Sandwich City: Easy Tiger
709 E. Sixth St. 512-614-4972, www.easytigeraustin.com.
Hours: Bakery 7am-2am, beer garden 11am-2am daily.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 03.21.13
If bread bakers had their own “Top Chef” show, David Norman would be a ringer. An Easy Bake Oven challenge? Hell, he helped unload the 3,000-piece monster he uses at Easy Tiger. Bake for a B-List celebrity’s birthday party? Big deal. He’s already done time at Bouley and TriBakery in New York. Pair four breads with four dishes? Don’t make him laugh; the wife’s a cookbook author. At Easy Tiger, Norman’s baguettes, rye and levain work with a menu put together by actual “Top Chef” veteran Andrew Curren. And for this report, that means sandwiches.
The best union of meat and bread at Easy Tiger is the $8 grilled bologna on a butter-soft roll with mustard and pickles. It’s not the offspring of Oscar Mayer, as slick as G.I. Joe’s orange rubber scuba suit. It’s more like the thick, curled stuff your Mom fried in a pan with potatoes and onions if you grew up right. Easy Tiger makes its own bologna, the Coat of Many Mystery Meats. In its fatty fabric you’ll find the flavor of hot dogs, the texture of Spam, the peppered breath of salami, the rubbery bite of bratwurst. It’s breakfast, lunch and dinner, especially with a $2 upgrade of fried eggs.
Two deli classics — pastrami and corned beef — get proper respect at Easy Tiger, where they’re cured in-house. Pastrami is the engine driving a Reuben-style sandwich with loose sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and sweet mayo-pickle dressing. It starts with thick rye bread that has a tight weave and a crust like rippled bark, even if the rye profile gets lost in the mix. It leaves me to wonder if the overpowering flinty spark of mass-market rye has damaged my receptors for Easy Tiger’s scratch-baked version. The bread can afford subtlety, because the pastrami does the work here, trimmed in alternating waves of fat and lean, peppered and smoky, with herbs like a hanging bouquet of dried potpourri. That same bread yields the floor to corned beef, cut as thick as brisket and dressed simply with grain mustard. Each sandwich is $14 with no sides, or $8 for a generous half.
Truly good bread forgives a lot, but a worthy baguette couldn’t rescue an $8 sandwich with salami and beer cheese. The salami is smooth and salty, so rich with fat it’s almost sweet. And the baguette has textbook tensile strength in both the crust and dough. But the beer cheese has the consistency and lazy flavor of queso from a jar. It’s like a steelworkers’ sandwich from a tin lunchpail, tough and messy at the same time, filling but not fulfilling.
Sandwiches don’t do all the heavy lifting here. In the morning, they pour espresso and lattes from Texas Coffee Traders to go with Norman’s croissants and danishes. Later in the morning and way into last call are 30 beers on tap, rotating from South Austin Brewing’s robust Golden Ale ($5 for a half-pint) to the hoppy self-deprecation of Lagunitas Sucks ($5.50 a pint) and some bruisers like Brooklyn Monster and North Coast Old Rasputin.
I’ve had good lamb and Italian sausages on sturdy pretzel bread here. And pretzels themselves, taking the form of classic street snacks: the golden brown thump, the air-pocket crust, the hard nuggets of salt. The $2 pretzel is a snack; the $4 version is a spare set of handlebars. Perfect for the “Top Chef” episode with Pee-wee Herman’s bike.
(TOP: Pastrami on rye with sauerkraut; Lagunitas Sucks and South Austin Golden Ale from 30 rotating beers on tap; bologna with fried eggs. INSET: Corned beef with grain mustard; the arrow from the street-level coffee counter to the beer garden below; a pretzel from baker David Norman. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
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