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Photo by Alison Narro

“This is what ACL used to be like,” said an attendee of Austin Food & Wine Festival near its close on Sunday, snacking on H-E-B nachos as the truck tried to reduce its stock. (It was one of the only vendors still open at 4:30 pm.) One pitmaster was putting the finishing touches on a roast, with a gaggle of sort-of-drunk onlookers leaning against the fence.

The Food & Wine Festival is a fascinating mix of ultra-prepared and laid-back. Wineries and local restaurants set up booths in rows that just keep popping up to foot traffic turning yet another corner. Troughs are filled with ice and canned drinks to grab in passing, and a DJ keeps the mood up for anyone who wants to step under the dance tent. But is the food good? Absolutely.

Chefs show an independent approach to offering samples, stepping away from signature menu items toward more unique recipes. Still, some trends emerged. Saturday, November 5, was swimming in fish, especially raw dishes like ceviche. Licha’s Cantina served an excellent one with a light touch: sweet and milky with chamoy and sesame, avoiding the tougher textures in many mixes.

Sunday, November 6, was, frankly, nearly over when I got there at 3:30 pm, thinking the previous day was a good indication that things would last. One attendee waiting in line for barbecue announced that she preferred the food on Sunday, but the atmosphere on Saturday. If Hillside Farmacy’s contribution — a very salty and tender meat with sweet root veggies — was any indication, this attendee’s rankings were likely shared by many.

Some other highlights from the Austin Food & Wine Festival:
  • Bento Picnic brought king salmon daikon rolls, with cucumber and furikake. The tiny veggie rolls tasted fresh, light, and not overly fishy. Blind Salamander toed that line with smoked salmon in mini seaweed waffle cones. One attendee grew suspicious of the tobiko (flying salmon roe), turning away from what he thought was an insect product. The seaweed cone was delicious and unique, but the highlight was the misunderstanding.
  • The National Audubon Society participated in a talk about grasslands and cattle ranching, revealing to many that the bird protectors certify some ranchers as operating “bird friendly land.” The audience learned that grasslands are even better carbon sinks than forests, because when fires consume them, the stored carbon tends to stay underground instead of being released back into the atmosphere, as it would be by a burning tree.
  • The Cantu Group served delicious and fall-ready “harvest margaritas” in little salt and cinnamon sugar-rimmed paper cups. The recipe is available on Instagram, using Rey Del Mundo Blanco tequila, apple cider, lime juice, and maple syrup. Fans of pumpkin beers (try these with a honey and cinnamon rim, too) will love this refreshing, but mild marg.
  • Casper Fermentables brought a simple dish with especially tasty ingredients — something chefs talk about a lot, but don’t always get to show off in casual environments. Casper’s egg salad is super simple; it just tastes like eggs. But its pinkish-orange color drew attention to the Arkansas-laid eggs, with bigger, darker yolks that gave a bit more richness to the mix. (The “fermentable” was a cute little pickle slice, by the way.)
  • The Nicolett represented that slice of gastronomy that shows foodies tricks they’d never think possible, with candied mezcal. The plain flavor was my favorite (reader, if you’re noticing a trend in my taste, you’re onto something). The mini pucks of dehydrated jelly are sweet, pure in flavor, and delicately crunchy. It wasn’t smoky, as I’d expected. The other flavors — charentais melon and hoja santa — were stronger, but still very demure. The Nicolett doesn’t sell them in bags yet, but they’re getting enough requests to get those cogs turning.
  • One festival producer, who deflected any questions about a restaurant and casually walked off minutes later, produced a delicious beef tongue romesco sloppy joe. It’s the only time I’ve enthusiastically enjoyed that cut of beef, which is usually served in slices, but was this time pulled and served on a bun with pickles. Sloppy joes are not exactly the height of culinary achievement, but this fatty, tomato-forward sandwich was the perfect close to the day.

Aside from the barbecue lines (which were, admittedly, punishing), the Food & Wine fest can be done with little to no waiting. You’ll sacrifice a chance to taste the bites people are really crazy for, but you won’t leave hungry. Going with a buddy helps pass the time, but tasting solo is a fun way to broaden horizons and really think about what’s on the plate. Plus, there are other interesting people doing the same thing. You might leave with a new friend.

Photo courtesy of The Bird & Crown

7 things to know in Austin food right now: Hot chicken concept pops up for one night only

News You Can Eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings

Chef Laila Bazahm, who landed in Austin at Eberly after her own restaurant, Hawker 45, earned international acclaim, is branching out for a one-night-only pop-up on November 19 at Central Machine Works. The Bird & Crown serves hot chicken in three sandwiches inspired by Filipino, Korean, and Indian flavors. These sandwiches have the basics — namely crispy chicken and something to cool things down — with big twists in flavor like pickled papaya slaw, gochujang, and mint chutney. The pop-up opens at 4:30 pm and closes when it sells out.

It’s a lovely idea to spend more time with senior citizens, but not always at the top of everyone’s mind. Plus, is it weird to show up for a meal just because? Chef Stephan Pyles, a staggering 12-time James Beard Award nominee, is opening his next restaurant in a luxury senior living center: the Hacienda at Georgetown. Called Alma, the restaurant’s goal is to bring organic traffic across many age demographics to the community, closing the social gap many seniors feel with the rest of the community and adding real culinary value to the experience.

High-tech shuffleboard bar Electric Shuffle opens on Rainey Street on November 4, making Austin the second US location for this London venue. The proprietary technology makes scoring tournaments easy for large groups, and injects some novelty into an old tradition. This bar is designed to accommodate plans for the whole night, with upscale cocktails and bar food, including seven types of pizza and an elaborate brunch (charcuterie and a whole lot of prosecco). Book at electricshuffleusa.com.

Other news and notes

A “hyper-seasonal” menu hits Local Foods as fall progresses, with at least a dozen new options, many featuring nearby vendors. HiFi Mycology continues to take Austin by storm, this time with lion’s mane mushrooms in a “Fall Power Bowl.” The “Autumn Mac & Cheese” sounds like the ultimate comfort food with Mill-King Mornay and apples, and things take a German twist with Falcon Lake Farms pork schnitzel. To celebrate, take 25 percent off all food and beverage after 4 pm, from now until November 15. Online orders use code “dinner” at localfoodstexas.com.

Loro, the Asian smokehouse and bar by chef Tyson Cole and pitmaster Aaron Franklin, also added some permanent new menu items. Like many barbecue joints, Loro offers an à la carte list of meats, sandwiches, and sides, so these won’t really compete with most favorite orders. That includes Thai peanuts with nam tok and lime leaf, a smoked three bean salad with chilies, a key lime pie, and a caramelized onion-cheddar burger available for a discount during happy hour.

I thought the Christmas memes would start after Thanksgiving, but at 11:59 pm on Halloween, they were already here. Black Rock Coffee Bar is right on schedule, it seems, with a new roster of four holiday drinks, from a caramel and eggnog latte to a more surprising orange marmalade energy drink. Also on the list are a peppermint white mocha and a “Christmas cookie cold brew” with macadamia, vanilla foam, and holiday sprinkles. Heartwarming, but chilled.

November 8 is a big election day, with more than 50 races on some ballots. Voters can fuel up at Kerbey Lane Cafe — but only after voting — if they bring their “I Voted” sticker to claim a free pancake. (Those stickers are for reminding others to vote, so make sure yours is visible even after the pancake is gone.) Early voting ends on Friday, November 4, so any stickers saved from that round are valid to trade in as well. All locations are participating in the voting incentive.

Flint Field TX presents Throwin' Smoke

Throwin’ Smoke is a two-day event, kicking off with “Field and Fire,” an in-field dining experience. Guests can expect a barbecue dinner and musical performances from local Austin musicians. Cocktails will be available for guests 21 and older.

Photo by Joseph Woodley

7 things to know in Austin food right now: Famous Nashville hot chicken restaurant brings the heat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings

Famous Nashville hot chicken restaurant Hattie B's is opening a new Texas location, this time in Austin. The eatery at 2529 S. Lamar Blvd. is slated to open in fall 2023, giving the team ample time to get their third Texas location — and Austin debut — right. In a press release, cofounder Nick Bishop, Jr. said he has always wanted to open in Austin thanks to similar cultures between Austin and Nashville. The Austin location will seat 150 guests, who can test their palate against Nashville-level heat.

Nine months after changing hands, and right on time according to chain president Craig Haley, the barbecue joint Smokey Mo’s is expanding into Round Rock. When the first restaurant opened 22 years ago in Cedar Park, the founders were starting with 30 years of barbecue experience, so this is well-practiced. The new location at 17280 North FM 620 Road, Suite 100, is throwing a party to celebrate on October 25 from 6-8 pm. Stop and enjoy the DJ, photo booth, face painter, games, and giveaways.

Uproariously, the downtown location of Roaring Fork is returning to lunch service for the first time since the pandemic started. Weekdays from 11 am to 5 pm, the restaurant focused on wood fired cooking is offering a long menu covering soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, and more. It’s not much different than the dinner menu (said by director of operations Brad Miller to contain “a little bit of everything”), but it opens up hours of service as the Congress Avenue restaurant sees more traffic.

Other news and notes

The extremely popular blogger Joy the Baker is issuing the 2022 fall and winter edition of her eponymous magazine, and her recipes are going on tour. Restaurants around Texas will be recreating favorite recipes by the baker on October 7, the day of the launch, including Austin’s Bakery Lorraine, which will be selling Tart Lemon Poppy Seed Bars. Also participating are Houston’s Fluff Bake Bar and San Antonio’s Extra Fine.

We should have more holidays around melted cheese, but for now, we have Quesoff, “a celebration of all things melted cheese.” On October 8 from noon to 3 pm, competitors and spectators will gather at The Mohawk to face off in four categories: meaty, spicy, veggie and wild card. Anyone can compete, but this year’s 35-40 teams represent many local restaurants, listed in part on Instagram. Tickets will be available at the door, benefiting the Central Texas Food Bank.

Whether you’re enjoying ACL Fest or saving money and relaxing for the weekend, the Carpenter Hotel has a special hookup for coffee and late-night snacks. The new Lil Carpenter food truck will be open at the hotel for the two festival weekends — October 7-9 and 14-16 — starting coffee service at 9 am (with donuts and breakfast sandwiches) and starting late food service (hot dogs, burgers, fries, and beer) right as the festival starts to wind down, at 9 pm.

Rambler Sparkling Water, a growing default in Austin restaurants and bars, now offers a new flavor, its third in four years: satsuma, a type of mandarin orange. It joins grapefruit, lemon lime, and an unflavored original in the Rambler lineup, easily recognizable for its charming can depicting a Texas spring. The brand uses a proprietary "Texas Limestone Filtration" system and has one of the more carbonated sparkling waters on the market, which gives some proceeds back to environmental protection.

Courtesy of BioBQ

Austin startup developing lab-grown brisket earns national spotlight

Futuristic food

Brisket, a barbecue staple in Texas, is as synonymous with the Lone Star State as the Alamo and oil wells. An Austin company recently recognized as the state’s most innovative startup wants to elevate this barbecue staple to a new high-tech level.

BioBQ is working on technology to bring its lab-created, cell-cultured brisket to the market in 2023. The company made the Bloomberg news service’s new list of the 50 startups to watch in the U.S. — one startup for each state.

The co-founders of BioBQ are Austin native Katie Kam, a vegan with five college degrees (four from the University of Texas and one from Texas A&M University), and Janet Zoldan, a “hardcore carnivore” who’s a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. Kam is the CEO, and Zoldan is the chief science officer.

This kind of meat is genuine animal meat that’s produced by cultivating animal cells in a lab, according to the Good Food Institute.

“This production method eliminates the need to raise and farm animals for food. Cultivated meat is made of the same cell types arranged in the same or similar structure as animal tissues, thus replicating the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat,” the institute says.

It turns that before becoming a vegan, Kam worked at the now-closed BB’s Smokehouse in Northwest Austin as a high school student. She’d chow down on sauce-slathered brisket and banana pudding during on-the-job breaks.

“But then over time, as I learned more about factory farming and could no longer make the distinction between my dogs and cats I loved and the animals that were on my plate, I decided to become vegan,” Kam writes on the BioBQ website.

Hearing about the 2013 rollout of the first cell-cultured hamburger set Kam off on her path toward starting BioBQ in 2018. Zoldan joined the startup as co-founder the following year.

Now, BioBQ aims to be the first company in the world to sell brisket and other barbecue meats, such as jerky, made from cultured cells rather than slaughtered animals.

According to BioBQ’s profile on the Crunchbase website, the startup relies on proprietary technology to efficiently produce meat products in weeks rather than the year or more it takes to raise and slaughter cattle. This process “allows control of meat content and taste, reduces environmental impacts of meat production, and takes BBQ to the next tasty, sustainable level consumers want,” the profile says.

In 2020, Texas Monthly writer Daniel Vaughn questioned BioBQ’s premise.

He wrote that “there is something about the idea of lab-grown brisket that keeps bothering me, and it has nothing to do with science fiction. If you could design any cut of beef from scratch, why choose one that’s so difficult to make delicious? Why not a whole steer’s worth of ribeyes?”

Kam offered a very entrepreneur-like response.

“I’m from Austin, and I know that brisket’s kind of a big deal here,” Kam told Vaughn. “It seemed like a great, challenging meat to demonstrate this technology working.”

Meanwhile, Zoldan came up with a more marketing-slanted reaction to Vaughn’s bewilderment.

“I don’t think cell-based meats will take over the market, but I think there’s a place for it on the market,” Zoldan she told Vaughn.

7 things to know in Austin food right now: Amy's Ice Creams rolls into Round Rock

News You Can Eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings

More Amy’s Ice Creams mean more chances at seeing the best rotating flavors, and now Round Rock gets to join in on the fun. A new location is planned for Round Rock in 2023 (proposed at 2120 B Mays Street), aiming for an April opening. It will be the first in the area, and the farthest north since the addition of the Cedar Park location. The Austin-based chain also has locations in Houston and San Antonio, and even pulls off nationwide shipping.

SXSE Food Co. (pronounced “sexy”) was Austin’s Laotian food destination at 4th Tap Brewing Cooperative until its host closed in July. Now the food truck is operating a new residency at Vacancy Brewing in South Austin. Chef Bob Somsith is keeping up his reservation-only chef’s table, offering off-menu dishes paired with beers by Vacancy. SXSE Food Co. is open Monday, Thursday, and Friday from 4 pm to 10 pm; Saturday 12 pm to 10 pm, and Sunday 12 pm to 7 pm.

Other news and notes

Just as Austin is not like all of Texas, a single barrel whiskey is not like every batch of that product — at least, theoretically. Test your taste buds at Jack Allen’s Kitchen, which maintains an extensive collection of single barrel selections, and recently became the first Central Texas restaurant to carry Still Austin’s new Single Barrel Bourbon. Partners in the Still Austin program sample and select their own barrels, so this is, literally, a unique experience.

Hispanic Heritage Month will be here on September 15, and like many Hispanic-owned businesses in Austin, The Salty is ready to represent. The donut shop already offers a horchata donut as part of the regular menu (topped with toasted cinnamon-meringue), but it’s adding two special items in all its locations. The flan pastelito is not a donut, but a puff pastry filled with flan custard, and the Cold Brew con Leche is, well … two great things in a cup.

Also celebrating Latinx Heritage Month — the version Yelp aligns with — the local ratings website picked a Latinx-owned “Ones to Watch” list, including Austin’s Stay While Coffee. The business only has eight reviews, but they all offer a glowing five stars. Reviewers mention alternative milks (and cereal milk!), the cuteness of the truly tiny store, and its affiliation with the Little Gay Shop, where it is located.

College football fans coming in from the west should consider a pit stop at Meridian 98, part of Sonesta Bee Cave. Anyone who visits wearing burnt orange on any game day during the regular season will receive a free Horns Up Margarita. Enjoy the drink on the patio, and then head out to the game. The rooftop lounge focuses on seasonal dishes with local ingredients sourced from Texas farms and fishermen.

The Muny Conservancy protects the nearly century-old Lions Municipal Golf Course, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its history as the first desegregated public golf course in the South. A fundraising tournament and party on September 9 makes use of the green space for a four-player scramble followed by a barbecue, a silent auction, and live music by Jonathan Tyler. For more information on schedules and tickets, visit themunyconservancy.com.

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H-E-B unveils merch for super fans, plus more hot Austin headlines

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. H-E-B unveils merchandise for brand super fans, available exclusively at one store. Kerrville was chosen to launch the company's new line of H-E-B-branded merchandise in celebration of its 117th anniversary.

2. Austin bar transforms into a magical winter wonderland this holiday season. Don your favorite elf socks and meet the lovely citizens of “Tinseltown.”

3. Draft 'Vision Plan' for Zilker Park unveils land bridge and more possibilities. Austinites are invited to comment on a vision plan that will inform the future of Zilker Park.

4. Austin ranks among world’s 100 best cities in prestigious new report. Austin is the No. 43 best city in the world, according to a new study. (And yes, we beat Dallas.)

5. Austin airport launches new SkySquad travel assistants in time for the holiday rush. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is keeping lines moving during a period of heavy travel with a new team of airport assistants.

Steven Spielberg opens up personal history in The Fabelmans

Movie Review

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.

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The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans

Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta acquires award-winning California resort

tilman goes laguna

Fans of Tilman Fertitta's nationwide hospitality brands are in for a treat. The Billion Dollar Buyer has just secured an award-winning, 30-acre resort in sunny Southern California.

Fertitta has purchased the acclaimed Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel, a premier beachfront property in the sunny SoCal getaway destination. Notably, the Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel is one of only six hotels in the U.S. to score the Forbes Triple Five-Star hotel status. The Montage has also been included among Travel + Leisure’s Top Hotels in the World.

Image courtesy of Montage Laguna Beach

Fertitta's newest purchase overlooks the ocean in Laguna Beach.

“I am truly thrilled to acquire this world-renowned property and add one of America’s most iconic trophy resorts to our luxury hotel portfolio,” Fertitta noted in a statement. “I have been traveling to Laguna Beach for over 30 years. It is one of my favorite places to visit and one of the most beautiful areas in the world. The Montage is a stunning oceanfront property and one of the premier hotel brands in the world.”

Press materials didn't list the property purchase price, but Law360 reports that the deal is in excess of $660 million.

The Craftsman-style resort sits on a coastal bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Impressive amenities are highlighted by the 20,000-square-foot Spa Montage, which offers eucalyptus steam rooms, dry redwood saunas, ocean air whirlpools, fireplace lounges, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a movement studio, and a lap pool.

More outdoor fun includes two pools and direct beach access, a museum-quality fine art collection, and more than 20,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, per press materials.

Every resident space — the 260 guestrooms, including 60 suites, beach bungalow-style rooms, and multi-bedroom villas — boast stunning views of the Pacific.

Dining destinations offer chef-driven interpretations of coastal California flavors inspired by region. The property is designated and included in the distinctive Legend Collection of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

“We are thrilled that Tilman is the new owner of this one-of-a-kind property and welcome him into the Montage family,” said Alan Fuerstman, founder, CEO, and chairman of Montage International. Mary Rogers, the Montage's GM added, “The staff is thrilled to be working with Tilman. Everyone here at the property is tremendously excited about his purchase and look forward to continuing to provide a world-class experience to all of our guests."

Aside from his palatial Post Oak Hotel in Houston, Fertitta also owns 14 other hotel properties around the country, including the award-winning San Luis Resort in Galveston, plus five popular Golden Nugget casino and hotel locations.

Another feather in Fertitta’s luxury portfolio cap is the iconic Huntting Inn, one of the most charming and historic locales in East Hampton, New York.

No stranger to California, Fertitta's presence there includes Catch Seafood and Catch Steak, Mastro’s Ocean Club and Mastro’s Steakhouse, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, The Palm, and more — all part of his 60 brands and more than 600 concepts nationwide.