Football & Feasting

Matt’s El Rancho’s famous Bob Armstrong Dip

Football has officially kicked off in Austin with the Longhorns obliterating ULM, my home town college. UT is a historical powerhouse in the game, while ULM is not known for their football prowess (but they do have a ski team that’s won 29 national titles), so the score wasn’t much of a shocker. Coming up next, the Longhorns face Alabama, who is also fresh off an easy victory as well. Neither of these teams’ opponents provided a glimpse of UT or Bama’s weaknesses, so fans at this September 10th matchup will have a front row seat to the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly.

One thing that’s never ugly in Austin is our food scene, and the only bad part of it is choosing where to eat. The UT/Bama game is an 11am kickoff, so you need both breakfast and dinner recommendations. Here’s a short list, but keep in mind that Austin has an abundance of deliciousness and there are many, many more restaurants to choose from, depending on location, food genre, and price.

Barbecue – Unless you’re coming on Thursday, and can dedicate time to the Franklin line on Friday, you aren’t going to get a chance to taste the best ‘cue in town. That line is a party unto itself, a mini tailgate. If you’re not willing to wait, Franklin’s has a rare few dates open this week for pick up orders. Aside from Franklin’s, Austin is blessed with plenty of great barbecue. Head over to Terry Black’s BBQ, la Barbecue, Micklethwait’s, or Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew and you will not be disappointed.

Tacos – You know you love tacos. We all love tacos! Ask an Austinite where the best tacos are and let the fight begin. When I’m looking for tacos in the general area of campus or a short drive away, I’m going to Vaquero Taco (South Texas-style), Nixta Taqueria (fancy-ish, interior-Mexican style), Joe’s Bakery (total Tex-Mex), Juan in a Million (best bang for your buck, more on that later), Marcelino’s Pan y Vino (that carne guisada!) and Torchy’s Tacos (don’t forget the queso), or hit up Veracruz All Natural (migas). Worth the drive: Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ, which is exactly what it sounds like. Their Real Deal Holyfield breakfast taco is life changing.

Better Half’s chicken biscuit sandwich with jalapeno-honey butter and these amazing curry bread & butter pickles.

Breakfast – whether it’s an early riser’s meal or a much needed hangover cure on the day after the game, you can easily find your way to tastiness. Yes, brunch is huge in Austin, but if you just want breakfast, I’ve got you. Cisco’s (open since 1948) is a stellar example of comfort Tex-Mex breakfasts. Juan in a Million and its Don Juan El Taco Grande f/k/a el Taco Feo is a steal of a deal ($6.95). It’s a gigantic portion of potato, egg, bacon and cheese on a flour tortilla. Order two additional tortillas (25 cents each) and a bottomless cup of coffee ($2.95) and I guarantee you won’t need to eat lunch. Two meals worth of food for under $12, and when Juan is on site, he’ll greet you as if you were family. For my biscuit lovers, you want Bird Bird Biscuit (the Queen Beak with its spicy breaded chicken, hot honey and bacon-infused chipotle mayo, or the Biscuitarian veggie sausage, egg and cheese, are top options). There’s always something for everyone at Kerbey Lane Cafe, including vegan/vegetarian fare. JP’s Pancake Company pumps out a mashup of sweet and savory mini-pancakes in a cup, and has a “build your own bowl” option. Decent parking is always appreciated, but when Better Half Coffee & Cocktails also has a solid menu, it’s a no brainer to hit it up for brunch or anytime, really. Acre 41 and Paperboy (pesto toast with eggplant caponata!) are fancier starts to the day and well worth it.

Fine & Fancy – Your parents are coming to the game and you want a fancy meal on Friday night? Make reservations ASAP at The Carillon (Texas lamb shank), Hestia (dry aged wagyu or the halibut), ALC Steaks f/k/a Austin Land & Cattle (known for aged in house beef since 1993, and a stellar happy hour bar menu), Uchi (modern Japanese), Jeffrey’s (French American), Lutie’s (most romantic ambience, ever, with upscale regional fare), or Lenoir (we suggest the chef’s choice menu, with wine pairings). For Italian we favor Vespaio and Juliet.

Pizza – Do not resort to chain pizza when we have the likes of Aviator, Pint House Pizza, Home Slice, Hoboken Pie, Bufalina, Via 313, 40 North, and The Pizza Press. Thin crust, thick crust, NY style, Detroit style, Neopolitan, you want it, we got it.

Mexican – Ask 10 Austinites who serves the best Mexican food and you’ll get 10 different answers. For Tex-Mex, the following restaurants have a solid following due to consistency and quality of food: Maudie’s (open since 1993), Chuy’s (1982), Matt’s El Rancho (1952), El Patio (1954), and Tamale House East (1958). There are many restaurants serving Interior Mexican fare, such as Fonda San Miguel, Suerte and Licha’s Cantina.

Arlo’s magnificent Bac’n Cheezeburger. Photo courtesy of Arlo’s.

Vegan & VegetarianBouldin Creek Cafe is my go to for vegan and vegetarian fare with The Renedict for breakfast, their Grilled Cheese con Hierbas (best grilled cheese, ever) for lunch, and the Veggie Royale with chipotle-pecan pesto for dinner. Hands down, though, Arlo’s has the most phenomenal Bac’n Cheezeburger that will satisfy even the carnivores. Can’t go wrong with The Vegan Nom, Tellus and Tellus Joe, Rebel Cheese (deli sandwiches with their delicious vegan cheese), Possum Pizza, Plow Burger, Citizen Eatery, and Project Pollo (absolutely delicious “chicken tenders”).

Late Night Eats – You know you want one of the Jackelope or Casino El Camino’s burgers, to help soak up the alcohol after you headed straight to 6th Street post-game. 24 Diner has all day breakfast (chicken & waffles, veggie burger to die for), while Magnolia Cafe has their spectacular Mag Mud as well as pancakes and other fare), Ken’s Donuts has kolaches and donuts until after the bars close, while Stars Cafe f/k/a Star Seeds has been serving up huevos rancheros and omelettes since sometime in the 80’s. Many of the city’s 24-hour restaurants have reduced hours post-pandemic, but you know Whataburger always has your back, as does Tyson’s Tacos (Airport Blvd.), Las Cazuelas (open 24 hours on weekends only), Zombie Taco, and if you’re willing to drive out toward the airport, Waffle House.

Did I leave out one of your favorite spots?

Categories: Austin, Barbecue, Breakfast, Comfort Food, Dinner, Downtown Dining, Guadalupe/West Campus, Local, Tex Mex, Vegan, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Austin Food & Wine Festival: Tix Available

UPDATE: The VIP All-In and Single Day tickets are sold out.

Get ’em while they’re hot! Tickets have been released for the November 4-6, 2022 Austin Food & Wine Festival. New this year is the ability to buy single day tickets ($165), a perfect opportunity for those who are unable to attend the full weekend. This season also sees the debut of luxury VIP All-In with a dedicated lounge with seating and air conditioned restrooms, earlier entrance time and dedicated entry lane into the fest along with access to the Friday evening Wurst Weekend Kickoff and Saturday evening Rock Your Taco events. ($725). Other ticket options include the All-In ($625) with access to Wurst Weekend Kickoff and Rock Your Taco included, and the Weekender ($250) which grants entrance into both days of the festival but doesn’t include evening events.

I’m intrigued with the Wurst Weekend Kickoff, which replaced Grillin’ & Chillin’, the chef-guided hands-on dinner party. It’s billed as a Bavarian-styled evening, with beers and brats, and bound to be just as lively as Grillin & Chillin, with less actual work on the part of the attendee. Is it too much to hope for a live oompah band? Break out your lederhosen and dirndls!

The festival will release its talent line up soon, but as someone who has attended religiously, let me say that the cooking demos, tasting sessions, Fire Pit offerings, and nibbles and sips from the many top wine, beer and spirit makers are well worth the ticket price. Additionally, Austin Food & Wine Festival historically highlights local restaurants that are close to opening but haven’t yet begun service, thus giving attendees a first, exclusive taste of the menu to come. It’s also a fantastic way to sample fine dining restaurants without paying for an entire meal, especially from establishments you’d deem “special occasion” spots solely due to the price. Who doesn’t want to know that the quality and execution of their food is worth it, without first dropping bank on a meal? At the Austin Food & Wine Festival, you have the opportunity to try (and try again, if you find it delectable) the restaurant’s “come hither” delicacy, the bite that they’re serving up to both impress and beguile you into becoming a regular patron of their dining room.

One of my favorite offerings from the festival is the tasting sessions, and meet the maker opportunities. I’ll admit to fangirling out over chefs and winemakers, but also deeply appreciate hearing their stories, insight and guidance. The festival has a celebratory atmosphere but the education is not to be brushed aside, as you have the expert directly in front of you, and even the most “formal” tasting sessions (as formal as you can be, in a tent at an outdoor festival) often include a Q&A.

The grand tasting in the central area of the festival always garners the most attention, but the Fire Pits are a close second for fan favorite. Chefs use all manner of cooking with live fire methods to produce carnivorous, pescatarian, and vegetarian fare. Yes, these pits will have lines as the crowd gathers, but they generally move quickly, and you are guaranteed a tasty tidbit while being able to watch the chefs tend to the flames and food.

Please note the hours of the festival will be from 1:30pm – 5:30pm on Saturday and Sunday (gates at 1pm; VIP All-In gates at 12:30pm). Always a sell out, buy your tickets now. Follow the festival in social media channels using their hashtag #AFWFest.

Categories: Austin, Austin Food & Wine Festival, Festival, Food Event, Wine | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Return of Texas French Bread

Image Credit: Texas French Bread

Texas French Bread announced via Facebook and Instagram posts this week that they’re selling bread and pastries at the Texas Farmer’s Market at Lakeline, and hope to be offering items through Farmhouse Delivery in the near future. The bakery suffered a total loss of their brick & mortar at the beginning of 2022 when a fire destroyed the historic building housing the bakery and restaurant.

The iconic European-style bakery has been a mainstay in Austin since 1981, when the Wilcott family first began selling bread wholesale, with their retail venture following shortly afterward. In the early 90’s, Texas French Bread was instrumental in opening up my world to the wonders of, at the time, unfamiliar items such as their heavenly, buttery brioche. It was love at first bite for this former Wonder Bread kid.

Texas French Bread helped pioneer the farm-to-table movement in Austin, showcasing products from local farms, ranches and businesses including Boggy Creek Farm, the city’s oldest urban farm. Their menu changes with the season, taking advantage of peak flavor of produce, and sourcing not only beef, chicken and pork but also rabbit and other game from Texas vendors. Their coq au vin is legendary, as is their decadent Hyde Park Fudge Cake. Austinites can breathe a little easier, knowing that Texas French Bread’s comeback is taking its first steps.

Categories: Austin, Baked Goods, Buy Local, Dessert | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on The Return of Texas French Bread