By Karen Spezia
There’s Old Austin…and then there’s really Old Austin. Welcome to Nau’s, an Austin institution since 1951. Never heard of it? You must be new in town, pardner. So hop into your magic time machine and head to a place from another era.
Nau’s Enfield Drug opened in historic Clarksville 65 years ago and has barely changed since. This all-American soda fountain within an old-fashioned drug store has been doling out diner classics — and pharmaceuticals — for generations. The food is basic and good, but Nau’s is really about the experience. Stroll to the back of the drug store, past the medicines, toiletries, novelty toys, and vintage candy, and you’ll find a diner lost in time.
There are well-worn teal formica countertops, pink vinyl barstools, rock-hard wooden booths and rickety bistro tables. The customers are an eclectic patchwork of young and old, rich and poor, black and white. Businessmen, laborers, housewives, musicians, students, retirees, lovers, artists and families all sit elbow-to-elbow at the counter or tucked into their favorite booth or table. Most engage in casual conversation and rarely leave without making a new friend. All are there for simple fare from a simpler time.
If Nau’s has a printed menu, I’ve never seen it. But a menu board hangs above the grill — and the helpful staff is happy to steer you in the right direction. At breakfast, most customers go for the best-selling Breakfast Combo Number Five: two eggs cooked to order, bacon or sausage, toast and coffee. If you’re really hungry, add some hash browns. Occasionally diners deviate from the norm to order omelettes or breakfast tacos, one of the rare new items added since its opening.
At lunch, it’s mostly burgers. Cooked on a flattop grill, wrapped in checkerboard wax paper and served in a basket, they’re simple, fresh and tasty. They come in two sizes, with or without cheese or bacon and loaded with crispy, fresh garnish. There are also classic sandwiches like ham and cheese, a turkey club and grilled cheese. But don’t go looking for any hoity-toity artisanal breads at Nau’s: it’s all good ol’ pre-sliced loaf bread. I think there are salads and maybe soup, but I can’t get past the burgers. Want fries with that? Sorry, friend, there’s no deep fryer at Nau’s. But that’s okay, because you’ll want to save room for a milkshake. Or a malt. Or a root beer float. Scooped by hand, the shakes are so creamy and thick that they come with a spoon. And old-fashioned sodas are mixed by hand with flavored syrup and soda water.
I recently took my teenage niece to Nau’s for the first time, where she marveled, “It’s just like in the movies…” She was right, except this wasn’t a movie. This was the real deal. The genuine article. So if you want a taste of a nostalgic Austin landmark, Nau’s is the place. And to all you folks who’ve recently moved to town: Welcome. Get to Nau’s and start immersing yourself in Austin 101.
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