A Month of Sundays: Brunch at Cafe Malta

Cafe Malta
3421 W. William Cannon Drive, Austin (map), 512-853-9584, www.cafemaltaaustin.com
Brunch hours: 11am-4pm Sat-Sun  Regular hours: 11am-10pm daily
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 04.29.16
The average bill for this Month of Sundays brunch series is running about $50 per person. So when my visiting uncle wanted to treat the family to brunch, I scrambled for something more reasonable but still infused with Austin character. Cafe Malta is that place, with good food at modest prices in a cafe that conveys European charm even in its strip-mall setting. There’s a strong family feel, drawing young couples and their high-chair broods as well as older folks from the neighborhood, sitting at bistro tables covered with white tablecloths and brown craft paper under pop-art French cafe posters and seaside prints. The bill came to $105 for our party of five, covering eight dishes, a round of coffee and three cocktails. Welcome to brunch in South Austin.
What you’re eating
 Hummus: As an opener, a filler, a nod to the Mediterranean bent of the cafe, hummus is a logical place to start. It’s refreshingly underprocessed, with grainy chickpea character, served with carrots, red peppers and brittle flatbread. ($7)
 Croque Madame: Bechamel is the blande dame of the mother sauces, and the milky roux does little to energize this dense sandwich of deli ham and gruyere topped with fried eggs. A plain rendering of a plain brunch staple. ($10 with roasted potatoes)
 Quiche: The traditional humble pie of uncelebrated brunches, quiche has largely been absent from this series. But Cafe Malta brings big flavor to this little slice with mushrooms, arugula, caramelized onions and goat cheese. ($9 with roasted potatoes)
 Cheese Board: This isn’t the showpiece board of a brunch downtown, but neither does it cost $20. For $12, you get firm Basque sheep’s milk cheese with a lingering creaminess, smooth Texas goat cheese and blue cheese with sharp, peppery notes. They share space with a proletarian gaggle of pickled mirepoix, crushed pecans, candied pears and baguette rounds. ($12)
 Steak and Eggs: This small plate of grilled steak and sunnyside eggs with potatoes matches its small $10 price. The seared hanger steak is marinated in chardonnay for a nice union of sweet and medium-rare lushness. All two bites of it. ($10)
 L’Amfette: The best dish at our five-person brunch table, with fresh ribbons of sturdy handmade pasta in a robust gravy with big rosemary and black pepper notes that enhance and envelop the nuggets of ground lamb at its core. It’s garnished with apple and grilled bread for a dish both humble and complex, available at Malta for lunch, dinner and brunch. ($9.50)
What you’re drinking
 Bloody Hell: With a measure of self-deprecation, the menu calls this one “too hot,” in counterpoint reference to its regular Bloody Mary, described as being “exactly as hot as it should be.” As advertised, the Bloody Hell is a lion in the lamb’s den of brunch, throwing off sparks of pepper, red spice, vodka and cucumber from a base as thick as gazpacho. ($5)
 Peach Bellini: An underachiever, this blend of peach puree and sparkling wine comes off as a languid, off-tasting mimosa manqué. ($5)
Something sweet
 Pain Perdu: When did wet bread start qualifying as French toast? Today, it seems, with these sodden and unadorned slices of bread with a meager drizzle of strawberry sauce and cinnamon crème fraîche. ($8)
A Month of Sundays: 31 Austin brunches
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)