Best Restaurants in Austin: Winebelly
A neighborhood wine & tapas bar in South Austin
By S. Kirk Walsh
Photography by Hayden Spears
For three years, my husband and I lived in South Austin, and during that time, we took to a Sunday-morning ritual of going to the Green Muse Coffee Bar on Oltorf for a writing session and cappuccinos. We developed a penchant for a particular table in the corner, and our favorite baristas wound up helping us out with our eventual move to our new home, north of the old airport. And as happens with most moves, we found other favorite coffee shops and restaurants to frequent that were closer to our new neighborhood of Windsor Park.
Since then, the Green Muse endured a fire, reopened, and closed again. One year ago, the space changed hands to new owners, the Tran family, who also operate the popular Vietnamese restaurant Hai-Ky, on East Oltorf. This newest incarnation, tucked in a less-than-spectacular strip mall, is called Winebelly and spotlights Spanish-style tapas and wines hailing from various regions (from Chile to the Willamette Valley).
When I first arrived at the dimly lit restaurant, I couldn’t shake my reference to the Green Muse: the beige wooden bench that extended along the far wall was the same, and the owners took advantage of the former rear deck space for shaded alfresco dining.
When my dining companion arrived, I quickly forgot about my memories trained my attention on the fairly extensive menu. There are traditional Catalan dishes, such as tomato bread (a tasty mix of crushed tomato, olive oil, and garlic smothered on thick slices of bread) and cured white anchovies marinated in vinegar and oil. In addition, Winebelly rotates items on its seasonal menu in order to take advantage of fresh ingredients from local purveyors, including Johnson’s Backyard Garden and Antonelli’s Cheese Shop.
We decided to start with bruschetta of wild mushrooms, fresh ricotta, pine nuts, and delicate rings of pickled shallots. The earthy, sometimes smoky, combination of flavors bloomed in my mouth with each bite. This was followed by a no-fail pleaser of Parmesan fries in truffle oil and parsley, and then a creamy burrata complemented with seasonal tomatoes, basil pesto, and balsamic vinaigrette. We continued with the inventive—but not as successful—seared scallops encrusted with black sesame seeds and served in a flavorful pool of melon coulis. The scallop was perfectly seared, but its tenderness was overwhelmed by the multitude of sesame seeds. Next time I might try the grilled pork ribs or the Wagyu beef sliders. For dessert, we shared the chocolate-and-raspberry panna cotta with a confident accent of sea salt, creating the perfect counterpoint to the velvety textures of the chocolate and raspberry creams.
Meanwhile, the collective din of our fellow diners increased, and the evening sun waned. By the end of our meal, I realized that the familiar space had transformed into a different kind of neighborhood gathering place, one that’s keeping apace with other Austin tapas establishments. Who knew that the distinctive flavors of Spain could thrive so well in South Austin?