What happens when you cross a hip bistro with a Waffle House? Chef Philip Speer and partner Sean McCusker are finding out.
Philip Speer is back on the scene in a big way, with two new businesses: My Name is Joe, a coffee-and-breakfast stand downtown, and Bonhomie, a bistro-meets-diner on Austin’s latest white-hot restaurant row, Burnet Road. Speer opened Bonhomie (a concept he jokingly refers to as a “polished Waffle House”) with business partner Sean McCusker earlier this spring. As McCusker quips, “Who doesn’t like a diner and a French bistro?”
And Bonhomie likes to play with expectations, delivering what McCusker calls “familiar surprises”: dishes diners assume they’ve had before…until they take a bite. “Take smothered and covered hash browns,” says Speer. “[But] we do foie gras and caviar on them.” He’s speaking of Bonhomie’s signature pommes rostis – a collection of delicately grated, lightly fried potato cakes topped with all manner of tasty things. One comes with foie gras gravy and a soft boiled egg; another is topped with caviar and creme fraiche. Some of the rostis are even simpler, like, applesauce, yogurt, and chive. “Every table orders one of the pommes rostis,” says Speer.
Other examples of Bonhomie’s playful menu twists include a Reuben with smoked salmon and a brisket croissant with pho broth– a play on a French Dip sandwich. “People can be a little bit surprised,” says McCusker. “It’s really cool to see people try the croissants for the first time.” And do not sleep on the classic burger: the beef is ground every day and all of the ingredients are made in-house. Except the American Cheese. “We use the cheap American cheese because that’s delicious,” says Speer.
That includes the burger buns. Speer draws on his background as a pastry chef for much of the menu, making the aforementioned croissants, burger buns, and sandwich breads in-house.
And when it does come time for dessert, the bistro-diner theme holds. “We made [the profiteroles] a real cute combination of a diner banana split and what a French bistro might do with it,” says Speer. That means stuffing the ice cream into golden profiteroles and amping up the classic garnishes—nuts, cherries, and bananas.
McCuster and Speer work to keep the prices down; to that end, they serve the entire wine menu by the glass.
The concept also carries into the design, which McCusker says has “a little bit of luxury like a bistro would have, with the square angles of a diner.” There’s a huge, U-shaped bar in the back, bistro-style tables wrapping around the sidewalk outside, and a line of American-classic diner booths threading through the middle of the restaurant.
The entire operation is geared towards accessibility, a hallmark of both of Bonhomie’s influences. McCusker and Speer hope that “people feel like they can come here a couple times a week.” In other words, says Speer, “We just want you to be able to come in and have a good time and enjoy the food.”