Sometimes you know things in your bones. I was going to love Monger’s. Bones don’t lie, folks. This premonition was no exception.
To make this easy, let’s cover some ground rules for this article…MUST LOVE SEAFOOD. If you love seafood, you’ll get it. If you don’t, no judgement – but you won’t get it. If you don’t love seafood, Monger’s still has great options, but only seafoodies will understand the simple delectability of fare that Monger’s pumps out of its tiny kitchen. Let’s also eliminate redundancy and assume that every time I say fish in this article, it is preceded or followed by some iteration of the sentiment “insanely fresh.” Disclaimer: think Monger’s might just be the best brunch in town. Ground rules set…let’s delve into the nitty gritty shall we?
Let’s start with Gary, our server. Gary was amazing. I spent three hours with him and every minute was fantastic. Good start. The staff rarely gets a shout out, so I wanted to put his foremost. Gary, keep doing you because it works.
Moving on to decor. It’s beach decor done right – a phenomenon I’d considered as elusive as unicorns. The sea organically feels meters away. Shabby sea-chic, white washed walls and a buzzing atmosphere swimming with vitality and laughter are a perfect brunch setting.
What do you need to know? Chef Shane Stark grew up in New Jersey. Product is shipped in daily, expertly sourced by Stark and partner Roberto San Miguel – a Gulf seafood expert. San Miguel still drives to the coast to prcure much of the seafood brought into Monger’s, though they offer selections from around the world and the East Coast. The beauty of Monger’s (and team) is that they truly celebrate the fish. They don’t fry it to purgatory like so many places in town. There are only a couple of fried options on the menu (oyster for the devils on horseback and chilaquiles, salt and vinegar in house chips and fish and chips). Instead of punishing sealife, Stark lets the distinct flavor of the swimmers shine. Nothing is overdressed, everything perfectly complementary. Dishes are both striking and verdant, accompanied by fresh salads.
The salt and vinegar chips are the best in the world. I say this being as an extreme skeptic of salt and vinegar chips and being half English. With just a hint of brine and a perfect coating of salt, these are little slivers of perfection. Like everything at Monger’s, there is nothing overpowering about them – other than how dang good they are. They are perfect for dipping into the tuna ceviche. Which brings me to…
The ubiquitous tuna dish: Tuna Ceviche. Sigh. There really isn’t another in town that you should be eating. The appropriately large chunks of Yellowfin are firm and tender, practically singing the essence of the see. Lightly dressed in ginger, citrus and sesame and marinated for three minutes, this is the perfect start to a warm summer-day brunch.
Hamachi Crudo boasted some of the best Hamachi that’s ever graced my mouth. The flavors are spot on and the pear is a lovely twist. Mind the serranos or this dish gets a little fiery.
If you asked me a month ago if peel n’ eats would be listed in a must-order run down, I would have looked at you like you were an oompa loompa. But these are not your average boiled shrimp. The jumbo shrimp are boiled to the perfect consistency – no small feat – with lemon, celery and onion before being finished with Old Bay seasoning. The spicy cocktail sauce was the best I’ve had with boiled shrimp – maybe ever.
Le piece de resistance, the Low Country Benedict. It was love at first bite. The poached eggs sit atop a crab cake that mounts a black pepper scratch biscuit. The black pepper biscuits hit you just on the back of the tongue, dripping with the run off of poached eggs and hollandaise cascading over the tasty crab cake. It is a celestial, if ephemeral, eating experience. I’ve only gone back about six times for this same dish.
I’ll be damned if the Short Rib Sweet Potato Hash is not the best hash in town – though I would need to eat Henri’s again to state this as fact. The short rib coats the tender-yet-firm sweet potatoes in a luscious layer of fat, the caramelized onions lending sweetness that boosts the savory. The silky richness of the fried egg yolk drips over the cast iron, tying the dish together and daring you not to finish the entire thing (it dared, I obliged).
I never thought an omelette would appeal to me, but the Smoked Grouper Omelette is a light refreshing fluffy blanket of lightly smoked grouper that must have been swimming 12 hours prior. It was simple, fresh and clean – a great choice for anyone wanting something on the lighter side.
I wasn’t expecting to love Angels on Horseback (fried food is not my jam). But the raisin rhubarb knocked my socks off (or would have, had I been wearing them). The oyster is slightly sweet, slightly briny – characteristics enhanced by that incredible rhubarb component. Other stars that tie the whole bite together include pecan creme fraiche and pork rillette to lend richness that plays with the sweet and tart rhubarb jam.
The White Sangria is a great summer cocktail. A chardonnay base, the sangria blends peach, ginger syrup, lemon, thyme and honey into a libation that is not too sweet, entirely refreshing.
The Red Sangria varietal is slightly more sweet (still delicious) sangria starts with Malbec and incorporates macerated strawberries, blueberries and pomegranate.
2401 E Cesar Chavez St.Austin, TX 78702Phone:(512) 215-8972
Monday Closed Tuesday – Saturday 11:30 am – 10:00 pm Sunday 11:30 am – 3:30 pm Costs $$