Austin Eats: Justine’s

When I head to Austin, I have two foodstuffs on my brain: Barbecue and tacos. The town is a mecca for smoky ‘cue and tortilla-wrapped eats.

So when our friends suggested we try Justine’s Brasserie, a French place located in an industrial part of town, I wasn’t convinced it was where we should spend one of our precious few dining opportunities.

Boy, was I wrong. Justine’s is utterly charming, and the food is quintessentially French comfort. I can’t imagine it being more lovely if it was tucked away on a side street in Paris.

Inside is dark and cozy — and very loud when it’s crowded. Even more captivating is dining al fresco on the expansive lawn.

By “lawn” I mean the gravel yard dotted with wrought-iron tables, lacy and painted white, and wobbly French garden wooden chairs.

The gravel is perfect for a game of pétanque alongside the house, metal balls waiting patiently for old men in berets to pick them up.

A long wooden bench sits near the front of the property, covered by a black and white striped canopy with matching curtains.

It was occupied by a group of artists, musicians and actors the evening of our visit, friends of the owner Pierre Pelegrin and his artist wife Justine.

They could have easily been a band of circus performers from another time, their clothes vintage and eclectic. I found myself glancing at them as the sun fell from the sky, casting a surreal glow over their smiling faces as they clinked glasses, laughed and shared bites of the charcuterie board passed around the table.

I wanted to join this merry troupe, maybe even run away with them.

But what was happening at my own table was theater, too.

What’s a country French meal without a French rosé? Justine’s offers two, by the glass or bottle, including a crisp, dry Le Poussin.

A crock of bubbling French onion soup took my breath away: Gruyère perfectly blistered, melded into a crouton of once-crusty French bread, harboring a thyme-scented beef broth rich with caramelized onions. Mon Dieu!

Chive-flecked quenelles of poached cod sat high on a silky blanket of tomato and leek sauce. Humble crawfish crowned the top, posing as if they were lobster. A casual dish that put on regal airs — and pulled it off.

It was the evening’s special, and indeed lived up to its name.

The Gruyère smothered Royale burger was juicy, meaty and proud of it’s toasted brioche bun. The crisp exterior of the herb and sea salt dusted fries gave way to a soft, fluffy interior. I wanted to eat a bucket of them.

Long after we left Justine’s, I kept playing the scene over in my head, thinking about the simple flavors that still lingered on my tongue.

I thought about the guillotine that sits stoically on the edge of the lawn, illuminated by the last golden rays of the day’s sun.

Was it a reminder that French food need not be fussy or aristocratic to be thrilling?

Justine’s Brasserie

4710 E. Fifth
Austin, TX

Side note: Justine’s website is mesmerizing …. flickering images of not G-rated cinema. It’s hard to navigate, but hover your mouse over the name in the upper left corner and a drop down menu appears.

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