“Upscale comfort food” seems to be a popular theme these days, and it often seems to come out more upscale than comfort. Last night though, I had the great pleasure of experiencing one of the best implementations I’ve seen thus far. Hailing from Houston, Max’s Wine Dive is officially opening their new Austin location on May 12th.
We walked in to a bustle of activity. Almost before we could acknowledge that we were at the right place, a glass of champagne was in one hand and a big oyster-topped fried wonton was in the other (cutely titled on the menu: Nacho Mama’s Oysters). The oyster was cornmeal-crusted and crispy, its habanero salsa lending a pleasant zing. The champagne, thankfully, was blissfully cold, nicely countering the heat on the tongue and the stifling heat of this typical May afternoon in Texas.
The food and wine kept coming. The hoisin glazed ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, and the luscious sweet glaze paired beautifully with the fiery sambal sauce it was resting on. Sweet-heat is a favorite flavor pairing of mine, and it was brilliantly executed in this dish. I felt not the slightest bit of unease at licking the sauce from my fingers when I was through.
The Buffalo Slider, Sean’s favorite dish of the night, featured a tiny buffalo patty, grilled onions, and house-made pickles all packed into a soft and sweet bun. The flavors were assertive but never overpowered the meat.
The Shrimp and Grits was probably my favorite dish (though the chicken and ribs were both in the running). Here’s how it’s described on the menu: Grilled jumbo Gulf shrimp with a spicy grit tasso raft floating in a puddle of Bayou Juice and house-made pickled okra. Sweet shrimp perched atop spicy tasso-laced grits all brightened by an acidic little top hat of pickled okra made for an incredibly well-balanced array of flavors in a single (if very large) bite. (This is the bit where I hope hope hope that no one at that camera-heavy event caught me trying to fit that spoon full of goodness in my mouth.)
Max’s Famous Fried Chicken was probably the best fried chicken I’ve had here in Texas. First it was soaked in jalapeno and buttermilk marinade. Then it was slowly fried to a crisp and doused in chipotle honey. The texture and flavor was incredible. The chicken meat itself was moist and richly flavored and held up well against the intense flavor of the honey.
The fine folks at Max’s Wine Dive offered up a cheese platter as well, but to be honest, while I’m always up for a cheese platter (especially in lieu of dessert), it felt oddly out of place with the rest of the morsels we sampled.
They managed to just get the place together before the food media descended. Marketing Veep Jonathan Horowitz pounded the dark wooden top of one of the tables and proudly exclaimed, “Two hours ago, this table didn’t exist.” Despite all that, the wait-staff were all very friendly and happy to describe the dishes, often going into much detail about how they were prepared. And the owners felt that the process of getting the restaurant off the ground has been going relatively smoothly. Hopefully that grace will carry them through their opening next week.
I would happily eat at Max’s Wine Dive again and again. All the wines we were offered were very drinkable and seemed to hold up well to the intensely flavored food. The dishes were all finger-licking good, and both the food and service were pleasantly unpretentious. “Fried Chicken and Champagne? … Why the hell not?!” indeed.