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May 18, 2011


If Austin dining is to become fully enclosed in a fresh pine box of hipster gastronomy and mixology, then Haddington's is a fine, final nail in the lid. The wood in question is sourced and milled in the Pacific Northwest – Portland, to be specific – where mustachioed, vintage-clad young men are spawned from the cold Willamette like salmon, fitted with sleeve tattoos and shoved unceremoniously into a farmer's market to develop MacGyver-like gustatory ingenuity or perish into heroin-addled dissipation. Here, take this pork belly, broccolini and six pounds of mustard seed and MAKE MAGIC.

Being seated at Haddington's was like an instant jaunt up to PDX. Give credit to the city – they've spawned a generation of inked-up cocktail engineers, eager to concoct absurdities like animal fat-infused rye whiskey, not to mention what appears to be an entire subculture of interchangeable service employees who singlehandedly keep the fixed-gear cycling industry in business. As much as I'd like to claim that Austin is purely original culture, it's hard to see the hipster restaurant craze as anything more than a full-scale migration from Portland.

Then again, if the food is good, who gives a shit, right? I'm all for smashing the hegemonic dominance of iconic, monied chefs and their "properties" and "concepts." Austin has plenty of those, and many of them produce fabulous food, but it's good to let the kids muck around in the kitchen every now and then. Sooner or later they come up with a winner, which is why you can't ever seem to get into Barley Swine, even on a weeknight.

Haddington's is properly called a "gastropub," which translates loosely into "bar that actually changes the fryer oil more than once a month." The cocktail menu is a sight to behold, including the aforementioned Sazerac-duck fat infusion and the profligate use of exotic bitters and even more inexplicable poisons, like mescal. I can't hold forth on the quality of the drinks as I'm on a hiatus from hooch, but scores of Yelpers will assure you that, yes, you can get adequately fucked up here to bolster your confidence prior to stumbling down to Key Bar to make a pass at that paralegal you've been digging on. You'll pay handsomely: twelve bucks seems to be the going rate for advanced mixology in Austin these days. That may be the only way we've completely caught up with New York City.

My attorney and I went heavy on the pork: home-fried cracklins to start, along with a pork-chili stew and porchetta sandwich as mains. I tossed in some mussels to break things up a bit. Eight bucks gets you about six mussels in a spicy tomato broth flecked with bits of bacon and tomatoes. The broth is sweet, rich and quite spicy, with a noticeable hint of alcohol that the server confirmed was a "sweet white wine." It was good enough to lap up with a soup spoon. The mussels weren't bad, either.

The pork stew, a special for the day, came topped with a poached egg, which was helpful as the portion of stew itself couldn't have been more than a couple of ounces. It was heady, rich with dark chilis and spinach, and deserving of a weighty porter or stout to accompany it. I'd get it again, but I'd order two of them so as to not walk away hungry. The porchetta sandwich disappeared quickly – the rich, glistening fattiness would have been too much in a bigger portion, but sliced about pinky-thick and served on rye, it was perfect.

Regarding the cracklins: Haddington's are pure skin, no meat, so if you're a fan of Louisiana truck stop cracklins that include a generous chunk of belly, you might be disappointed in these. They're about as light and fluffy as something that comes off a pig could ever be – well seasoned, oversized, upscale chicharrones. Good bar food, but then again so are spicy peanuts. Get them if you're drinking and want something salty and a little greasy to munch on.

Decor here is full-on faux British pub, with slightly-cramped, windowed dining rooms decked with garage sale-quality, antique framed art on padded walls, looking out onto a main bar room that features the exact type of dark wood and fixtures you'd expect from someone's vague concept of pub authenticity. It's all too perfect, in a strange way, from the exterior logotype to a far too generous wine list, and one hopes that it will come upon some genuine pub charm sooner or later. Breaking a barstool over someone's head would be a great way to start.

Posted by brentbuford at 04:01 PM | Comments (0)