Tilapia at Austin's. LEO photo by Ron Jasin.

Nine out of nine chaplains say yes to Austin’s

Nine chaplains walked into a bar … which sounds like the lead-in to a really bad joke. It’s a true story, though. I’ve been hanging out with hospital chaplains this summer, and when a bunch of us wanted to find an affordable, decent lunch in relaxing surroundings after a long morning meeting in the East End, Austin’s emerged as a convenient and decent dining option.

An out-of-towner piped up as we rolled into the large parking lot of the free-standing eatery and watering hole near Holiday Manor: “I haven’t heard of this chain.” That would be because it is not a chain, as most locals know, although this was not an unreasonable mistake. The large, sprawling building with its expanses of glass, wood and brick, has a chain-y look, as does its sister restaurant closer in to town, KT’s.

There’s a corporate look, too, to the large bar that forms a centerpiece for comfortable, casual dining rooms, the ample drinks selection and the professionally produced menu that ranges from queso and chips ($7.99) to a club sandwich ($8.99) or chicken pot pie ($9.99).

The menu calls the fare “Southern and regional cuisines with a contemporary touch.” It struck me as a slightly fancified, well-made cookery from a corporate kitchen intended to please a well-traveled Midwestern farm family that’s equally happy with country fried steak ($9.79) or grilled chicken alfredo ($12.49).

Appetizers (many of them salty, crunchy bar fare) and dinner salads range in price from $6.99 (for the house salad topped with bacon, eggs and toasted almonds) to $12.69 for the meal-in-itself bronzed salmon salad, which one of our party declared “a winner.” Soups are $2.89 for a cup, $3.89 for a bowl.

A dozen sandwiches are $7.99 (for a reuben) to $11.99 (for a prime rib-eye steak sandwich on French bread), while dinner entrees all come in under $20, topping out at the Maker’s Mark sirloin ($16.49) or classic rib-eye steak ($17.49).

Our pal Josh said the grilled ahi tuna sandwich, served medium as ordered, was just right, and our friend Melina applauded fried tilapia over wild rice ($7.99 on the special lunch/early dinner menu). A “Southwest pizza” app of artichokes, corn, red peppers, black olives and cheese on toasted tortilla ($7.99) pleased the vegetarians in the group, which was a good thing, since meatless options were few and far between.

Our boss picked up the tab. Bless him. Lunch shouldn’t set a body back more than $15 to $20, though.

4950 U.S. 42 • 423-1990