Fed Man 55: Olive & June (29)

 
Mike Sutter’s Top 55 Austin Restaurants
 
No. 29: Olive & June
3411 Glenview Ave. 512-467-9898, www.oliveandjune-austin.com.
Hours: 4:30 to about 10 p.m. daily, 11 p.m. on weekends. On Sundays, the regular menu is replaced by a multicourse family dinner for $35 a person, children under 12 free. Antipasti, beer and cocktails are half-price daily until 6:30 p.m.
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.24.12
 
If it did nothing else especially well, Olive & June might still make this list on the strength of Sunday’s family dinner alone. A parade of fortifying Italian dishes at $35 a head, free for the kids. One night, we had tomatoes stuffed with couscous, a towering salad, grilled squash with mozzarella, okra with sweet peppers, linguine with clam, pork loin with brandied peach and chocolate cake with zabaglione. We laughed as the dishes kept coming, swept up in the joy of the exercise in a space that’s part treehouse, part tri-level Mediterranean villa.
 
But Olive & June does many other things especially well, starting with small bites that show off the kitchen’s ability to interpret Italian cooking far beyond the red-sauce roundelay for just a few dollars apiece. Like a skewer of grilled swordfish or a grilled prawn finished with peppers and orange or a honeyed dish of fried chickpea called panelle. They call them “piccoli piatti,” which is more elegant than “Italian dim sum,” but you could make a meal of these little plates all the same, especially with a glass of dolcetto from the strong Italian wine list and a Negroni or grappa from the bar.
 
Small plates graduate to antipasti ($10-$12), including zucchini folded with pinenuts and raisins and a bowl of precision-fried squid, swordfish and shrimp. From there, pasta dishes run $14-$17 and main courses hover in the mid-$20s. Short-rib ravioli is the middle ground between pasta and entree, with full-figured beef and a peacock display of sweet peppers, green beans and olives. I fell hard for a grilled sirloin puttanesca that’s no longer on the menu, but its medium-rare sear and big flavors from olives, peppers and capers spoke well for what remains, like a pork chop with ricotta crema or a New York strip with summer squash caponata.
 
 
Olive & June opened this spring as the third Austin restaurant from Shawn Cirkiel, who started with the raw seafood bar and bistro called Parkside — which shows up later on this list — then a tony pizzeria called the Backspace. Where those places brave the wilds of Sixth Street, O&J carved its name into the former home of El Arbol, an Argentinian steakhouse built around a sprawling tree. As carefree as it might look, Olive & June is not walk-up friendly. Without a reservation, you might see a host of empty tables only to be told everything’s booked until after 9, an experience I’ve had at both its sister restaurants. While that kind of traffic management rewards the meticulous internet planner, it plays hard against spontaneity. Also, there’s no onsite parking, leaving you to invade the surrounding neighborhoods or tip a valet.
 
I bring up those negative points in this small space so you can sidestep them and enjoy Olive & June for its greater gifts. And for pistachio gelato.
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
 
Mike Sutter’s Fed Man 55: Austin’s Best Restaurants