The news that Austin/Houston stalwart Max’s Wine Dive is to open in San Antonio in September should come as good news to the diamonds and denim set. “Fried chicken and Champagne? Why the hell not?” is their professed mantra, “gourmet comfort food and extraordinary wines from around the world served in a decidedly unpretentious but upscale ‘dive-bar’ atmosphere” is their claim. And all of this “until the wee hours of the morning,” to boot. We could use some “wee-hours” action.
Menu highlights include Max ‘n Cheese tossed in truffle cream, the cutesy Nacho Mama’s Oysters with garlic aioli, a Texas-raised Wagyu beef “haute” dog on an artisan bun…and the Strube Ranch Kobe Beef Burger that was named “Texas’ 16th Best Burger by Texas Monthly in 2009.”The Cove in San Antonio ranked number five that year, so I’m not sure I’d go braggin’ on 16th best, especially at a $17 price tag. For that matter, the done-to dog (you can have it Texas-style with chili or NY-style with sauerkraut and Dijon) weighs in at $14, a plate of fried chicken with chipotle honey, mashed potatoes and collard greens will set you back $15, and the Max’d out mac and cheese lists at a mere $9.
Owner Jerry Lasco says he’s “excited about the number of Culinary Institute graduates in the area.” As are we—though we hope they might be allowed to key into the wine list a little more than the menu currently appears to do. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with chicken and Champagne (the Bolly Special Cuvée Rosé would be a great sidekick at $149, though we’d likely end up with a $29 prosecco instead), but I’m not convinced about burgers and big Burgundies—say the Grivot Nuit St. George 1er cru Boudots, also at $149. Consider that a lack of imagination—and expense account—on my part.
Yet I do applaud the fact that any bottle of wine will be opened for you if you commit to two glasses. (All wines can also be had to take home as a retail purchase.) This may be one of the reasons that Bon Appetit called Max’s “one of the ‘Hot Ten” wine bars in the U.S.” I am also looking forward to sampling the Texas Prairie Fire Chili with “Texas bison, venison, seven varieties of roasted seasonal peppers, Lone Star beer and Mexican chocolate.” Somebody in this putative cradle of the brimstone brew should be serving up a serious bowl of red.
But I will also look to see if the comments of the Fearless Critic Austin Restaurant Guide hold true for San Antonio. “The food at Max’s is sometimes quite good, sometimes not bad, but most of the time grossly overpriced,” they say. They’re also not in love with the wine program, claiming it “has no redemption. The list is filled with well-priced, but boring, mid-level wines…There’s no coherent train of thought in the selection.” Harsh words. But we do notice from the Austin list, where $29 is the lowest price point, that there are numerous selections distinguished mainly by their Robert Parker and Wine Spectator scores, including three in the “Bad Ass Reds” category. The BA wines actually look pretty tame, for that matter, but I’ve never had the Mustiguillo Mestizaje Tempranillo. Maybe this Spanish stud will change my mind.