After consuming nearly a cow’s worth of smoked meat in the hills east of Austin, my brother, father and I needed something sweet. We all remembered Jo’s, an outdoor cafe on trendy South Congress that supplied us with satisfying fried pies, kolache and Iced Turbos in 2006. Named for owner Liz Lambert’s mother, Jo’s is situated in the parking lot of the Hotel San Jose and across from The Continental Club, a locally famous live music venue.
Jo’s sprawling patio spills onto the sidewalk, where people and their dogs recline in mismatched multi-color chairs and soak up the walking fashion show that is South Congress.
They can keep the tofu sandwich, but I can’t get enough of Jo’s fried pies and Iced Turbos.
Behind the whirling blades of the ceiling fan sits Jo’s menu. To the left of the menu, out of frame, hung a photo of Jo sporting a white T-shirt with the café’s circular red logo.
Jo’s management isn’t shy, laying claim to the title of “the best coffee in town.” The ever-packed patio certainly backs up their boasting.
Since we arrived mid-afternoon on a weekend, Jo’s was sold out of most of their interesting baked goods, including the Danish-like Czech pastries known as kolache. At least they had fried cherry and apple pies. We bought the last remaining apple pie and two cherries. There were other attractive baked goods, like muffins, peanut butter cookies, chocolate brownies and walnut-studded slabs of banana bread.
Jo’s Iced Turbo ($3.50, large) is a hyper-caffeinated mocha-infused iced coffee beverage. If there’s one beverage that lives up to Jo’s self-proclaimed “best coffee” title, this is it. On another visit, the countergirl revealed the drink contains whole milk, half and half, sweetened condensed milk, coffee, espresso, chocolate and hazelnut, “which is why it’s so delicious.” No argument. Jo’s also offers the Belgian Bomber, half Iced Turbo and half cold-brewed, unsweetened Iced Coffee.
Three-inch apple pies featured a light glaze and were filled with cinnamon-tinged cubes of apple. Jo’s fried cherry pie couldn’t generate the wattage of the fried chocolate pie that we engulfed in 2006, but it was a nice pastry.
Amazingly, after my large Iced Turbo, I was still exhausted. I walked from the hotel to a new mixed-use development on 2nd Street, which I knew housed a second branch of Jo’s. It has a large sidewalk patio with handsome wood furniture. There’s an ordering window out front, in case people can’t muster the strength to walk the extra ten steps to the indoor counter.
Jo’s Downtown is decorated with a cool mural on the wall, very colorful, featuring musicians and customers sitting at coffeehouse tables. There are hand-woven basket lanterns and funky orange molded plastic lanterns. There’s also an expanded menu, featuring sandwiches like the pulled pork and the griddled 3 cheese, plus salads.
Jo’s Downtown offers a more reined-in drink menu. I ordered large “cold brewed coffee” ($2.50). The barista explained that hot-brewing coffee, then letting it sit and serving it over ice, creates a bitter flavor. By brewing grinds in cold water for 24 hours, it creates a more even cup of iced coffee. It sure did.
Jo’s blackboard provided four good reasons to “Save room for dessert”: coconut cake, apple cranberry pie, Coca Cola cake, and buttermilk pie
My slice of buttermilk pie was pretty tasty, though the crust was a little too soft.
For Monday’s breakfast, I bought a prepackaged Jake’s Power Oatcake, the logo sporting a Mexican wrestler, known south of the border as a luchador. The oatcake ($2.75) contained apples, cranberries, figs and currants. There was also a chocolate peanut butter version, which I should have ordered. The fruit version was too dry. I won’t blame it on Jo’s. They just sell the item; they don’t produce them.
Next year, when my father, brother and I converge in Austin to subject our stomachs to another barbecue buffeting, I’m sure we’ll return to Jo’s to counterbalance the salt with sweet for a third straight year.