European Bistro, the Pflugerville restaurant that features several different European countries cuisines, is shuttering at the end of this month.
More later when I have time to write a proper obit.
Finally got a few minutes to look back on European Bistro. They started with a bang. My first few visits to the small, quaintly appointed cafe showed a strong hand in the kitchen. The two little old ladies running the joint were there to show and prove and the proof was in the pudding. Dynamite, old-world European cuisine was their strong suit and it was all aces and eights from the get go.
Then the decline came. A review of my final visit: Motoring up Dessau Road on the backroad to Pflugerville from Austin it takes strong self control to resist the numerous Taco Carts dotting the streetsides.
I’m on my way to Cafe Mangu to see if all the fuss over their roasted pork can be independently verified or if it’s just so much chaff blowing in the Texas wind.
It’s a pleasant ride once you get past Hwy 183, sparse development and light traffic are increasingly rare this close to Austin proper so I soak it all in knowing it’ll be gone by perhaps this time next year.
Turning West onto 1825 I’m quickly in the old downtown proper part of Pflugerville and suddenly my bike has wheeled itself into the street parking in front of European Bistro…sometimes this is how it works I reason.
I walk into the empty restaurant which has the appearance of being decorated by a team of elderly Bavarian women hopped up on Vienna Roast. It’s really nice in a grandmotherly way; dim lighting, framed artwork, a pretty piano for banging out some show tunes when the crowd gets all saucy on Pilsener Urquell.
I’m eventually noticed by the lone waiter seated and presented with a menu. I order the Pilsener and set back to study the menu. In years past I’ve always ordered the Hen Soup, a rich chicken soup with a deep broth and tiny delicious dumplings throughout. It’s not on the menu and I begin to get a little panicky. I don’t like the idea of missing out on what my bike had in mind when she parked herself at the front door. The waiter confirms my fear…there is no hen soup to be had. I keep from getting wild-eyed by focusing on the menu which is a trek through Hungary, Germany and Austria. There’s Bratwurst to be had, along with Duck Liver, Stuffed Cabbage, Wiener Schnitzel and of course Goulash. The menu also trumpets Prime Beef Tips so at that point I’m had. I love Beef Tips and I figure Goulash to be a specialty given the slant of the menu.
The waiter brings a couple wafers of bread with a small ramekin filled with a spread of White Cheese blended with Red Pepper. The bread is lightly warmed but stale. I’m glad the portion is tiny because it is not delicious. The Prime Beef Goulash arrives lightning quick, sharing a plate with a goodly sized portion of Spatzle Dumplings. I’m starving so I tack in and begin rampaging my plate. The Spatzle of the past at European Bistro was very good both fluffy and nubby to the tongue. The current version is tired. Plumb tuckered would be a better word. It’s barely warmed, slightly gummy and unappealing. I beg for a cup of the Paprika-based sauce the Beef is sitting in and begin resuscitation on the patient. The addition of the good sauce saves the dumplings from being inedible.
The Prime Beef Tips are a mixed affair. The speed at which they arrived and the somewhat mealy texture of half or so of them suggests they have been par-cooked and temped per order. Unconscionable given that I’m the sole diner in the house. I’m completely famished but it takes steely reserve to finish mowing through my plate. The menu mentions a salad coming with each entree’. I’m not offered one but had I been I would’ve been tempted by the Russian Beets with Fresh Mayonnaise.
So after a couple years absence the food that I formerly found to be delicious has seriously careened downhill. I ask my server if the restaurant has changed hands and he reports that no, the two little old ladies that started the Bistro, lo those many years ago are still in power. I’ve seen the same thing happen to many of my former favorites; The Chef and owner get fat and sassy. The ardor of local media and a loyal clientele-base pull off the hat trick of creating a restaurant that rests on its laurels and shifts its focus off the food to creating nice pleasing ambience with little to back it up.
As I motor back down Dessau Road into Austin, I content myself by reflecting back on past delicious meals I’ve enjoyed at European Bistro. It’s a small comfort but one I savor as I make future plans to hit a couple of the food trucks I see lining the roadsides…..perhaps there’s a lean and hungry chef or two inside these little metal contraptions on the long southbound blacktop.