After two local email newsletters featured J. Black’s Feelgood Lounge in the same week, I had two friends ask me to go. One was seduced by the idea of the Bloody Mary bar; the other by the words “brunch” and “Austin” together in a sentence. I based my decision on the online menu, which looked like a solid field of tasty American dishes. And so with my Austin-loving friend I went for brunch on Sunday. It was a lot to, ehem, digest.
First, the name. You might think that a Mr. (or Ms.) J. Black is the namesake owner of the Henderson bar/restaurant next to Neighborhood Services. But you’d be wrong. There is no real live J. Black working behind the scenes. As our waitress revealed: the restaurant gets its name from a character on the soap opera Days of Our Lives, a badass amnesiac introduced to viewers in 1986 as The Pawn (what? I was 15 and lived in the woods. I taped it on my VCR and watched it after school, okay?). The waitress offered no other explanation than the owners are fans (and men). She then went on to mention that there are menu items named after other characters, like the Stefano, a pizza with applewood-smoked bacon, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, shallots, and arugula. And though I personally think this is silly, I was willing to get into the spirit of things, so I searched the menu for other items named after the fictional residents of fictional Salem. I found only the Marlena Margarita. Maybe two is enough to carry the theme. But calling the Greek pizza the Victor Kiriakis seems natural, and I might suggest calling the coffee and donuts dessert the Bo & Hope—just to push it a little further. Or not.
They clearly had a very different theme in mind when they named the tacos on the brunch menu. The Title Tacos come in five varieties: 1971, 1977, 1992, 1993, and 1995—the years the Cowboys won the Super Bowl. (In Austin, apparently the tacos are called 1963, 1969, 1970, and 2005.) We ordered the 1977, with scrambled eggs, pulled pork, sauteed onions, and smoked gouda. What we were served was the 1992 (we verified our order with our ticket at the end of the meal), which was “slow-cooked pulled pork simmered in a spicy verde sauce,” according to the menu. Sad face. “It would be like ordering pot stickers in a Chinese restaurant and getting egg rolls,” according to my friend.
Unfortunately this was one of several disappointments.
I ordered the Southern Louie, which the menu described as “fried avocado topped with fresh lump crab meat and roasted tomatoes drizzled with a tequila-ginger vinaigrette.” Despite being fried, the lightly battered avocado arrived cold, and the crab meat looked like wet sawdust, not sweet lumps of seafood. The few tomatoes I liked, but the vinaigrette overpowered every other flavor. It was pretty but not delicious.
The prosciutto eggs Benedict also arrived cold. Not warm, certainly not hot. Cold. My friend asked for another and pushed the plate aside. The second effort arrived much warmer, but the Hollandaise was not on the side (as per the original order). He didn’t have the heart to complain a second time. The sourdough English muffin, slathered in butter and grilled was delightful, but the prosciutto was cut too thick and the “spicy Hollandaise” had not a hint of spice and instead looked and tasted like Parkay Squeeze. The accompanying home fries were completely uninspired. The rejected plate of food sat on the empty table beside us for the duration of the meal, no one bothering to take it back to the kitchen.
Having spotted the fried mac and cheese on the online menu, I was disappointed when it wasn’t on the brunch menu. However, when a tattooed fella identifying himself as one of the owners dropped by our table and I expressed my frustration, he saw that only a few minutes later a cone of mac and cheese meteors were delivered to the table. My first bite was still cold in the center, but things improved from there, and with the accompanying pimento cream cheese sauce, I found them to be pretty tasty. But as my friend says, “Good God, I’ve had less breading at the State Fair.”
And I’ve had better service on the midway. Who knows why, but the floor was understaffed, which could explain why those congealing eggs were ignored and our food arrived cold. By the time we left, the place was packed and there were just two waitresses working the large room. And all we could say about that was “like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives …”