With Austin's culinary scene constantly on the rise, now's the time to celebrate our tasty town. But in the midst of so many new hotspots popping up down south and on the east side, we sometimes forget about the gems found in the downtown corridor.
Joseph McMahan aims to change that with his new Austin Culinary Crawl, a one-night event where 100 foodies and friends will hop onto charter buses to explore some of downtown Austin's most notable restaurants. The crawl, which takes place Thursday, February 7, will take attendees to a selection of three restaurants, which will be announced that night. At each, guests will be served a full meal — yes, appetizer, entree and dessert — and get to chat with the chef or owner about the fare.
McMahan, who runs traveler concierge service Sherpalux, hopes the Culinary Crawl will introduce locals to some of the unique, eclectic food experiences Austin has to offer. "I find that the some locals either don’t have the time or know about all that that the city has to offer," he says. But the experience is about more than just food.
"It’s just as much about getting out with some friends, enjoying a night out on the town and the convenience of not having to plan any of it or worry about reservations, parking or transportation," he continues. We caught up with McMahan ahead of the event to get the details on the first ever Austin Culinary Crawl, benefiting The Austin Children's Shelter.
CultureMap: Where did you get the idea for the Culinary Crawl?
Joseph McMahan: The idea began a few years ago when I attended a fundraising event out in West Texas that was hosted by a couple of restaurateurs. I had an incredible time and loved experiencing how the evening transformed over time. Since many people didn’t know each other, the evening began fairly calm, but by the end of the night everyone was best friends and having a ball!
I quickly realized that many people love the idea of sampling multiple restaurants in one evening. It definitely becomes more of an experience versus just going out to dinner. A few good drinks and some music at the end of the night always help as well!
CM: How did you choose the restaurants for the first event?
JM: The restaurants I’ve chosen (Pelon’s, Russian House, Imperia, Fino, Garrido’s and Swift’s Attic) to participate in the event have all proven to provide a wonderful dining experience for their guests. The food obviously needs to be great, but the environment and service is just as important.
CM: What's different about going on the crawl than visiting the restaurant on your own?
JM: From the moment the bus departs, your experience is going to be quite different than normal, because you will be dining with 50 of your friends (well, they will be your friends by the end of the night)! I’ve observed on my outings that when a large group of people are moving around town and dining together it’s difficult to not be the envy of others observing from afar.
Knowing you are part of the party is a great feeling. Specifically though, each restaurant owner and/or chef will visit with the group to not only discuss the menu, but also share information about the restaurant and why it’s unique.
CM: How will the evening progress?
JM: Sign-in begins at 5:45 p.m. inside the W Hotel at Trace Restaurant and the buses will depart promptly at 6:30 p.m. The environment on the bus will be very festive so we are encouraging everyone to get there early! Each bus will be going to three restaurants and no one will know at which restaurants they will be dining until the bus arrives. After dessert, the two buses will return to the W Hotel prior to 10:00 p.m., and for those looking to continue the party, that is definitely an option!
CM: I hear there's a big after party at the W…
JM: The after party is designed to bring everyone back together. The after party is open to everyone and a specialty cocktail is prepared and offered at a discount. A DJ will be spinning until the late hours providing for a fun, party atmosphere! The Living Room at the W also provides the perfect setting if the guests wish for a quiet wind down to cap off the evening.
CM: What plans can you unveil for the next Austin Culinary Crawl?
JM: The plan is to offer this entertaining event every quarter so the next Austin Culinary Crawl will be in the spring (May) and will benefiting the Austin Parks Foundation. The summer and fall events will be benefiting Austin Pets Alive! and the Capital Area Food Bank.
My plan is to mix up the restaurants and after party locations each time to keep it fresh and provide for a one-of-a-kind experience for the guests each quarter. I’m already looking forward to the spring event since we will be able to take advantage of Austin’s awesome outdoor venues.
Tickets to the Austin Culinary Crawl are available for $65 per person. Ticket includes food and transportation; liquor not included.