- Matthew Odam American-Statesman Staff
The area around Anderson Lane and Burnet Road has exploded with culinary offerings: Chen Z, Tarka, PhoNatic Vietnamese Cuisine, Juiceland, East Side Pies, Hopdoddy, Elevation Burger and Dos Batos.
But the neighborhood has yet to attract many bars beyond nearby sports bar Cover 3, leaving those looking for a drink to wander for more excitement.
Now comes The Goodnight, a catch-all entertainment complex attempting to serve as an adult clubhouse (heavy on the “club”) and yet another reason for residents in North Austin to avoid the hassles of heading downtown. A version of this idea worked pretty well with the Alamo Drafthouse-owned Highball in South Austin, so why not replicate it? While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, pulling it off can be a bit trickier.
The Goodnight takes elements from bars, clubs and restaurants around town and throws them all together under the same roof. Ping-Pong, bowling, billiards, contemporary cuisine, a massive bar scene, club music, private parties, air guitar, photo booths, a Zoltar machine (!) … the place is like a Disneyland where your patience level often has to be “this tall” to ride the rides. The result is a mess. In trying to do so many things well all at once, The Goodnight is struggling to find its niche.
We made the mistake one Saturday night of not calling ahead to reserve a bowling lane, so the four-hour wait precluded that activity. The expected wait for a dinner table (which you can’t reserve ahead), was 90 minutes. But we received a call on our mobile phone within 20 minutes. Apparently nobody else was answering their phones. Good thing for us because there is no comfortable space to hang out while you wait for a table, though the patio should alleviate that problem in warmer weather.
The billiards and table tennis area was full of loitering people with uncomfortable body language, confused by the absence of protocol for getting a pool table, a mystery that was clarified by an employee’s direction to simply wait for the person playing to finish and then just jump on the table. That oughta work well. Especially as the booze and beer flows. But even getting a drink at the bar can be tricky. With about 40 stools occupying much of the real estate at the massive bar, there’s little space to maneuver before or after ordering.
Our party of five was squeezed into one of the tables ringing the wall. A tight fit because most of the tables appear bolted to the ground, so parties larger than four are hard to accommodate. A couple of elevated “lounge areas” — one circumscribed by dark curtains like an “exclusive” Warehouse District club — have larger tables, but those were filled with private events.
There are just under 50 seats in the main dining area, primarily at four-tops backed by rounded leather banquettes rendered in matte platinum or gold. The drab gray walls, striped with an even darker paint, are bare save for a few pieces of modern art. Filament bulbs dangle from the ceiling, enclosed in oversized glass spheres, a rustic design element that feels out of place in the modern (read: late ’90s) space.
Our punctual server one night took drink orders but couldn’t help much with direction. A question regarding available bourbons was met with little more than a genial shrug. The question of draft beers was easier to answer: None. The Goodnight does offer more than 30 beers in bottles and cans, with about 10 locals, including variations from Real Ale, Austin Beerworks and Hops and Grain. Management says it hopes to add tap beer in the near future. Also coming? Karaoke. More stuff!
The menu at The Goodnight features more than three dozen items, most of them familiar fare from the recent trend of “high-end sports bars” and hotel restaurants. Truffle oil, once seen as a gourmet ingredient, can now be found in all sorts of venues. Here it’s an option for pedestrian hand-cut fries ($6) that come with either the pungent oil or herbs or (our choice) gorgonzola. We’d get our share (and then some) of truffle oil another time with the soupy baked mac and cheese side dish ($6).
Fried starch with creamy gorgonzola doesn’t require much of a deft touch, but the kitchen’s heavy hand definitely hurt a tuna tartare ($11). The appetizer came stacked in a glass filled one-third of the way with sweet hoisin sauce that overpowered the strange cubes of tuna that had an unnatural ruby glow and polished texture. The dark sauce drowned out everything else in the glass (shaved almonds, citrus and avocado) except the chunks of pickled beets, with their stubborn earthy flavor.
Wagyu beef has become a buzzword on some menus to convey a sense of quality. But it’s lip service on the cheeseburger ($12) that featured a dry crumbling patty that suffered beneath a load of caramelized onions and sharp cheddar.
Both the overcooked wood-fired chicken ($17) and the mealy, slightly undercooked but well seasoned beef tenderloin ($28) arrived one evening with the same accompaniments, a lukewarm heap of smashed potatoes with no distinguishing characteristics and a confusing assortment of vegetables including hard asparagus and mushy carrots. Both dishes looked and tasted like standard banquet fare.
When they try to move beyond glorified bar food, The Goodnight runs into more troubles. I appreciate the effort to make daily specials, but not when they turn out like a recent fried avocado stuffed with small nubs of lobster. An unsettling tomato-basil “sauce,” that seemed more like a soup, turned the pale green avocado’s breading into mush, and a dollop of tart sour cream left the dish almost inedible.
The Goodnight does do a few things fairly well. A juicy and tender pulled pork sandwich at lunch featured vibrant slaw on a lightly toasted bun, though the mild pork only hinted at the flavor of Dr Pepper listed on the menu. Pizzas on two different occasions had nice bubbled crusts that snapped with a light crunch when folded. An abundance of cheese on the homemade sausage pizza ($13) tested the pie’s sturdiness and masked the red chili flakes, and the sausage could have been browned more.
Another pizza came with Fuji apples, gorgonzola and caramelized onions ($13), which made for a nice balance of tangy sweetness and light smoke, but the apples were baked to within an inch of their lives. Despite their problems, both pizzas served as a good indication of where The Goodnight’s culinary strengths might lie. They should pare down the menu and focus on the things at which they’ve shown some skill — make solid pizzas and sandwiches and keep the beer cold.
Currently what they do well doesn’t include brunch. On a recent slow weekend afternoon we tried the crab cake benedict ($13), a cake deep-fried to a crispy bronze on the edges and mushy at the center. The cake, lacking any sizable chunks of crab meat on the inside, sat on an untoasted English muffin, with jaundiced and cold, undercooked home fries riding shotgun.
Beyond the food missteps at brunch was the disconcerting feeling we were eating in a mostly empty sports bar. As the bartenders did their side work and restocked the bar from the night before, it felt as if those of us there had snuck in to eat before the place was supposed to be open. Were we at a bar too late or a restaurant too early?
And that’s part of The Goodnight’s problem — it doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be or should be. The absence of a cohesive vision and the attempts to deliver such myriad entertainment offerings has the place stretched thin.
The Goodnight’s early faltering reminds me of an adage passed along from a former mentor. He said when a business prepares to open, it should ask itself two questions: Am I ready for the customer? And — am I absolutely sure I’m ready for the customer?
It seems The Goodnight was not ready to deliver on all that it promised. With the early growing pains behind them, they must now ask themselves two new questions: How do we fix what’s broken and where do we go from here?
If The Goodnight doesn’t take inventory and figure out the answers in relatively short order, it’s going to be “good night, and good luck.”