The Hightower: Clever Riffs On Bar Food
Dining Guide to Local Austin Restaurants
Clever, convincing riffs on bar food create a menu made for cocktails and wine.
Even a serious eater in the new Austin of gleaming skyscrapers, hovering cranes, and Uber might wonder whether we need another venue for artisanal cocktails and deconstructed food. But those who might overlook The Hightower, on East 7th (and sharing the parking lot with the Cut Barber House, for those who need a trim before dinner) would be missing out on a gem. Because one of the few things Austin, TX could use (besides a subway system) is more restaurants that serve the space between Big Night Out and Burger Night.
Let’s be honest: the building is strange. According to co-owner Victor Farnsworth, the lowslug stone structure housed the original Nuevo Leon, and later Karibu Ethiopian Restaurant. But the ghosts of margaritas past are nowhere to be seen in the refurbished interior, flanked on one side by a gleaming bar that Farnsworth made out of flooring ends and epoxy.
The bar serves interesting cocktails (e.g. the Attayac, with rye, Cointreau, and lemon), beer, and an appealing curated wine list. Any restaurant with a five-dollar glass of house red or white is good by me, but The Hightower has more thoughtful choices: the floral Kono “Sauv Blanc” was perfect with the mahimahi ceviche.
A couple trading sexy glances and a middle-aged fellow sharing an evening out with his iPad seemed equally at home, lingering at tables that Farnsworth also built, by cutting doors from Habitat for Humanity into squares reminiscent of his grandmother’s card table. If your dining companion is less than scintillating, you can gaze at the mural on the back wall, created by local artist Graham Franciose, who painted late at night while the Hightower was being renovated.
Or you can watch the open kitchen, a live-action work of art, where chef and co-owner Chad Dolezal, is creating some of the most inventive and delicious cheap eats in the city. The smoked redfish spread, topped with a sweet zing of caper jam, made me think of my grandmother’s happy hour dip. And the rich chicken liver pâté, adorned surprisingly with candied peanuts and slivers of grape, arrived looking like a dish from Qui but quickly devolved as we dug in.
Bar-food enthusiasts, rejoice. Dolezal’s take on “chicken wings” is going to knock your socks off. Dipped in batter, dredged in grits and fried, the thighs evoke take-out Chinese and Super Bowl Sunday in one meaty bite.
The Tuesday prix fixe includes a choice of either of Hightower’s two desserts. The s’more fried pie was serviceable but not a thrill (as a mom of three kids, I eat a lot of s’mores), but the pretzel/piecrust crumble on the buttermilk pie was a standout. Gazing at the three-course bargain, a tattooed patron exclaimed, “All this food is twenty bucks?” Best of all, there’s plenty of room for parking, and the lovely patio did not hold a line of people waiting for a table. But my guess is that this—like everything in Austin—will change.