Review: Triumph Cafe

Tweeview: Triumph has no-MSG, authentic phở with all the fixings in a family atmosphere. Way fast service, great prices. Discount program rocks!

You can catch vibe in a lot of places. I get a creative vibe while driving south under the 45th street bridge on MoPac (two patents, a novel, three short stories, a bunch of business ideas; no kidding!).

I think there are vibes in places as well. I’m not a spiritualist or anything like that; analysis might focus on lighting, angles and proportions and the number of good things seen inside it. Whatever.

Triumph Cafe is an amazing little place. It’s a family business; you’re probably going to be served by the same blood that preps the food, that cooks the food, that handles the books, etc. Like all Austin joints, the Hispanic presence is there, in the back room: busing, dishwashing. But the kids bus tables too. And grandparents keep a steely eye on things and kids when they’re around.

[Full disclosure: I’m on the board of a non-profit that has used Triumph’s tables and chairs for monthly and sometimes weekly meetings, generously and freely hosted. More later…]

Phở is the currency of the place; it’s served with traditional elements like sprouts and Vietnamese (not Thai!) basil. Also what I suspect to be stand-in ingredients like and jalapeno peppers instead of whatever’s local back “East.”

It’s a bit too salty for me. But the flavors of fresh ingredients and nicely cooked bánh phở (noodles) work well, and adding brown sauce certainly balances the equation (be still my straining heart).

The price is very competitive, and then it gets better. Their idea of frequent diner looks to me more like a real ‘friends and family’ sweetheart deal. Put money on one of their cards, and you get 10% added to your deposit (e.g., $50 becomes $55 when you charge up the card), and an additional 10% off the tab when you buy something. And, of course, they have the ubiquitous ‘get this card stamped ten times and then have an entree on us’ deal.

The service is equally amazing. I enjoy taking newcomers to Triumph, just to see the look in their eyes when the dish arrives almost as soon as they fill their soda glasses and find a seat. Someone do a time and motion study on these folks; they’re ridiculous!

It’s worth talking about the environment as well. The restaurant has a great patio, where smoking is discouraged (but unfortunately not enforced as city code requires). Despite that, Austinites tend to be polite folks, and I haven’t had more than a couple of cigarette issues at lunch. (I resolved it my way, but it didn’t make the news, so all’s good.)

The shot at the right (cadged from their web site) is fairly accurate, except for the lack of grackles which, like the white-tailed deer, ort some deity’s idea of humor in the guise of wildlife. You know the Monty Python routine with the liver donation and “I’m not done with it yet?” They’re like that, only with food. Yours, if you’re not keeping track of what’s going on around you.

The inside of the store reminds me of the Cuban-style bodegas in New York City. You want Phở? Covered. A nice silk tie? Office water fixture? Vietnamese coffee, freshly ground or in custom-made cans? Sure! Jewish Klezmer music occasionally displaces country, bluegrass, Asian fusion, or silence.

I’ve come in when I was the one and only, and come in to pandemonium, where two board meetings and a bible study group are meeting inside, and a book club is holding court in one end of the outside patio.

Throughout all this, the family at Triumph serves great food at GREAT prices with aplomb, a smile, and the odd tattoo and spiky ‘doo.

It’s an amazing place. The ‘vibe’ here is a comfortable, community, family establishment.Go. Eat. Enjoy! And remember to bring your stopwatch when you come: it’ll be the standard against which all other lunch and dinner restaurants will be judged.

Triumph Cafe ■ 3808 Spicewood Springs 254 ■ Austin, TX 78759 ■ (512)-343-1875

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