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Pino at the pit

Wine & Swine returns with a sold-out celebration and top talent from Austin's best kitchens

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Barley Swine team plating. RL Reeves, Jr.
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Reds, whites and sparkling wines were served on the warm November afternoon.   RL Reeves, Jr.
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Tink Pinkard. RL Reeves, Jr.
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Wine and Swine took place at Pioneer Farms on Sunday, Nov. 4. RL Reeves, Jr.
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Chef Alma Alcocer Thomas of Alma's RL Reeves, Jr.
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Chef Jack Gilmore of Jack Allen's Kitchen RL Reeves, Jr.
austin photo: news_russell_wine_swine
RL Reeves, Jr.
austin photo: news_russell_wine_swine
austin photo: news_russell_wine_swine
austin photo: news_russell_wine_swine
austin photo: news_russell_wine_swine
austin photo: news_russell_wine_swine
austin photo: news_russell_wine_swine
austin photo: news_russell_wine_swine

I ate 18 plates of food on Sunday, thanks to Austin Food and Wine Alliance's Wine & Swine fundraiser. When I began planning my trip to Wine & Swine, held at Pioneer Farms, I noted that the venue promised an “1853 Walnut Creek Greenbelt.”

Austin in 1853 looked quite a bit different than Austin does today: The young city had officially become the state capital just seven years earlier, and that august year also saw the construction of the town’s capitol building at the head of Congress Avenue. In 1853, Austin’s population was somewhere north of seven hundred people.

 Holmes had smoked his pig over old mesquite for 20 hours before its denouement in a rich broth. I nearly wept. The ol’ West Texas boy definitely knows his way around a smoker. 

The Berkshire hog, the breed of choice for the chefs participating in this second edition of Wine & Swine — and the breed that famously made the trip across the pond to improve the American breeding stock — had only been in North America for 30 years at the time.

If Sunday's bounty was any indication, the gentlemen responsible for this maneuver were farsighted. Very farsighted.

The 18 chefs cooking at Wine & Swine composed a murderer’s row of the top talent in Austin’s kitchens. I was particularly interested in what diabolical offering the old lion, Jack Gilmore, would be offering as his Jack Allen’s Kitchen is one of my favorite restaurants in town. Gilmore knocked it out of the park with Roasted Pig and Grits with Vegetable Ragout, the rich buttery pork lounging on a bed of Texas grits. Heaven.

Pork Stew with Maker’s Mark Glazed Pork and Chicharon from chef James Holmes at Olivia was next. Holmes had smoked his pig over old mesquite for 20 hours before its denouement in a rich broth. I nearly wept. The ol’ West Texas boy definitely knows his way around a smoker.

Next up was Ben Hightower’s Cochon De Lait. The servers looked like they wanted to strangle me when I requested it without bread, but with 18 plates of food to eat you’ve got to cut corners somewhere, and I did not want bread sating me before I’d made my full rounds.

John Bullington of Alamo Drafthouse was serving Salmuera Pork with Posole. In the winter of the year I’m fueled largely by bourbon and posole, so I was intrigued. I’ve never thought of the Drafthouse as a viable food source, but Bullington did a good job on this dish — not earthshaking but satisfying.

Then I got dry-gulched. Let’s just say some cooks neglected their duties and left their A game at the house.

Back on track, John Bates of Noble Pig restored my faith with a splendid mini Porchetta and Winter Squash sandwich. Of particular note was the bread: soft and earthy, it displayed the hand of skilled baker.

The rest of the afternoon came over me in a sweet rush of meat and grapes. I ate bread from the oven of David Norman, pork belly from the Alto Shaam of Josh Watkins, pecan pie from the oven of Round Top's Bud Royer and a host of wines from Pine Ridge Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars and Seghesio Family Vineyards.

Wine and Swine is a bacchanal. Too many parties of this stripe fall short by overselling tickets or not providing the crucial underpinnings that make the festival a success for pleasure seekers. But on this warm autumn day in Texas, Austin Food and Wine Alliance put on a brilliant spectacle that saw Josh Watkins of The Carillon best 17 of his fellow chefs with a mind-bendingly delicious tare glazed pork belly and ribs.

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Wine & Swine is a fundraiser for the Austin Food and Wine Alliance, benefiting its culinary grant program.

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