Joann’s Fine Foods
Welcome to the diner of your dreams
by Karen Spezia
Photographs by Holly Cowart
It’s a marriage made in foodie heaven: Two of Austin’s finest hospitality groups have coupled up to create an adorable offspring named Joann’s Fine Foods. This new all-day diner is the love child of McGuire Moorman Hospitality (MMH) and the Bunkhouse Group. If MMH’s Larry McGuire and Tom Moorman aren’t familiar, their restaurants — Jeffrey’s, Clark’s, Perla’s, Lamberts, Pool Burger, Elizabeth Street Café, Josephine House and June’s All Day — certainly are. And Liz Lambert’s Bunkhouse Group boasts beloved Austin coffee shop Jo’s, plus stylish local lodging like Hotel San José, Hotel Saint Cecilia and, most recently, the Austin Motel, in which Joann’s is located.
The 1930s motor lodge, known for its iconically phallic neon sign and hippie slogan “So Close Yet So Far Out,” was recently given a thoughtful (and much needed) refresh by Lambert and her team. Enter MMH, which stepped in to help update the existing eatery, and this past September, Joann’s Fine Foods was born. This nostalgic South Congress joint manages to elevate the diner concept, while still keeping it weird.
Joann’s is a tribute to classic diner culture but also to Lambert’s mom, an elegant West Texan whose signature red-lipstick smooch is its featured logo. Although it’s a diner, don’t come looking for some greasy spoon. As with all MMH and Bunkhouse properties, everything is just so, from the custom china to the monogrammed napkins. This is a diner with panache. Supple teal leather covers the booths and bar stools that surround the crimson counters and open kitchen; textured stainless steel and glistening multicolored subway tiles line the kitchen walls and backsplash; there’s overhead pendant lighting, decorative stained glass and groovy ’70s-era beaded curtains. It feels authentically vintage even though it’s completely new, save for the original terrazzo floor.
Located along bustling South Congress Avenue, Joann’s is perfectly positioned for absorbing the local vibe through its picture windows, which capture the steady stream of pedestrians, scooters and cars that float by. There’s also an outdoor dining patio, lounge area and palapa-style thatched-roof bar, which overlooks the iconic “I Love You So Much” graffiti mural scrawled on the wall of adjacent Jo’s Coffee. The mood of the diner evolves throughout the day: Weekday mornings are mellow, weekend brunches attract a lively mix of locals and tourists, and evenings turn cozy as the lighting dims and twinkling votives illuminate the tables and countertops.
The menu features classic American diner fare, with influences from south of the border to California. Breakfast features morning standards like French toast soaked in vanilla bean and topped with fresh-diced mango and berries. There’s also the popular Motel Platter, a have-it-your-way feast of pancakes, eggs, hash browns and bacon or sausage. Tex-Mex favorites include huevos rancheros, pozole and, of course, breakfast tacos. For lunch or dinner, there’s the requisite patty melt and a killer turkey club sandwich, plus beef fajitas, fish tacos and chicken tinga chalupas. Be sure to start with the signature hash brown nachos, an indulgent platter of crispy griddled hash browns covered in queso, black beans, sour cream and salsa. For drinks, there’s a rotating selection of fresh-squeezed juices (with optional boozy add-ins) and a full bar, including an impressive collection of mezcals and tequilas.
In true fashion, Joann’s riff on a classic diner is familiar yet uniquely Austin, thanks to the creative partnership of McGuire Moorman and Bunkhouse. Although individually outstanding, these two groups may be even better together. Cheers to a long and happy marriage!