Bostick at Half-Step and Justin Elliott at the Townsend, Austin is entering a cocktail renaissance not far removed from the chef-driven restaurant explosion earlier in the decade. The Townsend — with plush leather upholstery and yards of gray velvet to go with the Gatsby lamps above the heavy wood shotgun bar — would seem like an unlikely place for a burger. But consider Justin Elliott. He’s like a lion at a petting zoo, whether he’s at Qui or lighting up a panel at the Austin Food & Wine Festival. For him, the addition of a burger to chef Justin Huffman’s sharply curated menu meant conjuring one “with a certain DNA,” something that might have been at home at a diner long decades ago. And it is, along with drinks that belong in any bar that channels a modern vintage vibe.
► Hamburger: The menu undersells this guy. “Hamburger” feels like misplaced modesty for good beef carefully seared, draped in white American cheese and underscored with caramelized onions, good mayo, mustard and pickles with homemade twang. The buns are an ideal union of fluff and substance baked in-house by Sarah Abernethy. At $8 with freshly fried potatoes gaufrette (chefly Ruffles), the Townsend’s burger leaves money in your pocket for cocktails.
► On the side: Don’t get me wrong. The Townsend is not a burger-and-fries place. But it is a burger and “Fancy Baked Potato” place (above left). It’s a perfectly baked baseball-size potato, filled with creme fraiche, crispy fried prosciutto, caviar and — I am not making this up — gold leaf. It’s silly and self-consciously pretentious and completely charming, not to mention delicious. ($8)
► Wash it down: With Elliott behind the bar program, this part should probably go first. The Hammersmith Palais ($12, below center) is an opening salvo, a cold, pale orange cocktail coupe of Ford’s gin and chamomile liqueur swirling with Barrow’s ginger liqueur. It’s floral and sweet, but finishes dry and sharp, because this isn’t an Applebee’s in Wisconsin, no matter how much you like the burger. A drink like the Lindsay Park ($13, above) puts all the upholstery and swank lighting and bookcasery in perspective. It’s a study in layered spice, starting with the high and dry sting of Wild Turkey 101 rye, moving to the bitter swerve of the artichoke liqueur called Cynar 70, then finishing with the aromatic starlight of cardamom. One titanic ice cube waters the bourbon at just the right rate. Hell, who needs dinner?
► Burger detour: One of the best dishes I’ve eaten this year is a detour from my burger mission. Hot Chicken (above left) from the Townsend brings together fried chicken thigh with North African spicing, chewy semolina flatbread that takes full advantage of the robust red sauce and a tangle of onions and pickles that sets off the dry harissa heat and crunch with tart acid.
► Cocktail hour: From 4-7 nightly, the Townsend mixes classic Tom Collins, Old-Fashioneds and 50/50 Martinis for $7, with notes of historical context thrown in for free.
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(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)