Mar 21, 2011
As you first walk through Hickory Street Bar and Grill in Austin, TX, one might be led to believe it’s just another downtown burger joint with a few token menu entries to satisfy those who aren’t craving a 1/2 pound of cow.
But in talking with owner/manager Colin McClelland, I quickly came to realize that there’s an intangible magic in the air; largely due to McClelland’s enthusiasm and dedication. As my hour of eating pressed on, I felt more and more at home.
Colin and I clicked right away, and were equally curious about each others’ business paths over the last 10 years. A native Texan, his feet found their way to southern California. Trying his hand at different vocations, he returned home and seized the opportunity to buy Hickory Street when it came up for sale.
I learned this as I snarfed my way through a well-made black bean burger, made by hand in the kitchen that was only 20 feet away. A mix of tastes and textures, no one component outweighed the other. Seated next to a healthy fistful of handcut fries, my bb burger scored well on the tasty and filling scales; a feat not easily accomplished in joints that specialize in non-vegetarian fare.
As Colin and I continued our conversation, I scanned the room. To my left was a monster salad bar — easily 30 feet long. Well stocked with options that would satisfy any palette, including separate potato and soup bars, it served as a unique DIY meal option or accompaniment. I also noticed signs for their Sunday brunch, which includes a build-your-own bloody mary station. Neat.
To my right, however, was a mural the full length of the wall. Capped by rows of flat copper-tinged tiles, the painting displayed cartoon images of people eating, drinking, toasting each other, and generally enjoying whatever’s happening at that moment. It evoked obvious comparisons to the classic Cheers atmosphere, and coupled with Colin’s generally pleasant and welcoming demeanor, I could see why Hickory Street is home to more than just its downtown lunchtime regulars.
The energy seemed to charge higher as lunch wore on as more people flittered in for their hasty and hurried 45-minute lunch break, which Hickory Street can easily oblige. With reaches into local catering gigs, a quickly expanding drink menu, and a terrific covered outdoor patio that looks right onto the bustling Congress Avenue artery only blocks from the capitol building, McClelland is now stewarding a legacy that dates back almost 30 years. His crew works hard to maintain that balance of comfortable surroundings with downtown class, and all the while serve up some damn fine food.