You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Garbo’s has main draw in place but needs to improve supporting cast

Encountering the tantalizing complexity of a Washington state Shigoku oyster in a brick strip mall a few miles south of Williamson County felt like a hallucination. Kind of like the first time I bought an overflowing lobster roll from a food truck in Austin. Makes sense that both unexpected offerings came from the same person.

Connecticut native Heidi Garbo opened the first of her two lobster roll trucks, Garbo’s, in March 2013, and last year she expanded her business to include a brick-and-mortar restaurant of the same name. Not bad for the Florida transplant who originally figured she’d be the food truck’s sole employee.

The same Connecticut lobster rolls ($24) that first made me pledge allegiance to Garbo’s anchor both lunch and dinner menus at the restaurant. A crunchy, toasty hot dog-style bun recently replaced the puffed sweetness of Sweetish Hill rolls. Otherwise the lobster roll allure remains the same — sweet crimson knuckle and claw meat sheened with butter tumbling from the top of the roll. The Maine version comes with mayonnaise-tossed lobster flecked with celery and spritzed with lemon.

Garbo’s will always be known for their lobster, which it receives on an almost daily basis from Heidi Garbo’s father and uncle, who run one of the most successful lobster wholesaling operations in the world out of Groten, Conn. But that Shigoku oyster ($3.25), its teardrop splash of cucumber and salt an enlivening elixir, speaks to the seafood restaurant’s larger ambitions.

The restaurant serves traditional New England fare, such as chowder ($8) and supple baked clams topped with breadcrumbs ($12), but Garbo’s also advertises an “Austin twist.” You can find that spin on a very good dish of smoky grilled octopus with jalapenos and a chili-spiced butternut squash puree ($14), and with a coarse-grind juicy cheeseburger ($14) slathered with funky Gorgonzola cheese and served with golden, crunchy hand-cut fries.

The burger appears on a lunch menu served weekday afternoons when Garbo’s operates as a counter-service restaurant. The quaint space, decorated with a modest amount of nautical-themed art and colored in cream, brick and the blue-greys of a threatening Atlantic sky, switches gears to amiable and informed table service in the evening.

In addition to appetizers like a creamy, smoked fish dip dotted with celery’s snap, the lunch menu includes a roster of sandwiches like a plump fried redfish ($12) with a delicate coating served on a sweet bun with rich aioli and cherry tomatoes. The menu promised pancetta. I found little. A shame, as the bland sandwich needed the pork’s salty influence. A soft mash of sea and minerality sandwiched between griddled bread, the crab and egg melt ($16) also lacked complexity and would have benefited from the elevating effects of acid.

The Jonah crab at dinner came in the form of a tasty (though stringy) cake ($21) accented nicely with the licorice breath of shaved fennel and the sweet acid of blood orange. The texture was forgivable on the crab cake, but other dishes could not overcome such a flaw. Salt cod dumplings ($14) floundered in the no-man’s land between gummy and crispy, and the pitchfork tendrils of fried artichokes were more dangerous than appetizing. Garbo’s serves a fish of the day at dinner. One night’s catch, a meaty red snapper in a floral saffron stew, came draped with a rubbery skin, though I found no fault with the accompanying mussels. Execution problems arose again with a spaghetti and calamari dish splattered in a sloppy pesto ($17).

Desserts righted the ship on the strength of a lush panna cotta with grapefruit sorbet and coffee granita, and a tangy lemon tart as bright as the seaside sun.

The missteps reveal Garbo’s has work to do if it wants its entire menu to match the strength of its signature lobster rolls, but hits like the octopus, crab cake, burger and a small but well-curated oyster program prove they have the building blocks in place.

And, speaking of building, Garbo’s will open an adjacent wine and oyster bar in the strip center next month, something I never expected to see in the northern suburbs of town.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Austin360 Eats

This week’s music picks: Tull tales with Ian, Allstars with Dickinsons and more

[youtube=] Wednesday: Jethro Tull at ACL Live. Technically these shows are billed as “Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson,” an odd specification given that Jethro Tull, by any other name than Ian Anderson, would most assuredly not be Jethro Tull. Technically, the band called it quits five years ago, and longtime members Martin Barre and Doane Perry...
Gal Gadot, Lynda Carter meet at ‘Wonder Woman’ premiere
Gal Gadot, Lynda Carter meet at ‘Wonder Woman’ premiere

Two are more wonderful than one. Gal Gadot and Lynda Carter met, embraced and posed for photographs at Thursday’s premiere of “Wonder Woman” in Hollywood, ETOnline reported. >> Read more trending news Carter, 65, made the Wonder Woman character famous during its television series run from 1975 to 1979. Gadot is starring...
You can make the best doughnuts you'll ever eat. Here's how.
You can make the best doughnuts you'll ever eat. Here's how.

It's easy to wax poetic about doughnuts. Whether they're light as air and melt in your mouth or caky and sugarcoated, ready to dunk, who can pass up a fresh one? The best are made by hand with wholesome ingredients. Even the ones that start with a mix - and those include your Krispy Kremes and Dunkin' Donuts - still taste pretty good, to be honest...
Jet owned by Elvis fetches $430,000 at auction
Jet owned by Elvis fetches $430,000 at auction

A red 1962 Lockheed Jetstar private jet once owned by Elvis Presley sold for $430,000 at a California auction featuring celebrity memorabilia on Saturday. >> Read more trending news The plane had been sitting on a New Mexico tarmac for 35 years before it was consigned for sale, GWS Auctions said. It was owned by Presley and his father, Vernon...
Follow the adventures of Dallas ‘Bachelorette’ Rachel Lindsay
Follow the adventures of Dallas ‘Bachelorette’ Rachel Lindsay

Welcome to another season of the beautiful disaster known as the “Bachelor” franchise. This “Bachelorette” season’s star, Dallas native and University of Texas graduate Rachel Lindsay, met her 31 suitors last week in an episode that was filled with — you guessed it — drama. Let me just start by saying that...
More Stories