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by C. Jeanette Tyson

Who among us hasn’t been one thing Monday through Friday, or nine to
five, only to become something a little bit different on a Saturday night? So perhaps you can believe me when I tell you about two simple restaurants by day that become a little spicier, a little shinier, by night.

Jo’s Hot Coffee and Good Food (the newer of two) is, by day, a sandwich
shop in the spiffed-up Second Street district. I’m not sure what makes
this couple of blocks off Fourth Street -- which is a couple of blocks
off Sixth Street, which is all fairly close to the hotels -- a district
all its own exactly…but not to worry, the stretch of new shops and
restaurants does offer a different side of Austin, a side less frantic
than a couple of blocks over, and a little closer to Chicago, maybe, or
Seattle.  By night, management hopes, Jo’s will be a funky downtown
destination for wine, beer and mingling. The bartender suggested a
bottle of Chateau Peyau over the organic Bordeaux we were considering
and she didn’t steer us wrong. We took it outside and watched the
people stroll by, and marveled on the fineness of a July evening just
before the rains would come.

This particular evening was so fine, in fact, and early, that there was
no one actually inside the restaurant. Jo’s is a large, open room with
yard sale chairs around a collection of tables, wire “waffle butt”
chairs bellied up to the counter, antelope horns on the shelf and
certain light fixtures straight from the Jetson’s. The Frito Pie, Three
Cheese Griddle Sandwich and Vegetarian BBQ advertised on the chalkboard
looked enticing; I made a mental note to come back for lunch.

But wine and beer are the news at Jo’s. Maybe later, when there are
enough people to fill up those chairs and those evenings, there will be
enticing appetizers, too.

The evening progressed and so did we, to the other end of town. Pacha
is, by day, a charming coffee house. A charming, dimpled, dark-haired
man will make you a mocha, asking whether you want Mexican or regular
chocolate on that. You can have your muffin split in half and griddled,
or have a nice quiche. You may run into Susan’s knitting group camped
in the corner but there are only nine tables in this small house, and
possibly fewer parking spots out back, so don’t expect Wi-Fi anytime
soon. And don’t  look for a web site to find out about Pacha’s big
Saturday night transformations; the schedule for the monthly prix fixe
dinners is posted in the bathroom.

Candlelight flickered, there were tablecloths covering the painted
tables, Bebel Gilberto crooned seductively. The same charming,
dark-haired man asked if we wanted red wine or white.

The first course featured watermelon gazpacho. It was delicious, a
perfect balance of sweet and tart, a twist on two summer favorites. As
an alternative there was a fresh green salad with plump blueberries and
walnuts in balsamic vinaigrette.

You choose your entrée when you make your reservation; there were three
of us so we sampled the lot of them. I had tuna and shrimp with a
lovely cilantro dressing.  The duck, in a balsamic reduction and served
with figs, was moist and not a bit greasy. The ratatouille crepe was
crisp and spicy. All were served with currant couscous and braised
kale. And no one held back on the garlic.

Such care and thought had gone into dinner that it was a surprise to
get to dessert and have it feel like an afterthought. A fruit crepe was
merely that, blueberries and strawberries inside a bare crepe. The rice
pudding was cloying. Chocolate cake, the best of the three, lacked a
certain density.

As bizarre as it sounds, I found myself drawing parallels between these
restaurants and myself. Most of the time I’m a single mom. But
occasionally I’m just single, out on a Saturday night, and while it
mostly works, there’s always an awkward little bump or two. It was all
part of our collective charm, I decided.

Still, the atmosphere was sweet, the conversation easy and time passed
quickly as summer. Or, as my friend Susan said, her marriage has. “It’s
been twelve years,” she said, “and I’m still going out with the cute

And off we went, into the night, that would lead to the next morning
and the second half of a year, and quite a few Saturday nights left to
offer turns and surprises and something a little shinier than usual.
C. Jeanette Tyson is a freelance writer and mother to Maddy and
Jackson. Her advertising and marketing work can be found on
thethinkkitchen.com. Pacha, by day and night, is at 4618 Burnet Rd,
Austin, 78756 - (512) 420-8758. Jo's Hot Coffee and Good Food :
242 West Second Street- 512.469.9003


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