A long-time Austin fave of ours is Ranch 616. The young, aspirational foodie scene-sters have long ago moved on (if they even knew of it in the first place [or were even born!]) to the latest, shiniest opening with the most-est flower petals on the freshest steak-but-not-steak, but the Ranch remains.
The most important ingredients in comfort food are the memories deeply baked, broiled, and fried into it. Ranch 616 is one of the short-list places we take out-of-state family and friends to when they visit. Good food, good vibes, and Austin’s Texas with a capital T. We treated the attendants for our wedding there, celebrated many a birthday there, and met many a friendly soul there for the first time. There are other ingredients, of course, to comfort food (tortillas, tomatoes, tequila…), but the combination of good food and good feelings make memorable meals.
Started by Kevin Williamson in 1998 after stints at La Jolla in New York City, the Ajax Tavern in Aspen, Colorado, and head chef at the original Central Market, Ranch 616 is a self-professed South-Texas style icehouse fusing flavors of the Gulf Coast with spices of South Texas. I call it ‘Texas Continental’ where Williamson serves unpretentious chef’d up versions of the National Foods of Tejas. And speaking of comfort food, Williamson’s Ranch 616 is inspired by his memories of travels to the ranches and cafes of South Texas as a kid. Comfort begets comfort…
Ranch 616 is comfy and eclectic (just like Austin!) with tongue-lightly-in-barbacoa Texana everywhere. The restaurant has a cozy small-town diner vibe (and was a favorite of Laura Bush when her hubby was guv) along with a (relatively new, at least to us old timers) comfortable and comfortably covered outdoor patio.
Legend has it that Williamson, in an effort to extend the life of his margarita (times were hard back then…), began adding Topo Chico (a south-of-the-border bottled water) to the glass, thereby inventing the legendary Ranch Water, a conjuring of tequila, Patron Citronage, and fresh lime juice in a smallish glass topped off by the sipper with bubbly Topo Chico. I joke that it’s the only drink that cuts you off as you drink it since the alcohol content gets weaker with time (and it keeps you hydrated!). It’s a must-imbibe when at the Ranch. And for the bachelorette set, there’s the Fire in the Hole: a vodka shot with orange juice and lime juice served in a hollow jalapeño with a cayenne-and-salt rim.
The food is fusion fabulous. My go-to for lunch is the tampiquena plate, the special of the day topped with caramelized onions, peppers, tomatoes all served over the enchilada of the day (a special on top of a special!). The framed burger (stuffed with the fresh ingredient of the day), shrimp tacos, and crispy oysters are also great. For dinner, the buttermilk battered calamari (with chipotle tartar sauce, green goddess, and baby mixed field green garnish; $10), divorced quail (one buttermilk battered and fried with ranchero, one sugar cured and grilled with tomatillo, separated by herbed boursin cheese mashers and sauteed mixed vegetables; $23), and shrimp tacos (two soft flour tacos with crispy shrimp, shredded cabbage, lettuce, chili lime aioli, and tobacco jalapeño onion rings; $16) are all great choices. And make sure to share an order of fried pies at the end of the meal (and if those pies are banana and chocolate, my-oh-my are you in for a treat!).
At the end of a long, dusty day, as you eye the last glimmers of the sun setting behind the bank-of-whatever building, ear the wistful howls of MoPac, and recall a simpler but distant time with lower property taxes and rent, just remember that its a short drive to the Ranch, a short trip to Redemption.
web&where: interwebs; 616 nueces; (512) 479-7616; menus; reservations
what’s the deal? Texas continental in a friendly setting; table service
overall: **** (food****; drink****; atmosphere****; service****; instagrammability****)
does it scramble? Yes!
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]