Auden’s Kitchen is just what chef Bruce Auden wanted it to be, a comfortable neighborhood drop-in kind of place. You’ll see your neighbors, or maybe your best friend in having lunch or coffee.
Right away, I fell for the visual elements that pulled together a subtle but well-done statement. San Antonio designer Jill Giles did not have a whopping budget to make the place come alive, Auden told us, yet she pulled it off. The creative touches are decisive and coherent, taking the interior beyond homey yet still present a feeling of welcome.
I marveled at the paper table toppers stamped with a spare, blue-ink design; the deckle-edged, black and white photos of old table utensils framed in simple black. ] I loved the table ‘napkins’ ─ simple white cotton dishtowels with blue lines.
The bar is comfortable and inviting, if small. The racks with wine bottles running the length of the restaurant are cool, but we hoped the original contents had been consumed, before the bottles were filled and set in the sun. One happy note to add: Auden’s corkage fee (bring your own bottle, they’ll open it and serve) is a relatively affordable $15.
At the window to the open kitchen, above a slim community table (we used to call it a counter in the olden days) is a long row of ultra-shiny, polished steel (or is it aluminum?) pans hanging by their handles. Great touch ─ one of those you want to work into your own kitchen decor.
I won’t be damning Auden’s Kitchen with faint praise for the food and great praise for design, however. I liked the food. Everyone I know who has eaten there likes the food.
Auden likes the food and gives much of the credit to his young female chef, Patricia Wenckus. We give Auden huge credit, applause and kudos putting a female at the head of the kitchen.
I’m going to start with dessert in my discussion of the menu. Years ago (10 years ago, I believe) Auden’s pastry chef at Biga on the Banks, Katharine Tuason, introduced us to Sticky Toffee Pudding. It was one of his biggest hits, a revelation for us non-Brits, and now is on Auden’s Kitchen’s menu.
I’ll try it next time, because a similar dessert, a very sticky bread pudding was offered that day. It was a little like the toffee pudding, melting with gooey syrup-soaked bread and totally delicious. I think a little dish of crème Anglaise that came to the table was meant to be a topper, but I actually consider crème Anglaise a stand-alone dessert. Like dessert soup. I ate them separately.
We also loved another “crème,” the crème brulée ice cream. As a companion said, “I’ve had crème brulée ice cream before, but this one really does taste like crème brulée.”
Full disclosure: Auden and Perny Shea, his marketing director, were at our table off and on for one of the visits. That meant exquisite service, though we think the crew was up to snuff on the other visits as well.
The Guadalupe Peak Lemon Pie was another knock-’em-dead ─ or at least into sugar shock ─ dessert.
I’ll jump back to our appetizers now. We ordered the Potted Chicken and Duck, a mixture of chicken mousse and duck rillette, or meat and fat pounded to a mellow, paté-like consistency and used as a spread. It was flavorful, with an especially appealing presentation in a little glass crock. The allspice in the pickled vegetables, served with the spread, was a pleasant foil for the spread.
On another visit, the Scotch eggs were traditional, the hard-cooked egg wrapped in a well seasoned sausage (with plenty of parsley) and then fried. Some aioli on the side worked, too. Cooked pasta with cheese, baked with (heaven) buttered crumbs on top, was another impossible-to-resist treat.
Pizzas are a daily special as well as mainstay on the menu. We ordered one with salami and tomatoes. The crust was thin and chewy, browned on the bottom with a good, yeasty taste. The sliced salami was rolled into a small tube instead of spread flat over the cheese. Nice touch, that.
A Cheddar Burger on a flat, toasted bun, with fried onions, was good and cooked to medium. My friend’s chicken, baked to a toasty brown, seasoned with thyme and onion, was accompanied by roasted Brussels sprouts. These are a winter favorite of ours, especially when they are this tender and flavorful. (You may also order them as a side dish.)
Auden is a classically trained chef, but in this casual corner up in the Stone Oak area, he shows his British roots as well. The fish-and-chips, served up big slabs of freshly battered fillets of fish, comes with fries in a paper cone. No complaints, especially with the bottle of malt vinegar handy.
On an earlier visit, a friend tried the kitchen’s best seller, the buttermilk fried chicken. Crackly on the outside, moist and tender on the inside – perfect. Green beans on the side were cooked with just a bit of crunch.
As so many have already discovered, Auden’s Kitchen is worth the visit with an affordable, varied and appealing menu of well-executed dishes. The food isn’t fancy, but it’s a cut or two above your basic comfort food, and that’s just fine with us.
Photos: Nicholas Mistry
The Plaza at Concord
700 E. Sonterra Blvd
Mon. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Fri. – Sat. 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Sun. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. with special menu brunch items