Maybe it was the wine. Maybe it was Chef Mark Sparacino’s running banter as he expertly plated a sinful double pork chop (“That guy should have his own show” was a frequent comment at our table). Maybe it was the decor: swanky, sultry, with dark wood and enviable blue velvet chairs. But my experience at newly opened Sophia’s Supper Club cemented it as one of the best Italian dining experiences in Austin.
Sophia’s, a supper club operated by Chicago-based BDG Hospitality, has clearly taken the time to get every detail right in their first Austin venture. Previously occupied by Bess Bistro, the space retains its antique bar (reportedly a stipulation by Sandra Bullock of the sale) but adds evidence of the excitement to come after the plates are cleared (Sophia’s is open until “late” on weekends). The fireplace slides out to become a DJ booth, and the lights can change to multiple colors. A shaded patio outside offers hope of a brunch to come, or a place to enjoy a cocktail while watching the promenade of West Sixth.
What to Eat
But on to the food. Sophia’s captures an element of Italian dining that I don’t often see replicated in the States: the sumptuousness of simple. I knew we were in for a treat as soon as I tasted the perfection of a red sauce that accompanied the giant beef-and-veal meatball. The avocado salad with sweet pops of gulf shrimp was also a promise of the cuisine to come.
As a former resident of Italy, the house-made pastas were the star for me. Our first taste was a dish perfect for summer: delicate Cappellini Al Pesto accompanied by toasted pine nuts. The basil pesto was so exquisite, I didn’t notice we had received the vegan version (and it is not like me to forgive a lack of cheese). The thoroughly enjoyable Pasta Alla Sophia’s was a modern take on Roman amatriciana, with chewy pasta, fatty pancetta, and fresh mozzarella. The biggest surprise of the evening for me was the Baked Spaghetti. Chef Mark explained that he had thrown together leftovers into a casserole (as one does), and the kitchen staff enjoyed it so much that they started regaling it to customers, who demanded a try. Eventually, this mish-mash of pasta, marinara sauce, béchamel, and vegetables worked its way onto the menu, where it earned cult status. I did not expect something as Americanized as Baked Spaghetti to be my favorite dish of the evening, but the creamy sauces paired with crunchy green bell peppers was my favorite bite (and has since turned into a regular craving).
We sampled three entrees: the brick chicken, whole roasted branzino, and aforementioned pork chop. The brick chicken was the result of a long (and successful) research process to perfect the crisp exterior. It’s served with a thick, savory jus that is a three-day affair, marinating pan juices with garlic and herbs. The pork chop is one of those better-than-bacon experiences, accompanied by fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes.
Desserts were a playful finish, each accompanied by an edible flower. The spongy chocolate cake stayed light with layers of orange caramel mousse and a glossy ganache to finish. The fan favorite at our table proved to be tiramisu “push pops” – a childhood favorite made elegant with house-made ladyfingers, coffee-kissed mascarpone, and a cocoa dusting.
Overall, I predict Sophia’s will become a destination on West 6th. Yes, because the food was amazing, but also because few restaurants can offer an experience that is both high-end and familiar. The staff is attentive and helpful (our sommelier in particular offered excellent pairings and a lesson in wine corks), and Chef Mark’s quintessentially Italian hospitality matches his creations from the kitchen. I certainly look forward to spending time there brushing up on the language over a glass of prosecco and a heaping portion of pasta.