Gina’s on Congress is a Charming European Escape in the Heart of Downtown Austin
What to order off the menu that draws influences from French and Italian cuisine
The dervish of activity on Congress Avenue during the week — office workers heading to and from work, congressional staffers milling around the Capitol, residents walking their dogs and tourists snapping photos — is a prime example of Downtown Austin’s lively energy. But at the end of a long workday, many downtowners want nothing more than a convenient and peaceful spot to grab a seat, take a load off, and enjoy some tasty food & drink. At Gina’s on Congress, a brand-new eatery from the Gusto and Gràcia team that’s inspired by Italian trattorias and Parisian brasseries, you can find all that and more.
A space that blends European and modern styles
The visual vibes of Gina’s on Congress strike an appealing balance between Euro nostalgia and modern style. There are stone walls, wooden bistro chairs, crystal chandeliers, and ornate paintings and tapestries, but also a serene neutral color palate, pendant lights over the bar, and an uncluttered aesthetic. Gina’s feels convivial and flexible on all fronts. It may not be an outwardly “romantic” venue, but we could certainly imagine a couple stopping by for a meal before or after a show or concert. It’s not a rowdy party spot, but if a group of friends wanted to have a spirited gathering over dinner, Gina’s could certainly accommodate.
That flexibility extends to the menu, which draws equal influences from French cuisine and Italian cuisine. The cocktail list includes fun and creative beverages that embrace the Italy-meets-France theme, like the Meeting the Queen (a take on the Martini that features Plymouth gin, both Italian and French vermouths, and pineapple) and the A Little On the Side (French Cognac, Italian grappa, French dry Curaçao, and lemon). Gina’s also offers seven distinct spins on the Negroni, ranging from the classic with gin, Campari, and vermouth to inventive variations with rum, bourbon, and even mezcal. If you prefer wine, Gina’s has a well-conceived list that leans heavily in French and Italian directions but also includes select New World bottles.
Highlights on Gina’s Menu
These playful libations match beautifully with the Gina’s food menu. Said menu includes “Snacks”, “Smaller Plates,” “Larger Plates,” and “Sides,” and these clearly-labeled sections make it easy to order the right amount of food. The culinary theme is similar to the aesthetic theme: a little French, a little Italian, a little contemporary, a little classic, and never trying to fit too neatly into any one definition. In the “Snacks” section, airy gougères (cheese puffs) made with nutty Gruyère and served with whipped butter are an especially popular order and work nicely as either a light snack with drinks or as an accompaniment to a larger meal. The rabbit rillettes are a triumph; the confit spreads easily on baguette wedges but still has enough textural integrity to result in a satisfying bite, the delicate flavor of the rabbit is accented with an ideal balance of herbs and aromatics, and the sweet blackcurrant jam and spicy grain mustard served alongside add vibrant flavor contrasts.
Salad fans will find plenty to love about the “Smaller Plates” offerings at Gina’s. A plate of golden beets dressed with endive, arugula, pistachios, Fourme D’Ambert cheeese, and a citrus vinaigrette get top marks for their earthy backbone and touches of sweetness, saltiness, and tang. But our favorite Gina’s salad was the “Gina’s Caesar,” an inventive take on the classic Caesar salad that mixes slightly-bitter radicchio with the typical romaine and features a bright and eggless lemon-anchovy vinaigrette. The egg is instead boiled and sieved over the salad, providing an extra bit of texture along with the expected richness.
The “Larger Plates” section includes pastas and proteins. The Gina’s team hand-makes their pasta on a daily basis, so we were excited to sample one of these dishes. We opted for malfadine tossed with escarole, brown garlic, Grana Padano cheese, and mushrooms sourced from HiFi Mycology, an urban farm here in Austin. The pasta was cooked to a perfectly silky texture that clung nicely to the sauce, which was loaded with umami from the mushrooms, a toasty allium zing from the brown garlic, and a bit of salt and funk from the cheese. If you’re a plant-based diner (or you’re eating with any plant-based diners) in search of a hearty and bold entree that doesn’t feel at all like a compromise, this is the pasta for you.
All in all, Gina’s on Congress feels like a welcome addition to Downtown Austin’s bustling restaurant scene. Nothing fussy or fancy, but a warm and welcoming dining environment with a menu that’s just ambitious enough and the right ambiance for any number of occasions. Book your reservation at www.ginasoncongress.com.