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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.

Best pastrami in Texas graduates from farmers markets to its own East Austin deli

Not Your Mum's Pastrami

Not every farmers market is so lucky as to have a stand shelling out freshly sliced hot pastrami. Mum Foods brought the people what they didn’t know they needed — and what they promptly fell in love with — for years at three Austin markets, earning acclaim in Texas Monthly for the “best pastrami in the state” all the way back in 2017, and maintaining a juicy reputation since. It is finally taking up a more permanent residence in the Windsor Park neighborhood at 5811 Manor Road.

Officially Mum Foods Smokehouse and Delicatessen, the new space plans a soft opening on November 10 with “more grand opening celebrations to follow.” Fans should, of course, look into the new brick-and-mortar store, but can still keep Mum Foods in their farmers market routines (i.e. eating fresh, fat-dripping slices right at the stand before stashing the rest and hoping it makes it home).

Yes, the pastrami is still the star, sliced thick with a visible layer of fat intact, more like a barbecue brisket than what’s famous on the East Coast. The new space really hammers that point home with the smokehouse and deli equally emphasized, and favorites from both readily available by the pound or in sandwiches.

The latter include old favorites from the Mum Foods Modern Micro Deli — a former popup at the now-closed East Side Cafe — like the reuben-ish Rachel Sandwich with slaw and sauce, or the smoked chicken salad. These days, breads will be made in-house, too, for sandwiches on sourdough rye, pumpernickel, and beef tallow challah.

The barbecue portion includes Central Texas-style brisket, sausage, beef ribs, and smoked turkey. Rounded out with deli sides (supposedly distinct from barbecue sides), salads, and desserts, all made from local ingredients. A mysterious, mostly empty page on the website devoted to barbecue also says “pig roast” and “coming soon.”

Some other clues may be gleaned from the more explicit, sophisticated catering menu, with confit and smoked beef ribs in the colder seasons, and grilled Lockhart quail or hanger steak in the warmer ones.

Along with all these house specialties, the team is bringing local craft beers, wine, and even a coffee bar using Talisman Coffee products. Keeping pace with the meats, these espressos are also house-roasted from Nicaraguan beans grown on a family farm — not any family, but the owner’s for five generations.

More information will become available to newsletter subscribers, including details about the grand opening. Find Mum Foods by the pound at Texas Farmers Markets at Mueller and Lakeline, as well as the The Barton Creek Farmers Market.

Photo courtesy of BBQ Ramen Tatsu-ya

BBQ Ramen Tatsu-ya quietly opens in former Contigo space in East Austin

Put That In Your Ramen And Smoke It

The Tatsu-ya group is slowly turning Austin into a theme park for Tatsu-ya restaurants, and Austinites are thrilled to wait in those lines. Following the sad closure of Contigo last year, BBQ Ramen Tatsu-ya opened on the sly in the Anchor Lane space earlier this week, getting its feet under it before the guaranteed wave of customers.

Contigo — a very well-known and well-loved restaurant in the MLK neighborhood, known for emphasizing Texas cuisine — let go of its prized patio space in December of 2021 after 10 years of service. The Tatsu-ya group, coming up on its own 10-year milestone this fall, swooped in before it had decided on a name, announcing only that the concept would combine ramen and barbecue.

Word about Tatsu-ya travels fast, but this one actually stayed under wraps. As news in August came about more Ramen Tatsu-ya locations — just from ramen-obsessed Redditors noticing signs going up — curiosity was piqued, but still no announcement was made.

BBQ Ramen Tatsu-ya sticks to the script, not venturing as far from the initial brand as DipDipDip Tatsu-ya or Tiki Tatsu-ya. Still, the menu does get creative as the name promises, and honors Contigo’s memory with a focus on Texas food.

“In Japanese, the word “en” translates to “circle” and means fate or karma, and this new project brings that to mind,” said owner and chef Tatsu Aikawa in a press release. “It feels like coming full-circle from seven years ago when Andrew and I were cooking together in the Contigo kitchen for an episode of ‘BBQ With Franklin’ and throwing it back to 2013 when smoked brisket ramen was born during a shift family meal. This is a serendipitous opportunity and we’re excited to bring new creative energy and serve the community.”

The meat is smoked on-site at 2027 Anchor Lane, for a relatively pared-down menu. Six creative appetizers use Japanese ingredients in a Texan format: the side sampler comes with “amazu slaw, chili cukes, J potato salad, ‘hot’ mustard on mustard greens, pickled shishito, and fermented radish.”

Flip those Texas-Japanese ratios and you’ll get fairly normal-looking ramen bowls with unexpected ingredients like tortilla chips, smoked pecan, and lemon. Of course one of the four bowls features brisket, while others include chicken, roast beef, and the obligatory pork belly.

The meats will likely be the focus for many diners, but most Texans already know what barbecue tastes like. The feat goes much deeper than adding some smoke. One bowl is based on a “chilled chili grapefruit dipping sauce,” and sounds nearly unrecognizable as ramen except that it contains some version of all the right parts — noodles, dipping sauce, meat, a vegetable, and an egg.
“Ramen and Central Texas barbecue are each their own craft that take time to make,” said Aikawa. “There are over 80 hours put into the making of the ingredients in each bowl.”

Perhaps this careful remixing is why BBQ Ramen Tatsu-ya points out that it “politely decline[s] BBQ only.” Cocktails are equally creative, containing mostly Texas favorites like mezcal and tequila, but also surprising additions like smoked beef tallow. (If Tiki Tatsu-ya has taught Austin anything, it’s to trust Tatsu-ya bartending.) The dessert menu is short and simple, offering one banana and black sesame ice cream sandwich.

BBQ Ramen Tatsu-ya is open from 5-10 pm Sunday through Thursday, and 5-11 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with plans to eventually offer lunch as well. The Tatsu-ya group shares that it is hiring for expansions, including new restaurants and a possible lunch service for BBQ Ramen Tatsu-ya. More information is available at bbqramen-tatsuya.com.

Photo courtesy of Slab BBQ & Beer

8 things to know in Austin food right now: New barbecue and beer joint fires up in Sunset Valley

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

Slab BBQ & Beer, known for its piled-high sandwiches, is expanding southward, but not alone. The restaurant and Nomadic Beerworks are teaming up to launch a new location in Sunset Valley, just under the intersection of U.S. 290 and Mopac. A press release describes the new space as “ranch-like,” aiming for the feel of “old school Austin.” The brewing company is starting a cocktail program and periodically switching up what’s on tap from other local brewers. Doors open on October 19 at 6218 Brodie Ln. It will be open Wednesday and Thursday from 4 pm to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 9 pm, and Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm.

A new Texas-Vietnamese food truck fusion is coming from Chef Bianca Frasier, former sous chef at Foreign & Domestic. Opening on September 30 at Gibson Street Bar (1109 South Lamar Blvd.), Bisous serves Southern classics like corn fritters alongside thit kho, braised pork belly, and eggs. The menu is long by truck standards (five appetizers, four entrees, two desserts), and entrees come on rice or Bao buns. The mission promises to balance "the academics of the culinary arts and the reality of everyday life." Bisous is open Tuesday through Thursday, and Sunday, from 4-11 pm; Friday and Saturday from 4 pm to midnight.

Drive-thru P. Terry’s Burger Stand continues to conquer the Austin area with a new location in Kyle, filling the gap between Austin and San Antonio with a fourth pit stop on I-35. Although P. Terry’s is, when it comes down to it, a fast-food chain, it has thoroughly won Austin over with its local business charm, low prices, and high-quality ingredients (including a house-made vegan burger that blows away any similar efforts). It’s open for business now at 18940 I-35 Frontage Road, from 7 am to 11 pm, extending to midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Other news and notes

Houston-born Local Foods made a splash when it opened a permanent Austin eatery in June, and has come around three months later to launch a brunch service. The restaurant is known for its sandwiches, and they’re not veering far for brunch with a peach and ricotta brioche toast, or a smoked salmon sandwich on rye with house pickles and cream cheese. The brunch menu, along with cocktails, will be served Saturdays and Sundays from 9 am to 3 pm.

Well, it’s time for neighborhood favorite The Well, a very chic nutrition-focused eatery, to kick things up a notch. A new happy hour offers nine dishes in diverse styles including vegan queso, smoked deviled eggs, and peach bruschetta. Weekdays from 4-6 pm, diners can try these discounted plates while enjoying half-off cocktails — made with natural sugars and house-made juices, bitters, and more — and select wines.

If it's hard to tear yourself from your fall-scented front porch now that temperatures have dropped, Favor will bring even more autumnal spirit to you with no delivery fees from October 1-18. Add up to four pumpkins by H-E-B Blooms to your cart to waive the fee and enjoy a variety of seasonal gourds, including carving pumpkins. Soak the seeds and toss them on a baking tray with olive oil and other seasonings for a crunchy snack while you carve.

Fever-Tree, the carbonated mixer maker known for its tonic water, is operating a mobile bartending truck from September 30 to October 2, handing out free mocktails to anyone who wants to try. Well-known bartenders from each neighborhood the truck stops in will make creative, high quality drinks, while handing out free four-packs and totes. Check Instagram to see the truck’s schedule through South Congress, Barton Springs, and East 7th Street.

Field Guide Festival, described as a “local food system festival” is creeping closer this November. An earlier event called At The Pass on October 1 introduces some of the ideas and players at St. John Studios. Chefs Philip Speer, Laura Sawicki, Jo Chan, Fiore Tedesco, Nayan Desai, and Giovanni Pujol are giving demonstrations, home cooking tips, and tastes using local ingredients in a one-night mini-festival from 6-9 pm. Tickets ($100) available on Eventbrite.

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2 trailblazing Texans to be honored with history-making award at Austin museum

local history ripples

There are many conceptions of Texas around the world, but most can agree that Texans do have a knack for making history. An annual acknowledgement by the Texas State History Museum Foundation (TSHMF) will celebrate the contributions of two very different Texans who used their leadership skills to coordinate huge wins for their respective teams.

Retired Navy Admiral and former University of Texas System Chancellor William H. McRaven and former NFL quarterback Roger Staubach will be honored with the History-Making Texan Award at the 19th Annual Texas Independence Day Dinner, taking place March 2, 2023, at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.

Photo courtesy of Bullock Museum

The History-Making Texan Award winners will be celebrated at the Bullock on March 2.

McRaven’s contributions and Staubach’s are similar by nature of leading teams — one commanded troops and the other played an integral part in the Dallas Cowboys into a wave of undeniable success — but the similarities mostly stop there.

McRaven led troops to rescue the ransomed Captain Richard Phillips, search for Osama Bin Laden, and ultimately capture Iraqi politician Saddam Hussein. The Four-Star admiral has advised U.S. presidents in his retirement and written several books, mostly imparting wisdom around changing one’s own life, and hopefully the world around them.

Staubach took a more entertainment-based path to greatness, rising to fame as a star player while lifting the rest of the Cowboys with him. The team had nine consecutive winning seasons with Staubach, of 20 total. Aside from giving Texans yet another point of state pride, Staubach spent his retirement and influence on real estate and philanthropy.

“Our recipients reached the pinnacle of accomplishments and eminence in their fields. Importantly, they were selected as honorees based on their personal character and commitment to improving the lives of others,” said dinner chair and TSHMF trustee Lisa Cooley in a press release. “They stand as role models to emulate, and we look forward to sharing their dramatic and inspiring stories with our guests.”

The dinner supports the Bullock Texas State History Museum with ticket sales and underwriting from nearly 500 attendees annually. Austin’s Jan Felts Bullock, wife of Bob Bullock and museum trustee, joins Dallas’ Cooley as honorary chair. In 2022, the award went to pianist James Dick and philanthropist Lyda Hill.

More information about the foundation and the History-Making Texan Award is available at tshmf.org.

SXSW rolls out next round of music showcases for 2023, including 29 Austin artists

300 more

Obviously, 190 music showcases is not enough for South by Southwest. That’s 19 a day? Make it another 301. On December 7, SXSW announced the second round of 2023 showcasing artists, bringing the current total to almost 500 acts performing March 13-18, 2023, in Austin.

Of those newly announced artists, 29 are from Austin, and eight more are from Texas, keeping the local numbers relatively high compared to the whole world. This round contains almost 10 percent Austin bands, while the first round contained nearly 7 percent.

Some of the more widely recognizable Austin acts announced in the second round include:

  • Good Looks: Vocalist and guitarist Tyler Jordan cites an increasingly venerated Austin band, Spoon, as an influence. Good Looks is guitar riff-driven, wistful, and a little Southern in sound.
  • Graham Reynolds (solo), Graham Reynolds & The Golden Arm Trio: A prolific composer and bandleader, Reynolds’ name pops up all over Austin films and awards ceremonies. He appears solo and with an eclectic jazz trio.
  • Kalu & The Electric Joint: Frontman Kalu James arrived in Austin from Nigeria at 18 and has made a strong name for himself (and guitarist Jonathan “JT” Holt) through psychedelic, vaguely jazzy, and decidedly funky jams.
  • Pleasure Venom: One of the rawest acts in town, Pleasure Venom is well-known for punk hits (and honest takes) that don’t hold back. The band is consistently making news between lots of live shows and festival appearances.
  • Primo the Alien: Solo artist and producer Primo the Alien is bringing the 80s back with synthy electro-pop. She attaches it all to a double persona that’s both candid on social media and a delivery system for sensory overload onstage.
  • The Tiarras: A triple-threat band of sisters, The Tiarras are always thinking about family and stepping into their power. They’ve tackled topics like lesbian and Latina representation, and although they’re young, they’re seasoned pros.

The remaining Austin bands in the second round are: Andrea Magee, Big Wy's Brass Band, Billy King & The Bad Bad Bad, Caleb De Casper, Daiistar, Del Castillo, El Combo Oscuro, Font, JM Stevens, Johnny Chops, Marshall Hood, Otis Wilkins, Pink Nasty Meets El Cento, Rett Smith, Rod Gatort, Schatzi, Shooks, S.L. Houser, The Tender Things, Thor & Friends, Trouble in The Streets, and West Texas Exiles.

Showcases are the base unit of the SXSW music experience, so to speak. They may be solo or part of a multi-day affair, especially when sponsored by large entities like Rolling Stone. Attendees with music wristbands get priority, but all wristbands get access if space remains.

Even as the lineup seems to bulge at the seams, a press release states that there are more to come. A full schedule of showcasing artists, where users can select events for their customized schedule, is available at schedule.sxsw.com.

Austin's Central Library announces open call for artists for future gallery exhibits

Beyond Books

People can learn a lot at the library. Besides all the books, magazines, online resources, and in-person programming, Austinites enjoy a buffet of rotating art exhibits that populate the gallery at the Central Library downtown, publicizing local artists and teaching visitors about the culture around them.

Now the ever-changing Austin Public Library is looking for another new exhibit sometime in 2024 between January and September, and inviting artists to apply through February 28.

Good news for artists who crave freedom, and frustrating news for artists who love something to bounce off of: This engagement offers few to no parameters. There is no explicit theme, but the library does claim a mission in a press release about the call for artists.

“The mission of the Central Library Gallery is to support local artists and art communities, raise awareness of contemporary and diverse forms of art, and to provide exhibitions in which a wide variety of identities and interests are represented,” said the release.

The Central Library website lists four current exhibitions: Hannah Hannah lends some expressionist portraits, Release the Puppets tells stories in a classic and playful medium, the Austin American-Statesman explores Austin communities of color through photographs, and a traveling exhibition documents Pride parades of the past.

The call is addressed to “artists, collectives, curators and beyond,” further widening the possibilities, but still restricting them to applicants residing in Texas. Applicants should consider the size of the gallery (2,700 square feet) and a few logistical stipulations, including that pieces may not be hung from the ceiling, and that walls may be painted.

When the jury — made up of local artists and others in the industry — announces a winning proposal in March 2023, the artist will be offered a stipend to complete the work. All project costs are the exhibitor’s responsibility, so this stipend is not unlike an advance, except that the project will not continue to generate revenue at the library.

Applications are open now through 11:59 pm on February 28, 2023. Applicants may make their proposals via submittable.com.