Mediterranean Restaurant Aba Offers Lovely, Laid-Back Al Fresco Dining
Music Lane’s charming addition incorporates a lighter style of cooking with influences from Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece
By Karen O. Spezia
Photos by Holly Cowart
When you think of South Congress, what comes to mind? Great shopping, dining and live music, of course. But also crowded sidewalks, whizzing scooters, double-parked Ubers and roving bridesmaid parties. It can be a bit much at times.
But what if I told you there was a place that was close to all the action, yet removed from the chaos and clamor? Welcome to Aba, an enchanting oasis just steps from the heart of South Congress. Tucked behind the glass and concrete facades of Music Lane’s swanky boutiques, this beguiling Mediterranean restaurant offers delicious food and cocktails in a lovely, laid-back environment, mostly al fresco.
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Aba is as much a tropical outdoor lounge as a tantalizing restaurant. Its indoor and outdoor spaces flow seamlessly to create a sprawling destination for dining, drinking and people watching. Its centerpiece is a magnificent Heritage Oak tree that provides a canopy for the multi-level patio, terrace and outdoor bar. The indoor dining room is sheltered and inviting, yet maintains Aba’s airy vibe with ivy climbing up an indoor trellis and hanging plants dangling overhead. The mezzanine breezeway, lined by a greenery wall, offers more intimate seating. Throughout the restaurant, there are options of standard dining tables or relaxed, lounge-style rattan seats and sofas. Vibrant area rugs, reminiscent of flying carpets, cover the walkways and wooden decks. Twinkle lights, amber candles and decorative Moroccan lanterns illuminate the alluring space.
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Aba, meaning “father” in Hebrew, is inspired by cuisines from the Mediterranean, including Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. The food is served on exotic, colorful plates that are as bold as the flavors. Start with the creamy hummus, served traditionally or topped with artichokes, lamb ragù or crispy short ribs. My favorite is the Smoky Garlic Hummus, infused with Aleppo and Urfa peppers, preserved lemon and garlic. There are also a variety of tasty spreads, perfect for accompanying the hummus and slathering onto warm pita. The spreadable Whipped Feta is delightfully tangy and briny and garnished with crushed pistachios, Aleppo peppers and lemon zest. And don’t miss the complex and earthy Muhammara spread, a spicy blend of roasted pepper, isot chili, walnut and pomegranate molasses.
Chilled starters include a Greek salad and marinated green beans with shitake mushroom aioli, plus several raw seafood options like silky slices of King salmon scattered with slivered red onions and crispy capers, then drizzled with a citrus vinaigrette.
Kebabs are often an uninspired dish, but at Aba they’re exceptional. Offered in beef, lamb, chicken, salmon or vegetarian cauliflower, these grilled skewers are succulent and flavorful. Yogurt marinade elevates prosaic chicken to new heights with a side of zippy herbaceous zhoug dipping sauce and tender basmati rice.
Other entrees include crispy pork belly, grilled skirt steak, heirloom chicken thigh and a slow-braised leg of lamb wrapped in eggplant. This complex dish is seasoned with cinnamon and dates, then served atop a subtle tomato sauce topped with melted Greek graviera cheese.
Be sure to order some of the hot mezze side dishes, like the addictive crispy potatoes, bite-size nuggets of smashed potatoes seasoned with rosemary and dusted with grated Greek mizithra cheese and served with a side of velvety scallion crema for dipping.
If there’s room for dessert, the Frozen Greek Yogurt is a refreshing finale. Or go for the dense and moist Double Chocolate Cake topped with caramel sauce and whipped cream.
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With Aba’s loungey vibe, drinks are given equal attention, and its inventive bar program showcases rare Mediterranean-inspired wines and spirits. We paired our meal with an outstanding bottle of bubbly, Yarden Blanc de Blancs from Israel, and kicked off our night with a couple of terrific cocktails—the tart and tropical Kiwi G&T and the tasty No Spoon Margarita.
Aba is part of the Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You empire, an independent, family-owned restaurant group that boasts over 130 restaurants nationwide. But this is its first foray into Texas. Don’t let its corporate lineage dissuade you: Aba feels authentically Austin with its shabby-chic ambiance, friendly staff and diverse, convivial crowd.
Sometimes you’ve got to hunt for the good stuff. Peek around corners. Look behind walls. Step away from the maddening crowds. Aba is worth seeking out as a sultry escape and culinary sanctuary from the cacophony of South Congress.