A Moveable - and Musical - Feast
Eating at ACL Fest
The Austin City Limits Music Festival is a work in progress. After every three-day extravaganza, the organizers from C3 Presents take what they've learned and use it to refine and tweak things for the coming year. Nowhere is the ongoing learning curve more apparent than in preparations for the food service provided to festival guests. After some rocky starts, long lines, and disgruntled customers, C3 moved former restaurateur David Bain from overseeing backstage hospitality to the organization of the food-court concept. They also turned to successful veteran vendor and Hudson's on the Bend chef/owner Jeff Blank as a culinary consultant. They asked Blank for suggestions about how they could use the food court to enhance the overall appeal of the ACL Festival, much the same way the food at the legendary New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival enhances that experience for visitors every spring.
This year, Bain and Blank worked together to choose a vendor lineup that reflects Austin's culinary personality according to guidelines established by C3. The strictest edict was this: absolutely no "carny" food. "Charles Jones was adamant that there shouldn't be any turkey legs, funnel cakes, or corny dogs," Blank reports. There was an application process wherein potential vendors submitted ideas to Bain and Blank's committee.
"We tried to get a mix of experienced vendors and new folks based on the dishes they proposed and how efficiently their booths had performed in the past," Bain explains. The 31 vendors who made the cut offered drinks or dishes that reflected the flavor of Austin, things that were portable and easy to eat "on the hoof," and most importantly, tasty items that could be served with lightning speed to keep those lines moving.
This year's newest guidelines have to do with the greening of the festival – conscious measures designed to reduce the event's overall environmental impact on the city. "We've asked our vendors to do away with meal packs (plastic silverware packets) and foil condiment wrappers. They also will be serving in paper rather than Styrofoam or plastic containers," Bain says. These measures should considerably reduce nonbiodegradable garbage and streamline cleanup. Grocery wholesaler Sysco Corp. is providing on-site refrigerated storage for the duration. All of the vendors have temporary mobile-food-vending permits for the event, and inspectors from the Austin/Travis County Health & Human Services Department will be on hand to assess food safety. Check out the following descriptions of the food and drinks on sale this weekend, and plan your trips to the food court accordingly. Bain and Blank hope the experience makes your ACL visit more memorable, and they just might be the guys behind you in line, gathering information for next year. – Virginia B. Wood
Children of the Kettle Corn
We're told this whimsically named local business was included in the lineup in part because their name made everyone chuckle. They're always a hit at local outdoor events, however, because folks love their organic kettle corn and refreshing snow cones in all-natural, all-organic flavors such as green tea and pomegranate. – V.B.W.
Sweet Leaf Tea
If there is a festival, event, or benefit in the Austin area, you can bet that Sweet Leaf Teas will be available. Of course, they have been a presence at ACL every year, serving their complete line of thirst-quenching beverages. This year, they'll be introducing a few new items, including a diet mint honey tea and three different lemonades: original lemonade, peach lemonade, and cherry limeade. – Claudia Alarcón
Royers Round Top Cafe
Although the actual cafe is in rural Fayette County, the Royer family has a definite presence in Austin selling pies at Whole Foods Markets and on the Web. Their unique 4-inch Cutie Pies could just be the perfect festival sweet in three popular flavors: chocolate chip, pecan, and buttermilk. The savory offerings are just as inviting: chicken-apple sausage wrap with mango chutney, a marinated vegetable wrap, and a beef tenderloin wrap with grilled onions and horseradish sauce. Here's a tip: The Royers booth is right next to Amy's Ice Creams; put a person in each line, and race for pie à la mode. – V.B.W.
Amy's Ice Creams
Austin's homegrown Amy's Ice Creams shops are beloved for their tempting array of homemade ice-cream flavors complemented by toppings that are "crushed in" in dazzling arrays of showmanship while you wait. The busy catering department has left the razzle-dazzle behind for the festival. They'll be serving three great flavors of ice cream and luscious shakes: Mexican Vanilla, Belgian Milk Chocolate, and Zilker Mint Chip with only chopped pecans or peanut M&M's for toppings. – V.B.W.
Maine Root Beer
See the Food section in this week's regular issue.
Wahoo's Fish Taco
Another newcomer to the ACL food court, Wahoo's will be bringing their Hawaiian surfer vibes along with their wildly popular fish tacos, chicken tacos, or your choice of fish or chicken burritos with all the trimmings. For the vegetarian set, they'll offer their Banzai Burrito, filled with rice, beans, and a mix of fresh veggies. There also will be a bean-and-cheese burrito that would make a great option for the kiddos. Local manager Jourdan Adler thinks that their recent positive experience at Flugtag will be very helpful in preparing to serve the hungry crowds at ACL. – C.A.
Chuck & Larry
In everyday life, Chuck Smith and Larry Perdido are the owners/operators of the wildly popular Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill, located in one of this city's most prized historic buildings. They are appearing in the festival food court as themselves, though their menu reflects a definite Moonshine spin: beer-battered zucchini, grilled corn on the cob with chipotle butter, a Cuban-style pulled-pork sandwich with pickles and mango mojo sauce, and the brand-new Cheddar Cheese and Jalapeño-Spiked Chicken Corn Dog With Hatch Chile Mustard. – V.B.W.
El Mercado Restaurants
The owners of these local Tex-Mex mainstays have developed new spins on traditional Tex-Mex dishes especially for hungry festivalgoers. They've rubbed slow-smoked briskets with Mexican spices and use the meat in both tacos and nachos. They also are serving vegetarian tacos and nachos and Tex-Mex chile con queso. – V.B.W.
This accomplished catering operation represents the River Rock Cafe north of San Antonio, and they're bringing some Mediterranean flair to the festival menu. Look for their beef and lamb gyros, a vegan Mediterranean pita gordita, a Greek salad, and cold ham and Brie paninis. – V.B.W.
Salt Lick 360
Driftwood's nationally known Salt Lick barbecue has an upscale sibling in Austin's Northwest suburbs with an eclectic menu that always includes smoked meats prepared at the original pit. For this event, they'll be on hand with the real deal: chopped-beef sandwiches, pulled-pork sandwiches, and smoked-sausage wraps, all doused with their distinctive barbecue sauce. – V.B.W.
Hudson's on the Bend
Chef Blank has not only participated at every ACL but also works closely with festival organizers to recruit quality food vendors and make the food court a destination in itself. In a classic example of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," chef Blank has been serving the same dish every year, and it practically has become the signature dish of the festival: the hot and crunchy cone. Inside a paper drinking cup, the Hudson's chefs place a rolled-up flour tortilla, fill the bottom with a cabbage, mango, and jalapeño slaw, and top it with the hot and crunchy part, your choice of avocado or chicken in an almond, sesame seed, corn flakes, and red chili flake crust. Then they top the whole thing with a drizzle of ancho chile aioli. This year they will offer a chicken and avocado "combo" cone, as well as grilled venison sausage on a stick. Are the Zilker gates open yet? – C.A.
Word on the Street
One of Austin's premier caterers, Word of Mouth, aka Word on the Street, previously had catered for the artists backstage at ACL, but this will be their very first year as a vendor. Chef Adam Gilroy came up with an Asian-inspired theme of easy-to-prepare and easy-to-eat items for their debut at the food court. Stop by, and snack on their veggie egg rolls with plum dipping sauce, or go for a heartier meal of marinated grilled chicken or veggie skewers served with Asian slaw. And whatever you do, you must try the ice-cold fresh pineapple drizzled with vanilla bean sake syrup! – C.A.
This successful local chain has retail outlets offering delivery service all over the city. In the interest of speed and portability, they're bringing 7-inch personal pizzas, both cheese and pepperoni. – V.B.W.
The Jo's team has plenty of experience serving restorative caffeine-laced beverages to fast-moving crowds, so allow them to help get your day off to a good start or give you a jolt when the energy begins to wane. They will be on hand with regular iced coffee and their outrageous Iced Turbo: a blend of espresso, Ghiradelli chocolate, hazelnut syrup, and condensed milk poured over ice. – V.B.W.
Sun Garden Magic Shaved Ice
A staple at The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival since 2003 and the perennial shaved-ice masters at ACL. They serve razor-blade-shaved ice produced from a stainless steel New Orleans block ice shaver in regular flavors like strawberry, grape, cherry, piña colada, lime, green apple, tiger's blood, blue raspberry, and watermelon, plus three to four all-natural flavors made with fruit puree and pure cane sugar. They also feature sugar-free options. – C.A.
If it's an outdoor festival in Texas, there's got to be barbecue. And anyone who has attended a concert or event at Stubb's can attest that live music, barbecue sandwiches, and an ice-cold beer just go great together. So at ACL, they'll be serving pulled pork, sliced brisket, and chopped-beef sandwiches, as well as sausage wraps. All items will be accompanied by a bag of Fritos. A reminder: You'll need to pick up a few extra napkins to wipe off their wonderfully peppery barbecue sauce. – C.A.
Austin's Best Burgers
See the Food section of this week's regular issue.
Boomerang's Gourmet Veggie and Meat Pies
It's difficult to imagine a heartier and more portable meal than savory Australian pies encased in golden, flaky crusts. Austinite Jack Fennell fell in love with the Aussie favorites on a trip Down Under and brought them back to the UT campus area to wide acclaim. This weekend, he's featuring pies with traditional beef, chicken, and spinach-and-mushroom fillings. – V.B.W.
This popular local restaurant has busy outlets in the Downtown entertainment district as well as in the Northwest suburbs. This weekend, they've chosen to go the wrap route with grilled chicken fajita wraps, pork carnitas wraps, and grilled vegetable wraps, plus nachos with the same tasty selection of toppings. – V.B.W.
That's right. Zoot. Who says that one of Austin's best fine-dining restaurants can't make great festival food? For Zoot's debut at ACL, chef Stewart Scruggs has come up with an inspired idea: chilled soups. "We wanted to make something that no one else would have," Scruggs explains, "and that would be appropriate for the weather. I hear it gets very hot!" It does indeed, and I can't imagine anything tastier than a cup of refreshing classic gazpacho, chilled corn bisque, or mango chamomile soup. As always, chef Scruggs will use as many local ingredients as possible, "but the amount of food we'll have to prepare may make it difficult to go 100 percent local," he laments. Either way, what an exciting addition to the ACL food court. – C.A.
The Best Wurst
Famous for having "the most efficient kitchen in Austin," the Best Wurst serves more than 100,000 sandwiches a year out of their 4-foot-by-5-foot carts on Sixth and is hands-down the best late-night food of the party district. Your choice of four locally made grilled sausages – smoked Italian, Texas jalapeño, all-beef country sausage, and bratwurst – is served on a roll with fresh-cut grilled onions and hot sauerkraut. You can dress them with their own brown mustard and curry ketchup. In addition to their sinful sandwiches, they'll be serving buttered New York salt-potatoes: Yukon gold new potatoes boiled in a mild salt brine and served whole with real melted butter, and topped with chopped green onions and a spicy Cajun-like seasoning. As owner Jon Notarthomas says, "A small menu but a lotta love." – C.A.
For those seeking light, portable fare, Thistle Cafe will be serving some of their most popular menu items, such as their whole-wheat wraps (chicken chipotle, steak, smoked turkey, and veggie), their honey Dijon turkey melt on sourdough bread (their most popular grilled sandwich), and their famous chocolate-chunk cookies. "As usual, everything we serve is healthy, with no trans fats, and nothing is fried," owner Susan Hartmaier says. "We are typically known as the healthy alternative for those who choose to watch their bella figura at ACL." – C.A.
Saba Blue Water Cafe
For another taste of the tropics, head to Saba Blue Water's booth, and try one of their tasty Caribbean- and Mexican-inspired snacks. Their coconut-crusted shrimp will be served with a mango mojo dipping sauce, while the chicken flautas will be accompanied with ranchero sauce, pico de gallo, and sour cream. They also will serve a Baja-style fish taco with the traditional shredded carrots and cabbage, with a little hint of chipotle for an extra kick. If only they could serve their awesome frozen lemongrass margaritas. – C.A.
This Hawaiian-born national chain has a definite local connection with chef/partner Austinite Larry Kocurek on the range. Kocurek's island-inspired Texas festival menu includes kalua pork nachos, Mongolian ribs with hoisin barbecue sauce, grilled shrimp on skewers with wasabi cocktail sauce, and chocolate-soufflé brownies. – V.B.W.
Original Hoffbrau Steaks
This venerable purveyor of affordable steaks has been serving Austinites since August 1934. Current proprietor Ruben Ray is bringing New York strip-steak sandwiches, juicy hamburgers and cheeseburgers, big pretzels, and the all-Angus-beef original Hoffbrau hot dog with condiments. – V.B.W.
Sambazon Organic Smoothies, Sorbets, and Juice
See the Food section of this week's regular issue.
An Austin staple and popular vendor at many festivals and events, Solar Falafel will be serving their falafel pita wraps – great favorites among the vegetarian festival attendees – both in regular and spicy flavors. Grilled chicken and hummus wraps with all the trimmings also will be available, as will three kinds of hummus served with chips as a snack: their original hummus plus two new flavors, black bean and spinach artichoke. – C.A.
Fans at Austin sporting events are very familiar with the delightful snow cones from this busy concession vendor. They will have myriad regular flavors from which to choose, as well as two all-natural, organic syrups sweetened with cane syrup – peach and pineapple-kiwi. – V.B.W.
A perennial presence at almost every outdoor festival in Austin, the Best Lemonade stand is a popular spot during the scorching hot days that have been the norm at ACL. Folks seeking refreshment form long lines every year, but their patience is rewarded with an ice-cold cup of pretty darned good lemonade. – C.A.
Ben & Jerry's
Young LifeWorks staff members who run the locally owned "partner-shop" of this national franchise will be on hand selling ice-cream sandwiches: vanilla, Cherry Garcia, and Half-Baked (chocolate and vanilla ice cream with chunks of brownie and chocolate-chip cookie dough). – V.B.W.