Table For Two: Austin Grill
Dust Off the Cowboy HatBy J. Erik Keiper
350 Massachusetts. Ave., Cambridge
Credit Cards: Yes
Massachusetts Avenue between MIT and Harvard is quite an interesting place. Having lived here for five years, I remember when students feared Central Square at night. Fortunately, much has changed, and Mass. Ave. has a lot more to offer folks. One of the most impressive changes was the mammoth University Park complex. A little over a year ago Austin Grill moved into 350 Mass. Ave. at the entrance to the complex, and with it, the D.C. based seven-restaurant-franchise brought a little piece of the Southwest to good old Cambridge.
Walking into Austin, one is struck by the interior design. The restaurant offers different seating levels, along with plenty of eye candy keep you quite entertained. The decorating overall is well done: a cross between art deco and Texan offers a welcome change from many of the more utilitarian restaurant designs in the area. The layout is superb, with an ample bar street side and a beautiful function room towards the back. Another striking feature is the array of clientele. An almost even cross between students and young professionals, with the occasional hotel guest, Austin’s patrons probably had a few more cell phones than the crowd at Bertucci’s down the street.
The drink selections are fabulous if you like tequilas. They have around 25 varieties of tequila ranging from low-end Cuervos to the high-end Anjeo types. Sauza’s Triple Generations is very fine sipping tequila, though a bit expensive ($7.95). The Sauza Comemerativo, on the other hand, is a steal at $5.00. For most, however, the well-prepared margaritas are the prime attraction. Served frozen or on the rocks in a stainless steel shaker, these delightful concoctions have names such as High Test and Lime Rita. While they probably are the best margarita’s this side of the Charles, they are a bit pricey ($5-8). Austin has an extensive beer collection as well, including Negro Modelo, a personal favorite, along with the standard Corona and Dos Equis.
Upon being seated, guests are treated to the perfunctory chips and salsa. While the chips are rather bland, the lack of taste helps to accentuate the taste of the verde and picate salsas. The appetizer selection is rather limited past the plebian nacho and chili selections. However, it must be noted that Austin Grill makes a mean Texas Chili ($3.95).
While we were rather unimpressed by the appetizer selection, Chef Jim Fahey wowed us with an extensive entrÉe selection. The Carnitas ($12.95), a heaping mound of braised pork sautÉed with jalapeno peppers, scallions, and cilantro, was exquisite. Served fajita-style with pico de gallo, sour cream, and guacamole, the Carnitas were quite a meal. In fact, the portion sizes were so generous the leftovers could make another dinner. Austin Grill’s hallmark is its wide array of sauces, from verde to picante to molÉ, they provide a wonderful angle to the well-prepared food. Many entrÉes allow the patron to select their choice of sauce, letting guests order the same entrÉe on multiple visits and never having it taste quite the same. The Austin Special, a combination of cheese and chicken enchiladas smothered in Monterey Jack cheese and two choices of sauces is a perfect example.
Austin does have a good selection of entrÉe-sized salads. The Grilled Shrimp and Avocado Salad ($8.95) was an interesting change. Served with a few grilled shrimp and tender strips of avocado over a bed of mixed lettuces and lime cilantro dressing, this salad certainly was a whole meal! One main course that left quite a bit to be desired was the Taco plate ($7.95). Although Austin is a Tex-Mex restaurant, if you are craving a Taco, head to the Bell. Most desserts are rather uninspired, and my traditional favorite, Flan ($2.95), was rather bland. However, the Chocolate Ice Cream ($2.95) mixed with cinnamon, while rather plain, is in fact fantastic.
Austin Grill has a fine array of young women and men working the wait staff who are helpful, courteous, and pleasant. In fact, compared to similar restaurants around the south end of Central Square, the service at Austin is outstanding. I’d have to say if you are so inclined to like hot sauces, nachos, chips, and tequilas you had better have visited Austin Grill before leaving MIT. It’s not a stretch to say that once visited, you’ll be coming back again and again for more tasty food.