Gina’s on Congress: Romantic, Contemporary French-Italian Fusion

I had the pleasure of dining at the new bite-sized bistro, Gina’s on Congress, situated on 3rd and Congress in the heart of Austin’s historic downtown area. Housed in a rustic yet elegant turn-of-the-century building, which has previously lived as a brothel, jail, and saloon, Gina’s exudes an endearingly hedonistic history that is as enticing as it is interesting. Stepping inside, the intimate ambiance immediately envelopes its diners, illuminated by the soft glow of candlelight dancing across white-clothed tables. The room was imbued with sensual touches, lending the establishment a captivating, indulgent charm: a sprawling mahogany-toned bar, boasting an impressive array of specialty bottles, intricate tapestries adorning the walls, and a framed photograph of the iconic Italian actress Gina Lollabrigida, after whom the bistro is named, adding a touch of classic allure.

The Menu

The brunch experience at Gina’s on Congress is like watching history be retold through epicurean means. Just as France and Italy reconciled after being at odds during WWII, the two cultures’ cuisines exist in perfect harmony within the menu at Gina’s. The selections consist of a variety of contemporary takes on classic European dishes, like steak tartare, duck confit, giardiniera, and house-made pastas. The menu is divided up into three sections: snacks, smaller plates, and larger plates, as well as a separate dessert menu, allowing a four-course experience if the diner so desires. 

Savory Fare

To start, I opted for the smoked salmon dip. It was served with housemade potato chips and chives as a tasty garnish. An ensemble of crème fraiche, herbs, lemon, smoked salmon, it was a perfect appetizer to prime the palette for the flavors to come. There is also the additional option of adding Siberian sturgeon caviar to this dish. 

Smoked Salmon Dip with Chives and Housemade Potato Chips

Next, I moved onto the larger plates section, choosing between pasta and protein options. I chose a distinctly French influenced dish, Mussels & Frittes, which consisted of crispy shoestring fries atop a bed of premium Prince Edward Island mussels bathed in a bright, lemony bechamel sauce. The bechamel was deliciously balanced–a rich, creamy sauce featuring flavors of parmesan, umami, and citrus. My guest had the bucatini pasta, which highlighted pan-fried pancetta, brussel sprouts, cured egg yolk, and grana padano cheese. This symphony of ingredients came together as an elevated carbonara paired with an earthy but fresh flavor brought on by the Brussel sprouts, and it did not disappoint. 

Drinks and Dessert

I would’ve been remised to have not sampled Gina’s extensive drinks selection. The booze menu featured premium Italian and French wine, beer, and champagnes, as well as several unique variations on the classic negroni. The other cocktails were branded with swanky names that represented their intense aromatics and flavor. I sampled a beverage called “Interview With a Dictator”, a concord of denizen white rum, solerno blood orange, martini & rossi ambrato, and grenadine. My guest sampled the “Siesta” cocktail, which featured tequila blanco, luxardo maraschino cherries, campari, grapefruit, and lime–an ode to summery, Latin flavors. 

Gina’s dessert menu was the perfect farewell to a delightful brunch, showcasing classic and modern sweets from cannolis to gelato affogato. Gina’s also offers dessert cocktails and dessert wines, providing a unique and delicious nightcap option. My guest and I split the chocolate covered cherry old fashioned, composed of Texan pecan and brown sugar bourbon, tempus fugit crème de cacao, heering cherry liqueur, and chocolate bitters. 

The Siesta cocktail on the left, and the Interview with a Dictator cocktail on the right

Conclusion

Gina’s on Congress is a gem that seamlessly blends the romanticism of a bygone era with the modern flair of contemporary cuisine. The bistro’s ability to marry French and Italian culinary traditions results in a menu that is both innovative and comforting. From the smoked salmon dip appetizer to the mussels & frittes and the bucatini pasta, each dish is a testament to the kitchen’s prowess and attention to detail. The drink selection, with its creative cocktails and premium wines complements the plates perfectly, while the dessert offerings provide a sweet and satisfying end to the dining experience. Thus, whether you’re seeking a romantic night out or simply a taste of European fusion in the heart of Austin’s historic downtown, Gina’s on Congress delivers an unforgettable experience that tantalizes the senses and leaves you yearning for your next visit.