Super Bowl 51 descends on one of the country’s best food cities (Houston) this weekend. In honor of the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, I’ve put together a list of Austin restaurants where you can get a taste of the two team’s regions. The following dishes nod to the foodways of Georgia and New England.
From shrimp to fried chicken and grits, Fixre covers a lot of food beloved in Georgia. (Contributed by Fixe)
I will slowly make my way around Austin over the next several weeks, sampling some of the city’s notable quesos. I will post about what I’ve seen and eaten here as part of this Queso the Mondays series. I have a list of about 30 restaurants, and hopefully it includes some of your favorites. But if there is a place you think I should know about, holler in the comments.
When people think of queso, they probably imagine something like this offering from Azul Tequila. This is the kind of queso you could find at generic Mexican restaurants across the country. The mix, which I assume used Velveeta as its base, was milky, thick and somewhat bland. The poblano peppers added some texture, but no heat. Overall score: 3/10
Considering that there is such attention to detail given to process and scratch cooking at this taqueria from the owners of Azul Tequila, it’s a little surprising there’s not more effort given to queso. This one had a smoother and thinner consistency than its sister down the street, with just a few soft green peppers floating around. Again, no real heat to speak of. The chips were the best of this week’s quartet, with a bubbled finish and a gentle shatter. Overall score: 4/10
This queso was separating on top and had lumpy consistency throughout. Raw green peppers and weathered cilantro didn’t do much to express themselves, and the queso tasted like most of its seasoning came from garlic salt. An odd choice. Bonus points for the doily. Overall score: 2/10
Maybe they should change the name to Torchy’s Queso. The cheese dip that helped put the Austin-based chain on the map is still the best thing at the restaurant. A ’90s squiggle of Diablo Sauce (made with fire-roasted habanero peppers, tomato and vinegar) puts some acidic sting in this queso that is colored with flecks of skin from roasted green chilies that spread their heat throughout. A minor quibble: The cilantro and guacamole could stand out more in their roles of floral and fatty salve. The chips came out warm and salted, a nice touch. But though the menu says “homemade chips,” we were told the chips come from Austin’s own El Milagro. Overall score: 8.5/10
The Austin Film Society will open its own arthouse theater in the space formerly known as Marchesa Hall and Theater (6226 Middle Fiskville Road) in early May, and is bringing in a chef with an impressive resume to guide their food and beverage offerings.
Chef Jorge Hernández, who has previously served as chef de cuisine at Qui and executive sous chef for José Ramón Andrés at Minibar in Washington D.C., will oversee the menu creation and executive at the AFS Cinema.
The menu, which will riff on cinema classics, will include sustainably raised pork hot dogs; cheese and charcuterie plates; small-batch, heirloom popcorn; and local veggies with house-made dips. The food will be counter-service style, with guests allowed to take their food into the theater or eat outside of the screening salon. The full-service bar will serve beer, wine and cocktails like a rum and Coke made with smoked gum syrup.
“Watching a great film, talking about it with friends afterwards, it’s such a great way to create memories. We want the food and drink to reinforce that experience,” said Jorge Hernández . He continues, “we don’t think your theater fare should be a stale afterthought, and at AFS it definitely won’t be.”
Celebrate the year of the rooster with specials at Chinese restaurants in Austin.
General Tso’Boy. 11501 Rock Rose #152, 512-339-6959, generaltsoboy.com. The sandwich lovers in North Austin will a traditional pineapple cake soft serve sundae topped with pineapple caramel (a collab with pastry chef Janina O’leary), as well as spicy pork wonton soup and spicy pork chili wontons, folded in a “prosperity” fold, as seen in classic Chinese New Year traditions.
Old Thousand. 1000 E. 11th St. 737-222-6637, oldthousandatx.com. The new Chinese restaurant in East Austin will serve a six-course prix fixe menu for two ($80) and an eight-course menu for four guests ($160). The dishes include spicy cucumber salad; Lion’s head meatball soup, salt-and-pepper crab, OT clay pot with pork belly, Chinese sausage, seasonal mushrooms, duck confit and chili-soy, and Cantonese roasted chicken.
Wu Chow. 500 W. Fifth St. 512-476- 2469, wuchowaustin.com. The upmarket Chinese restaurant in the IBC Bank building downtown will serve a prix fixe dinner on Saturday night for $88 per person. The special menu, which includes Sichuan lobster, red-cooked braised pork shank, Beijing roast duck with crispy skin, and Sichuan-braised spicy white seabass, will only be available for parties of six or more, and the entire table must participate. On Sunday evening the restaurant will host a party from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. with complimentary passed appetizers from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., a traditional lion dance at 8 p.m., and drink specials.
The founders of the forthcoming Hot Luck festival plan to blend world-class culinary talent, live music and a DIY Austin aesthetic for an extended weekend of serious fun and eats from people who don’t want anybody taking themselves too seriously.
James Beard Award winner Aaron Franklin, Fun Fun Fun Fest co-founder James Moody and Mike Thelin, co-founder of the food festival Feast Portland, have wedded their particular areas of expertise in food, music and production to form the event that will take place May 18-21 in Austin.
While it would be fair to call Hot Luck a festival, Moody uses lingo that resonates closely with many Texans to describe the multi-day event.
“It’s certainly going to be a big ol’ get-together. This is going to feel like the best-run tailgate you’ve ever been to. It’s going to be super organized behind the curtain, but it doesn’t feel that way. And it’s definitely ‘all are welcome,’” Moody said of the vibe, referencing the motto of the Mohawk, a bar and live music venue he co-founded in Austin 11 years ago.
Hot Luck, its name evoking a potluck dinner and the heat that fuels Franklin’s trademark barbecue, as well as a subtle nod to legendary Texan Willie Nelson’s stomping grounds, will center around a main event featuring live-fire cooking. But the central activity is just the hub of a wheel that will spin off into multiple overlapping food and music events throughout the day and night, featuring about 35 chefs and friends of Franklin from Texas and across the country (and maybe a couple of international names) at 8 to 10 venues around town.
The founders want Hot Luck to mirror Feast in that there will be a sort of choose-your-own adventure nature to the fest, with people able to select activities a la carte throughout the weekend instead of being offered only one or two major attractions each day.
“A la carte ticketing allows an event to be engaged with by a wider and more diverse audience,” Thelin said. “If you want to buy an all-in pass to every Hot Luck event, there will be that option. But if you want to go to just one or two things, and spend the rest of your time enjoying the city, the region and all of the amazing restaurants, you can do that too.”
The one thing all of the Hot Luck events will have in common? A laid-back vibe and very little pomp and ceremony.
“The thing that is going to be super memorable about it is having amazing, world-class food on a paper plate,” Moody said. “And these chefs want to have a good time. They want to be around their peers and relax.”
“It’s meant to be kind of how we roll here in Austin …. Just hanging out drinking beers,” Franklin added.
And just because the man most synonymous with smoked meat in Central Texas is one of the founders, don’t expect Hot Luck to be a barbecue festival. Franklin said there may only be one barbecue cook on the invite list.
“I want to get people a little bit out of their comfort zones, but I really just want people to have fun and be able to be creative,” said Franklin, who will weld some custom cookery for the event. “People won’t feel pinned into a six-foot table and tasting portions. This is interactive.”
Moody and Franklin, who was the drummer in the visceral rock band Those Peabodys before being anointed the king of Central Texas barbecue, will curate the live music together, and they intend to program a schedule of shows that will have a little something for all musical tastes.
“We want the curation of music to be as thoughtful as the curation of the chefs,” Moody said.
Tickets for Hot Luck are slated to go on sale at the end of February. Pricing and specifics have not been finalized, but organizers said there will be a weekend package sold, as well as a la carte ticketing options. While some of the details around programming remain fluid, the founders, who have discussed creating such an event for years, are in tune with their guiding ethos.
“It’s much like when Franklin Barbecue started. That was super DIY. We made that place exactly how we wanted it; didn’t ask anyone. Don’t care, we’re doing what we want to do. You stand in line, you make friends, you drink some beers, you take your family there, you hang out, and you have a great time. And the hospitality level is hopefully off the charts,” Franklin said. “It’s not just about food; it’s about that whole experience.”
Update: Well, apparently I am not as perspicacious as I thought. That or the clever Isbell’s Tweet was just too abstruse for me to parse. Or, maybe I just wasn’t deep enough into the language of the Internet this morning to pick up on it. But, an astute friend pointed out that Isbell’s Tweet to Chuy’s about sending in the Foodies to fix the “horrible carnitas” was very likely a reference to Trump’s threat to “send in the Feds” to fix “the horrible carnage” in Chicago. Seems pretty obvious now in retrospect. Well played, Mr. Isbell. I now have egg on my face and will go back to the corner of the Internet that is home to slow-witted restaurant critics. That is why he makes much more money with his words than I do.
In another sign that social media can lead to change big and small, brilliant singer-songwriter Jason Isbell may have just improved the state of Chuy’s carnitas. The Alabama native took to Twitter and, with tongue-in-cheek, called out Chuy’s for their dry carnitas. If he didn’t get redress, the former Drive-By Trucker threatened to “send in the Foodies.”
Isbell didn’t mention a specific Chuy’s location, though there are two in Alabama, so he could have been writing from any number of states. Here’s hoping the carnitas make an appearance in a future tune. For the record: I’ve never tried the Chuy’s carnitas. Also, let the clever Southern gentleman’s behavior be a lesson: you catch more flies with humor-tinged honey than vinegar.
For a revealing, funny and deeply personal interview (as well as a great Billy Powell impression) with Isbell, check out his appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast below.
This news could be bad for your waistline. Or mine, anyway. Refined Southern restaurant Olamaie has teamed with UberEats to deliver their famous, off-menu biscuits to Austin residents on weekday mornings. The biscuits, all wispy clouds beneath a firm but yielding exterior, are available via the delivery app Monday-Friday beginning at 8:30 a.m. And, yes, they come with the ethereal honey-butter that could make gravel taste good.
Additionally, UberEats now delivers Olamaie lunches from 10 a.m. through 1:30 p.m. This news comes just a few weeks after Olamaie suspended lunch service at the restaurant on San Antonio Street. The lunch menu includes smoked Dewberry Hills Farm chicken salad, pimento cheese sandwich, their revival version of a Mississippi Slugburger and more.