Counter Cafe: Classic Diner Staples We All Love
Dining Guide to Local Austin Restaurants
DINING PICK: COUNTER CAFE
More space, but the same classic diner staples we love at their East Side outpost.
Can lightning strike twice for Counter Cafe? You bet your biscuits it can. The iconic diner’s new East Side outpost delivers the same home-cooked goodness, but with more space to chow down. I had my doubts, since part of the original’s charm is its tight quarters and funky dowdiness. But to my surprise, I enjoyed its diner classics just as much in its fresh and roomy new space.
Don’t get me wrong: the new Counter Cafe still has cozy character. But now there’s ample room to dine with your posse — and park your car. Borrowing space from the neighboring post office (which remains open in case you want to mail a post-meal letter), the new spin-off seats twice as many hungry diners. There’s still a retro vibe with turquoise banquettes, pendent lights, and lime green barstools along the namesake counter. But now there’s soaring ceilings, loads of natural light, gleaming white subway tiles, and polished concrete floors. There’s a sizable covered patio with real tables and chairs (good-bye picnic tables!) and perhaps my favorite upgrade: spotless, spacious bathrooms (patrons of the original know what I’m talking about…).
On the menu are all of its greatest hits, still made with top-quality ingredients from regional purveyors: fresh farm eggs, organic produce, Gulf oysters, Texas quail, and grass-fed beef. Attention is paid to detail: juice is hand-squeezed, mayo is homemade, and Austin-made Yellowbird sriracha sits on tabletops, even the salt-and-pepper grinders are high quality. At breakfast, the biscuits are still light and fluffy and the blueberry pancakes are still the size of Frisbees. The Crab Cake Benedict continues to have its cult following and the Southern poached eggs with cheese grits and collard greens remind me of my Georgia home. At lunch, the heralded grilled pimento cheese sandwich is a good as ever: griddled 9-grain bread oozing with melted pimento cheese and topped with crisp lettuce, red onions and sliced tomatoes. The burgers—beef, chicken or veggie—are just as satisfying and served with a choice of sides, including the cafe’s popular sweet potato fries. There are also lighter salads and soup, plus heartier grilled pork chops, steak or quail.
What’s changed? Thankfully, not much. A larger kitchen allows for a few more items, like polenta fried Gulf oysters. And there’s a more extensive beer and wine list. Our Austin Beerworks Fire Eagle IPA and Shiner seasonal Cheer Dunkelwiezen were served in fancy glasses, a nod to Counter Cafe’s high standards. Proprietor Debbie Davis still patrols the floor, making sure everything runs smoothly, while partner Doug Kissner keeps everyone happy. Steve and Nick Cruz keep things tasting delicious in the kitchen.
Opened in 2007, the original Counter Cafe on Lamar continues to pack ‘em in, while the new east Sixth location welcomes larger legions of fans, old and new. Both offer similar soul-soothing comfort food with breakfast and lunch served all day. They’re siblings, but with slightly different temperaments. Welcome to the family!
Photography by Thomas Winslow