Austin Eats: ACL Festival 2013 on a Plate

photo by Ryan Smith

photo by Ryan Smith

In this special feature to TheBlueIndian.com, contributing writer and resident culinary expert Ryan Smith gives the full spread on one of main facets that makes ACL Festival so unique: the food. Enjoy this mouth-watering day-by-day description of Ryan’s culinary journey though Austin Eats – the munching grounds for all of ACL 2013, as well as eateries and bars throughout downtown Austin. 

Moments after arriving at the festival which I had been looking forward to attending since I purchased the tickets (nearly 6 months prior), I realized that skinny jeans may have been a poor choice for outfit choice.  This is not only because of the Texas heat, which I assure you is a force to be reckoned with, but because of the vast array of restaurants and food trucks that the Austin Eats section of the park has to offer.  For anyone who’s been to a music festival, the expectation of good food being readily available within the confines of the park is usually pretty laughable. However, in a town that takes their food as seriously as Austin does, good food is not only readily available, but it was truthfully serious competition for music I was originally there to witness. I managed to partake in thirteen of these eateries in just three days both within the festival grounds and outside of it. Judge me if you want to. Below is a description of my daily intake. If you ever find yourself in Austin, and you really should, this is where and what you want to eat as well as drink.

Day 1: The Seedling Truck, Chef Love’s Woodshed Smokehouse, East Side King, Via 313 Pizza, and The White Horse

10/3: Dish 1: Seedling Truck. Arugula & Pickled Carrot Salad. $7. 3 stars.

Austin like Texas as a whole prides itself in being self-sufficient. Accordingly, sourcing ingredients from local farms plays a large role in the Austin culinary scene and it is more than apparent in this particular dish. The arugula itself is most certainly farm fresh. Arugula that you find in your local grocery will be routine in shape and size and will have a mild peppery quality to it. The greenery in this salad existed in a variety of shapes and sizes and had a very strong peppery quality to it, which is indicative of this kind of bitter green when it is fresh. The carrots were most likely quick pickled as the carrots were still very crunchy and had a lingering strong vinegar taste to them; as opposed to having a softer center and a softer vinegar flavor. It was dressed with a little Olive Oil over top and served with Candied Walnuts and Fresh Goat Cheese. The cheese did well to balance out the sourness of the carrots as the walnuts did to balance out the greens. However, this salad left me wanting. Maybe if it were better dressed the dish would have been a bit less disjointed.

XXX - photo by Ryan Smith

Rabbit & Rattlesnake Sausage – photo by Ryan Smith

10/3: Dish 2: Chef Love’s Woodshed Smokehouse. Rabbit & Rattlesnake Sausage. $8. 4 stars.

Fun fact, this is not the first time I have eaten rattlesnake (well legally I guess it was). Anyways, moving on. The texture is that of most any other bratwurst you’re likely to come across. Oddly enough, the flavor profiles of both the rattler and rabbit work very well together. The rabbit has a lightly sweet flavor that gives way to the rattler’s gamey nearly offal flavor profile much like that of bone marrow. The meat has been mixed with fennel, chives, and I’m guessing raw garlic to round it out. The floral quality of the fennel really lends to elevate the sweetness of the rabbit and it leaves a floral mouthwatering type of effect calling you back for another bite.  It is served with whole grain mustard and house made butter pickles. The pickles do well to cleanse the palette between bites just as the mustard compliments the earth tones found in the meat.

10/3: Dish 3: East Side King. Thai Chicken Karaage Buns. $8. Por Qui’s Buns. $7. Beet Fries. $7. 5 stars.

Reason #1 you should visit Austin among many, every bar has a food truck ATTACHED TO IT. Wait, so you’re saying that time when I most want food, I don’t have to drive to go get it? I can just walk out back and eat like a king?  That’s exactly it. The East Side King is a food truck behind the Liberty Bar which is a dive bar on the East Side of town that features one of my FAVORITE things: steamed buns. Did I get caught up in the heat of the moment and order 3 things? You’re damn right. I was there with my friend and host Megan though, so don’t get all judge-y on my indulgences just yet, alright?

The Thai Chicken buns have a deep fried chicken thigh with Siracha mayo, fresh basil, cilantro, mint, onion, and jalapeño sandwiched in a bun so soft it could be used as a pillow. I’m tempted to caress it and press it against my cheek rather than eat it, but I’m with company so I figured I’d better not. The   Poor Qui’s Buns are 2 more buns for just another $7.  They are roasted pork belly in steamed buns, hoisin sauce, cucumber kimchi, and green onion. Let’s just pause and reflect on those for a minute.  Fried Chicken Thighs and Roasted Pork Belly. My foodie senses were tingling.  I’m not certain I have the words for dishes as tasty as this other than “I’m not worthy.” Also, concerning the deep fried red beet fries, I can’t believe this isn’t a thing elsewhere. Sweet potato fries move over. You’re so last year.

10/3: Dish 4: Via 313 Pizza. The Detroiter. $13. 4 stars.

It’s safe to say at this point, I’m more than three sheets to the wind. We were at bar number 3 for the evening and had since met up Megan’s friends. One of whom informed me that the pizza from the food truck out back of the Violet Crown was perfect for just this sort of occasion. That occasion being our profound drunkenness and my first day in Austin, which I promise made complete sense at the time. We hilariously put in our order for the pizza just as the lights came on at the bar. When the lights come on, it normally awakens you to a quick sense of sobriety that urges you go sleep it off, but in this case all it said to me was, “Pizza in your face.  Right meow.” The pie has 2 kinds of pepperoni on it, smoked and in the casing. Via 313 prides itself on baking the pizza all the way around in the traditional Detroit Pizza fashion, which allows the cheese to caramelize on the outer edge and also keeps it from being soggy. The smoked pepperoni gave each bite a nice peppery element that complimented the roasted tomato sauce nicely. It was nice and crispy and did its job it soaking up the night, which is most definitely what I needed.

Day 2: Torchy’s TacosChildren of the Kettle Corn, Mmmpanadas, Second Bar+Kitchen.

10/4: Dish 1: Torchy’s Tacos. Green Chile Pork. $5. 3 Stars.

When I asked locals which places among the restaurants featured in the Austin Eats area I should check out for a true representation of the Austin cuisine, Torchy’s Tacos was among the top recommendations.  After slamming down this taco, I can see why. The dish is pretty straight forward: roasted green chiles, pulled pork, salsa fresca, cilantro, and white onions; which was served with a lime wedge. They definitely don’t skimp you on the meat. I’d be willing to be the taco had at least a quarter pound of pork in it. The salsa fresca did a nice job in complimenting the green chiles and the acidic quality of the lime is completely necessary to balance out all the spicy notes being played here. The white onions also do a nice job at punching up the flavor profile. This is a solid dish and did well to refuel me; which was much needed as I had noticed that I felt tired just from clapping while watching HAIM’s performance. Apparently, you have to eat to keep your body going. Odd right?

10/4: Dish 2: Children of the Kettle Corn. Large Kettle Corn. $7.

Technically, I didn’t purchase this dish. While I was sitting with Megan eating our Torchy’s Tacos post HAIM, we had made friends with some folks across the table from us, who were laboriously working their way through what seemed to be about a gallon of popcorn. They joyfully offered for us to help them eat the popcorn which they said they couldn’t stop eating despite the fact that they had begun to regret their purchase in the first place. Undeterred by their obvious addiction to the popcorn, I obliged and took a healthy handful. Immediately, I realized their issue. This popcorn was coated in butter and get this, granulated sugar. That’s corn which is mostly sugar and naturally sweet combined with butter and then sugar. This kettle corn is DANGEROUS as it is delicious and it probably ought to come with a side of insulin. Stay away or get a small, or ya know get a large and become a diabetic. Your call.

mmmpanadas - photo by Ryan Smith

mmmpanadas – photo by Ryan Smith

10/4: Dish 3: Mmmpanadas. Spinach Mushroom. $7. 5 Stars.

Mmm is right. This is among the best things I ate this weekend. The filling in this empanada is delectable.  Spinach wilted in mushroom stock is combined with assorted wild mushrooms and then stuffed inside of an empanada crust before being baked. Remember the joy the McDonald’s apple pies used to fill you with as a child? Well, this is just like that experience but it’s made for adults and is prepared somewhere other than a factory floor. The crust is beautiful and light. Somehow they have managed to find a way to make empanada dough that cooks all the way through to the filling without burning on the outside. It is truly an art form. I know I greatly disturbed those around me in the beer tent as I enjoyed this dish with my squeals of delight mixed with the skipping around between bites. But whatever, I like food, a lot.

10/4: Dish 4: Second Bar+Kitchen. Jalapeno Chicken and Pork Belly Bahn Mi (Special). $5. 3 stars.

Kings of Leon just finished their set and it’s leaving time. We are more than aware that we are in for a long wait before we make it to the shuttle from the park, so we head over to the Eats area. Second was trying to clear its stock for the evening so two of their dishes were combined to form a giant bahn mi and offered at a low price of $5. The bun was cold, as was the meat but I’m sure that’s due to the late hour, so no judgment here. The pork belly was just as it should be. The meat was moist and tender and the fat just melted away in your mouth. The sandwich was served with siracha mayo in haste which was also totally fine given the circumstance. The spiciness of the dish was off the charts with both jalapenos and siracha playing parts in it, but it didn’t stop me from nearly finishing it along with most of Megan’s pork belly.

Day 3: The Salt Lick, GoodPop, The Mighty Cone, Tiff’s Treats.

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Pork Rib Boat – photo by Ryan Smith

10/5: Dish 1: The Salt Lick. Pork Rib Boat. $9. 4 Stars.

I feel sorry for anyone who had to watch me eat these. Dry smoked ribs are among my all-time favorite foods. I actually use ribs and other naturally messy foods to judge the match potential of women I’m dating. The proper way to eat ribs is to get mess all over your face and hands not to mention its kind of a rule that you clean all the meat off the bone. There’s something very carnal about the whole thing. Nothing is sexier than a woman who’s not afraid of eating like she doesn’t care how lady-like she looks. Anyways, all of that being said, it was a messy affair; so much so that the group of folks next to me gave me extra paper towels. The ribs are mesquite pit smoked and then topped with a tomato based black pepper sauce. The ribs were nice and on the outer edge and juicier as the meat neared the bone. They leave a nice sweet and earthy flavor on your palette because of the mesquite. Solid dish.

10/5: Dish 2: GoodPop. Watermelon Agave. $4. 3 stars.

1 part sweet, 3 parts refreshing. This is obviously fresh watermelon puree base as there actually some white seeds left in the pop. The sweetness of the agave helps elevate the natural sweetness of the watermelon without crossing the line. It’s perfect for a hot day under the Texas sun.

10/5: Dish 3: The Mighty Cone. Venison Sausage Wrap. $7. 4 Stars.

It’s getting late, and I’m beginning to get sad that it’s nearly all about to be over. In this same spirit, I’ve decided to make damn sure the last entrée I eat here is something special. I was familiar with The Mighty Cone prior to my visit as it has been featured on the Food Network as a food truck that you must check out should you ever find yourself in Austin. The venison sausage did not disappoint. The venison is indicative of everything venison should be; gamey, sweet, and it should have a rich, bloody quality comparable to that of black pudding. The sausage was paired with a sweet slaw and it was all wrapped up in a white corn tortilla. The slaw does a great job of breaking up the richness of the meat, but not so much that you lose that flavor profile altogether. Overall I would have to say it was a solid finishing entrée.

Tiff 'Wich - photo by Ryan Smith

Tiffwich – photo by Ryan Smith

10/5: Dish 4: Tiff’s Treats. The Tiffwich. $5. 5 Stars.

All week this station has had the longest line and up until now, the last couple hours of the festival, had I considered going near it. I’m not usually a guy who enjoys sweets or let’s himself enjoy sweets very often rather; so I try to make it a special occasion when I do let myself indulge. The last few hours of the most beautiful weekend I’ve had so far this year seemed rather appropriate, so I went for it. Additionally, if I’m going to let myself have desert I swing for the fences so I elected to have the Tiffwich; which is vanilla ice cream sandwiched in between two chocolate chip cookies. These cookies rivaled those that I grew up eating, which is not something that happens very often. The perfect chocolate chip cookie is a magical thing. I was at once transported back to my childhood, breaking apart cookies that had just come out of the oven and watching the chocolate ooze out. I may or may not have begun to tear up just before savoring every last bite just as I intended to savor every last second of Thom Yorke’s performance that I was about to witness.

Austin City Limits is a festival unlike any other: serious music talent, serious food, and a seriously amazing time. This is where Austin Eats and this is where you ought to eat as well. Cover photo courtesy of GinnysAustin.com

George Orwell once said, “A human being is primarily a bag for putting food into.” Ryan is quite fond of this idea and can be found anywhere odds and ends are being served. Ryan is a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen and has participated in and won several cooking competitions over the years as well as having planned and organized culinary events of his own. Besides having a proclivity for food, Ryan is a self-proclaimed music -addict with tastes ranging from Wu Tang Clan to HAIM to Menomena to Death From Above 1979. Although Ryan has only lived in Macon for about 3 years now, he has lived in Georgia for most of his life, and has traveled to just about anywhere you can imagine. Ryan aims to spend anyfree time he can manage traveling, eating, writing, and running up his mobile GB bill on Spotify.

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