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First Impressions: The Snack Bar and 24 Diner

Mike Sutter
24 Diner's plate of breakfast hash holds potatoes, sausage, bacon, cheese, onions and jalapenos, served with toast and fruit. The coffee is from Owl Tree Roasting.

The Snack Bar

1224 S. Congress Ave. 445-2626, www.snackbaraustin.com. Hours: 7 a.m. to midnight daily. Open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Call for hours.

On a gray December day, few things are cozier than a pot of tea and a warm, inviting space to enjoy it. Except maybe a bowl of shrimp and grits to go with it.

At the Snack Bar, which opened next to the Austin Motel on South Congress Avenue at the end of October, you'll find a bevy of international bites, inspired by the travels of owners Bethany Andrée and Karl Gilkey, that are just hippie enough to remind you that you are in the heart of South Austin. Although the menu of the diner-by-day, lounge-by-night restaurant changes from lunch to dinner, the global flair remains no matter the time of day. Andrée, a graphic designer and ceramist, has an eye for design, so the interior and exterior space is brightened with touches of teal and green and big windows to watch the action on one of Austin's most interesting streets.

Breakfast, including tacos ($3.50 each), parfaits ($5), waffles ($5.50) and goat cheese grits topped with perfectly seasoned and grilled shrimp ($8), is served all day, which means you can pop in for a bagel on your way to work or linger with friends for a long brunch. The lunch menu features international twists on burgers ($8), BLTs ($7) and salads ($8), as well as pozole ($6 for a bowl) and even a pulled pork sandwich ($7). At night, choose from European, Mediterranean, Latin, American and Asian favorites such as tagine stew ($9), coconut curry ($9), dilled Brussels sprouts ($5), sopes ($8) and even mac and cheese ($5), which are meant to be shared.

Now, back to the tea, Sweet Desert Delight, one of my favorites from the Austin-based Zhi Tea, which is served - hot and strong - by the pot ($2.50). If you're looking for a drink with a little more buzz, try an Americano or café au lait made with coffee beans from Owl Tree Roasting, another East Austin treasure. Micheladas, mimosas, sangrias and a wine list as diverse as the food menu will tickle nightsiders' fancy.

- Addie Broyles

24 Diner

600 N. Lamar Blvd. 472-5400, www.24diner.com. Hours: 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Open Christmas Eve, closed Christmas Day.

At just three weeks old, 24 Diner merits an early look for a few good reasons:

• Austin needed another 24-hour spot to compete with Kerbey Lane and Magnolia Cafe. Options beyond Denny’s and IHOP are always welcome.

• This site at Sixth and Lamar housed one of the original Waterloo Ice House locations. As that franchise outgrew the modest space, Waterloo’s Scott Hentschel teamed with Bob Gillett of Paggi House and Key Bar acclaim to reimagine the space as a progressive diner. In that sense, 24 represents a juncture between old and new Austin culture.

• The contemporary design raises the bar for after-hours decor. The colors are gray, black and slate blue. The front counter looks as much like an Apple store or a cosmetics counter as it does a diner hub, with a glowing wine fridge and well-ordered shelves. Molded plastic chairs of orange and jade curve like your backside, and the banquette backrests are covered in material the exact color and pebble grain of a new football. The salt-and-pepper caddies are welded from steel the weight of drill pipe.

The kitchen is run by Houston native Andrew Curren, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef whose recent credits include the New York City restaurants Barbuto and Madeleine Mae. Curren works with local farm-to-table expert John Lash to build daily specials for what he calls ‘elevated comfort food’ in this decidedly urban space. (Glamorous, right? He works a graveyard double shift.) And the noises here are appropriate for an urban-style diner. The soundtrack grinds with rancorous guitar and angst-driven vocals. From the kitchen pass-through window, you can hear the expediter barking: ‘Meatloaf! Chicken pot pie! Three roast chicken all day!’

The menu veers South with chicken and waffles ($9.45) and deviled eggs ($4.95), meatloaf with sweet onion gravy and two sides ($12.95), a pork belly sandwich with a side ($11.65) and a patty melt with Gruyere cheese and a side ($9.45). Sides include mashed sweet potatoes, bacon-braised greens and macaroni and cheese.

I’ve had just one dish so far. I can report that the breakfast hash was on the dry side, a barely seasoned fry-up of potatoes, onion, bits of bacon, crumbled sausage, cheese and the barest hint of jalapeño, served with two soft-cooked eggs, thin wheat toast and a garden-variety fruit salad of apples, grapes and pineapple for $8.85. A modest diner staple, with better-than-modest Owl Tree Roasting coffee and friendly but overburdened service.

More reports will come about the food. Right now, it’s all about the style points. And 24 has those all day.

— Mike Sutter