This year’s Austin Food & Wine Festival was most decidedly a phenomenal success. Moving the location from Auditorium Shores to Butler Park meant less dust, as the grass by Lady Bird Lake had suffered from a series of highly attended events in the months leading up to the AFW Fest. The Taste of Texas and Rock Your Taco events at Republic Square Park were equal success, with food tents lining the perimeter, and the center stage featuring live music. Volunteers were helpful, and friendly, and the entire weekend felt like a giant love letter from Austin to the chefs, restaurants, food trucks, sommeliers and industry people who make up our food scene. At Friday night’s Taste of Texas, several dishes are stand outs in my memory. I’ve never had more flavorful and rich meatballs than Chris Shepherd’s creation. The chef and owner of Houston’s Underbelly served a Wagyu meatball with a grapefruit barbecue sauce that made my tastebuds sing out for more, more, more. I giddily took advantage of a photo op with Chris, but with an iPhone and dark lighting, it’s not a high quality picture.
Danny Trace (Brennan’s of Houston) had me at one bite with his fried shrimp coated liberally with Crystal Hot Sauce. I won’t tell you how many times I visited his tent, I’ll only say that it rivaled the number of times I stopped for a barbecued oyster at the Olivia tent. Oh, James Holmes, that oyster was amazing!
The main festival had plenty of shaded areas and seating, with the exception being the massive individual grilling stations in the Grilling Area and the Fire Pit, where chefs took turns using various methods of smoking, grilling and roasting over open pits, closed pits and my coveted item, the Big Green Egg. The Fire Pit was an accessible area, which made it very easy for me to friendly-stalk my favorite San Antonio chef, Jason Dady.
The Grand Tasting did not disappoint. I tried many sips of wines that I’d never enjoyed before, and some that I didn’t enjoy at the time, either. Each table held a bucket for discarding the remainder of a drink, and I used them often. My concern over food-to-vino ratio was lifted after I sampled enough small bites to make a full meal. On Saturday, the highlight of my tasting was a smoked beet taco from Hickory Street. The components complimented each other without overwhelming, with a medley of flavors coming together into a memorable and craveable taco. Delysia Chocolatier rocked my world with their Bloody Mary truffle on Sunday. There were many restaurants offering mouthwatering creations, and I washed it all down with Topo Chico between wine sips.
Veuve Clicquot brought their VC Airstream and cases of bubbly to the festival. There is nothing better than kicking off your festival day with a glass of bubbly!
I’ll post more about Andrew Zimmern, and the Rock Your Taco event, soon. For anyone who did not attend this year’s festival, and is contemplating buying tickets for next year, I’ll offer my opinion that it is well worth the price of admission. Entertaining, educational, and a delight for palate and plate.