Mongers Market + Kitchen Brings Its Signature Seafood to Hyde Park
A neighborhood market, raw bar and kitchen that serves fresh, delicious seafood
By Karen O. Spezia
Photos by Brian Fitzsimmons
When I heard that Mongers was moving closer to my house, I was tickled pink. It was one of my favorite seafood restaurants, but I rarely made the drive to its east side location. But now that it was relocating to central Austin, I knew I’d be there more often. In July 2020, just as pandemic hysteria was hitting fever pitch, Mongers made the bold move to larger digs in Hyde Park, a more convenient locale for my dining pleasure.
Mongers is a special place, and co-owner/chef Shane Stark is the reason. For those of you who’ve been around Austin a while, you’ll remember Stark from the Paggi House, a before-its-time New American restaurant housed in a historic lakeside cottage. After that, he helmed the kitchen at Kenichi, a stylish and wildly popular sushi bar that masqueraded as a rollicking nightclub on most evenings. Then in 2015, Stark opened Mongers Market + Kitchen, a seafood raw bar, restaurant and market.
Originally, Mongers operated out of a squat building on East Cesar Chavez. It was snug and funky and very popular — so popular that it outgrew its 70-seat space, prompting its move to roomier quarters in Hyde Park. Its new home, formerly occupied by VinoVino, retained much of its previous charm, but also allowed Stark to add more seating, a full bar, a semi-private dining area and an expanded fresh market for takeout items.
Stark is crazy about fish. But not just any fish: only seasonal, sustainable, responsibly sourced fish. His menu offerings are mostly based on the luck of his network of fishermen and the whim of the sea. Most selections come from the bountiful Texas gulf coast, like red snapper, grouper and shrimp, but there are also fresh catches from throughout the country, like Northeastern lobsters, oysters and scallops.
It’s hard to know where to start at Mongers because everything is so good. But the raw bar is always a good place to dive in. The oysters are bracingly fresh, served with the traditional mignonette, zesty cocktail sauce and crackers. People rave about the crab fingers, but the ceviche is one of my go-to items: marinated cubes of fresh fish du jour garnished with slivered red onions and jalapeños. The plump peel-and-eat shrimp are always on point, as is the delicious smoked fish dip, blended with minced radish, celery and pickled Fresno chilies for an unexpected kick. Instead of crackers, it’s served with homemade potato chips dusted with Old Bay Seasoning.
The lobster roll is simple but sublime: big, sweet chunks of lobster gently folded with Duke’s mayo, brown butter, diced celery and chives, then tucked into a toasted split-top bun with some tender Bibb lettuce. It’s classic perfection. Side options include a choice of potato salad, apple-jalapeño slaw, homemade chips, herb salad, or, my personal favorite, the outstanding hand-cut fries.
Another Mongers signature dish is the red snapper. At lunch, it’s accompanied by fingerling potatoes and a tangle of arugula and shaved fennel, then drizzled with a verdant salsa verde, making it a light daytime dish. But at dinner, it takes a rich and luxurious turn, topped with truffle cream and plated with English peas and bok choy.
There are so many other temptations: fish tacos, poke bowls, crab cakes, fish and chips, linguine and clams, scallops with pumpkin ravioli and Asian spiced black cod. For meat lovers, Mongers sources only the finest beef, like Akaushi hamburgers and Wagyu steaks. Desserts are modest but worth indulging, such as olive oil cake with blackberry cream cheese frosting, chocolate pot de crème and key lime parfait, a menu mainstay.
The wine list is a joyful romp around the globe, studded with unfamiliar labels and unexpected finds. We ordered a bottle of Can Samoi Xarel-lo, a crisp, refreshing Spanish white that paired beautifully with everything we ate. Or if you prefer, there are some interesting beers and ciders, plus a full bar that crafts impressive cocktails at the attractive mirror-lined bar.
Mongers also doubles as a takeout market, selling fresh fish and chef-prepared items for those preferring to cook or dine at home. Additionally, Stark has a healthy catering and private event business, which is how I was first introduced to his culinary talents many years ago. But don’t pass up dining in Mongers rustically chic, nautical-inspired dining room or noshing at its inviting bar. It’s a lovely place to enjoy a terrific meal. Welcome to the neighborhood, Mongers. You’ll be seeing a lot more of me.