Jo’s: Iced Turbos and Fried Pies in Austin

Coffee Austin

Jo's draws a crowd to their surrounding patio in a hotel parking lot.

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 Hotel San Jose’s parking lot and across from The Continental Club, a locally famous live music venue.

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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.

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.

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They can keep the tofu sandwich, but I can’t get enough of Jo’s fried pies.

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. There were other attractive baked goods, like muffins, peanut butter cookies, chocolate brownies, walnut-studded banana bread slabs, and fried pies.

Pie Austin

We snagged the last remaining fried apple pie and two cherries.

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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, Iced Turbo 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.

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Jo’s Downtown is very colorful, featuring a customer-filled patio.

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A cool mural on the wall depicts musicians and customers sitting at coffeehouse tables. Hand-woven basket lanterns complement funky orange molded plastic lanterns.

Jo’s expanded downtown menu features sandwiches like pulled pork and the griddled 3 cheese, plus salads. This location also offers a more focused drink menu.

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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.

Pie Austin

My slice of buttermilk pie was pretty tasty, though the crust was a little too soft.

Granola Bar Austin

For Monday’s breakfast, I bought a prepackaged Jake’s Power Oatcake, the logo sporting a Mexican wrestler, known in Mexico 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.

Jo’s: Iced Turbos and Fried Pies in Austin


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

[…] scant available information online on how to recreate Jo’s Iced Turbo, but I began with this one blog post. The writer claims that a Jo’s employee revealed the drink contained whole milk, half and half, […]

[…] the flavor memory wouldn’t leave his brain, he decided to try to recreate it at home based on this blog post from a customer way back in […]

Sad about the catfish – how hard can it be, unless you’re Long John Silver’s?

Wow, tall order, there’s so many cool places in and around Austin. I had the pleasure of living there for 11 years! I’d say you have to have the pancakes at Kirby Lane (there are 3 of them – the original one is on Kirby Lane ;-). Curra’s Grill on Oltorf has great Mexican food and killer Oaxacan coffee, and Guerra’s on SoCo is a fun place to get tacos (a favorite of Bill Clinton). Carlos Santana’s Maria Maria downtown is a little more upscale but the food is great, a little bit outside of Austin is Hudson’s on the Bend (they specialize in wild game and are a little more pricey); it’s out by Lake Travis where you should not fall prey to the touristy Oasis (unless you’re just going to have a drink and watch the sunset). Cherry Creek Catfish Company is a hidden jewel – in addition to great fried catfish they serve some mean fried green tomatoes. I like Texas Land and Cattle Company off I-35 in South Austin, but only for their fried dill pickle spears. Ken’s Tacos and More on Dessau Road has great breakfast tacos the size of your head, and they use French fries for the potatoes – off, but it works. You wouldn’t know it from the name, but they make a damned fine burger, too. There’s probably dozens more, but this is a comment, not a review 😉

Val, thanks for the tips. You mentioned a bunch of places I’ve never heard of in Austin. I’m pretty sure Texas Land and Cattle Company made the Texas Monthly top steak list, so I was curious about that spot. Hudson’s on the Bend is the only other restaurant that I even knew one iota about. I’ll be sure to check out Cherry Creek Catfish Company. Great fried catfish isn’t likely to surface in L.A. anytime soon.

The thing I love about Jo’s is in the summer when they show movies in the parking lot. The Hotel San Jose right behind it is an old, beautifully renovated hotel that’s a fun place to crash after a long night at The Continental (I recommend Sunday night, when Hey Bale is playing). There’s more great coffee places in Austin – the Landing Strip up by the old airport, and Ruta Maya on Congress and Ben White (they usually have live music going and the coffee is outstanding). Loved your article – brought back fond Austin memories!

Val, I wouldn’t have known that you have a connection from Austin, but based on your post, it’s clearly a strong one. What are some of your other favorite Austin spots, non coffee?

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