*** THIS RESTAURANT IS PERMANENTLY CLOSED ***
Austin’s South Congress Avenue is a special place, where time seems to have halted back in an era when cowboys traveling through would stop for a night’s rest, a cold drink, and a warm meal. That feeling is especially apparent in the legendary Hill’s Cafe.
Adjacent to the Goodnight Motel — named for cattle rancher Charlie Goodnight — Hill’s opened first as a coffee shop in 1947. Much of today’s menu seems like it could have been served even back then: simple Texas staples like steak, Southern barbecue, and skillet cornbread. Each booth is named in honor of this landmark’s true Texas patrons, like Pat Green, Willie Nelson, and former governor Rick Perry. Had it not been more than a hundred degrees outside, we would have grabbed one of the several picnic tables outside in the courtyard under the big oak tree. The outdoor space has two bars; we came for happy hour and dinner, but had we stayed later, we would have seen bluegrass country singer Anthony Ray Wright perform on their big outdoor stage — Hill’s has live music every weekend.
Instead, my group settled into our Perry booth and prepared our stomachs for a heavy meal of fried goodness with the standard Texas aperitif: a round of Lone Star beers. We ordered appetizers: fried green tomatoes and brisket queso — the latter because this place is known for its barbecue, and after perusing the long menu we feared we wouldn’t have room to try it. It may have been the best dish of the night, if only for its simplicity: melted white cheddar mixed with pico de gallo and green chiles, made even fattier and with a slight smokiness from the added bonus of extra moist brisket. The fried green tomatoes weren’t anything special, but they were served with both ranch and cajun remoulade, so our basket disappeared within minutes.
For the main course, we opted for the classics (if we’re gonna clog our arteries, might as well go all out): chicken fried steak (tender beef in a hand-breaded crust – not that you can see it underneath all that gravy), the Country Bob Burger (topped with Applewood-smoked bacon, American cheese, more of that deliciously fatty smoked brisket, and a fried egg), and the fried shrimp basket (the most colorful plate of the night: a crispy platter served with steak fries, “Bob Cole” slaw, and a zesty tartar sauce).