ACL's Food Court Continues to Expand Its – and Our – Horizons

Take an ACL break Austin-style with local eateries and portable fine dining

Continuing the trend to improve the Food Court every year, Austin City Limits Music Festival organizers have a stellar lineup of wonderful vendors with tasty and nourishing fare for every taste. With assistance from Hudson's on the Bend chef Jeff Blank, who works closely with festival organizers to recruit quality food vendors, the C3 Presents folks are truly making the food court a destination in itself. This year, many popular favorites return, and barbecue and burgers will be well represented. But the trend of inviting fine-dining restaurants to the food court continues, and this year many new and exciting items will be available to expand festivalgoers' culinary horizons. I've already identified my "must try" items. Here's hoping everyone will visit the old standbys and support the newcomers. Use this brief preview to help map out a dining schedule.


PERENNIAL LEGENDS AND RETURNING FAVES


Sambazon
Sambazon (Photo by Claudia Alarcón)

Sambazon Açaí Organic Smoothies

Last year, the energy-replenishing açaí smoothies from Sambazon practically saved my life a couple of times during the festival. I am indeed thankful to see them come back this year to help everyone survive the heat and long days of excitement. Açaí smoothies in three flavors (Mango Uprising, Strawberry Samba, and Supergreens Revolution), ice-cold fruit juices (açaí or cherry), and the amazing sorbet served Rio-style, topped with granola and sliced banana, are sure to satisfy everyone's cravings for healthy pick-me-ups.


Sweet Leaf Tea

Austin's perennial outdoor festival providers of refreshment are back by popular demand. Last year saw the introduction of the now-popular peach lemonade, and this year brings more new flavors. Sweet Leaf Tea or Lemonade will be available in cold 20-ounce bottles, as well as in an ACL commemorative cup. Other flavors will include the Original Sweet Tea, Original Lemonade, Peach Lemonade (also available in diet), Mint & Honey Green Tea, the new Pomegranate Green and Mango Green teas, and the wildly popular Half & Half Lemonade Tea.


Amy's Ice Cream
Amy's Ice Cream (Photo by Claudia Alarcón)

Amy's Ice Creams

Although too busy to do any "crush-ins" at the festival, the always capable and fun scoopers from Amy's will dish out a few favorite flavors in small and large cups, with a few toppings to dress 'em up. In addition, they'll be shaking and pouring their already-famous ice-cream shakes.


Maine Root Handcrafted Beverages

The fun-loving guys at Maine Root took Austin by storm a few years ago and have become perennial favorites at many outdoor festivals, including events for the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival. At their ACL booth, they'll have plenty of ice-cold root beer, as well as my favorite soda, the Ginger Brew. The small-batch favorite Prickly Pear Agave Lemon­ade will make an appearance again, as will a brand-new flavor unveiled last August, Mandarin Orange Soda.


Wahoo's Fish Tacos
Wahoo's Fish Tacos (Photo by Claudia Alarcón)

Wahoo's Fish Taco

After last year's great success at the food court, Wahoo's will bring back its Hawaiian surfer vibes along with its wildly popular tacos and burritos with all the trimmings. The choices include two blackened-fish or grilled-chicken tacos, a blackened-fish or grilled-chicken burrito, and the vegetarian Banzai Burrito, filled with rice, beans, and a mix of fresh veggies. There also will be a bean-and-cheese burrito that will make a great option for the kiddos.


Pureheart

Representing the River Rock Event Center north of San Antonio is Pureheart Catering, back for its second year at ACL thanks to its delicious, highly portable, and healthy fare with Mediterranean flair. In addition to last year's beef and lamb gyros, Mediterranean pita gordita, and Greek salad, Pureheart will feature two panini: ham or turkey, both accompanied with Brie.


The Salt Lick BBQ

Holding court again this year is Driftwood's nationally known Salt Lick BBQ. Folks endure long lines in the blistering heat to enjoy a taste of the legendary smoked meats, prepared at the original Hill Country pit. This year's menu includes sausage wraps, Sloppy Nachos, chopped-brisket sandwiches, and a dish of Ribs & Slaw. A visit to the Salt Lick's booth at ACL is a must for our meat-loving international visitors!


Hudson's on the Bend
Hudson's on the Bend (Photo by Claudia Alarcón)

Hudson's on the Bend

Hudson's has been present at the food court every year, and the Hot and Crunchy Cone has practically become the signature dish of ACL. The Hudson's chefs place a rolled-up flour tortilla in a paper cone; fill the bottom with a cabbage, mango, and jalapeño slaw; and top it with the hot-and-crunchy part, your choice of chicken, fish, or avocado (or a chicken-avo combo), fried in an almond, sesame seed, corn flake, and red-chile flake crust. Then they top the whole thing with a drizzle of ancho-chile aioli. For those with a sweet tooth, there will be plenty of their signature dessert, Death by Chocolate.


Austin's Pizza

After their success at last year's food court, the local pizza gurus will keep it simple and bring back their tasty and portable 7-inch personal pizzas, available in cheese or pepperoni.


Children of the Kettle Corn

These folks were a popular snack pick at last year's event, in part due to the supercool name but mostly for their tasty, freshly made organic kettle corn, available in small and large servings.


Stubb's Bar-B-Q

If it's an outdoor festival in Texas, there's got to be barbecue. Last year's long lines at Stubb's food court booth are a testament to the fact that live music, barbecue sandwiches, and ice-cold beer are at the heart and soul of Texas festival culture. The folks at Stubb's will reprise last year's successful menu of pulled-pork, sliced-brisket, and chopped-beef sandwiches, as well as sausage wraps. All items will be accompanied by a bag of Fritos and their wonderfully peppery barbecue sauce.


Austin's Best Burgers

In addition to providing the catering at the Back­yard, chef Luke Bibby is the man behind the ACL phenomenon that is Austin's Best Burgers, present at every year's festival. The Best Burgers crew serves burgers and veggie burgers (on fresh kaiser rolls), cheese fries, and ice-cold watermelon slices to satisfy the thousands of folks that withstand some of the longest lines for a taste of burger heaven. Once you get to the front of the line and bite into that juicy burger or watermelon slice, you know the wait was worth it. Paradoxically and despite the name, four of the five things they serve are vegetarian, and all are delicious.


Boomerang's Gourmet Veggie & Meat Pies

These highly portable, savory Australian pies encased in a golden, flaky crust make their second appearance at the food court after the popularity they enjoyed last year. Featured flavors will be Guinness Steak & Potato, Southwest chicken, and spinach & mushroom pies. Stop by for a tasty treat from Down Under, made right here in the ATX.


The Best Wurst

Known as "the most efficient kitchen in Austin," the Best Wurst is hands down the best purveyor of grilled-sausage sandwiches the streets of Austin have ever seen. Your choice of four locally made grilled sausages – smoked Italian, Texas jalapeño, all-beef country sausage, and bratwurst – will be served on a roll with fresh-cut grilled onions and hot sauerkraut. You can dress them with homemade brown mustard and/or curry ketchup. Introduced last year by owner Jon Notarthomas, the buttered New York salt-potatoes – Yukon gold new potatoes boiled in a mild salt brine, served whole with melted butter, chopped green onions, and a spicy seasoning – will be featured again as a side dish.


Thistle Cafe

Thistle Cafe returns with its light, portable fare for the second year in a row. Again, it will be serving some of the most popular menu items: whole-wheat wraps (chicken chipotle, smoked turkey, and veggie), as well as its bestselling honey Dijon turkey melt on sourdough bread. Owner Susan Hartmaier takes pride in serving healthy fare and no fried items. On a very hot day when appetites may be low, Thistle offers tasty options for all.


Saba Blue Water Cafe

Back by popular demand, Saba Blue Water's tasty Caribbean- and Mexican-inspired fare will once again delight hungry guests. Its coconut-plantain shrimp with a mango-mojo dipping sauce is a light, succulent snack, while the chicken-and-cheese flautas and pulled-pork tacos offer heartier fare. It will also serve a Baja-style mahi-mahi taco with the traditional shredded carrots and cabbage, with a little hint of chipotle for an extra kick.


Roy's

Roy's acclaimed chef/partner Lawrence Kocurek and his crew had so much fun at last year's ACL that they decided to return once again (lucky us) to offer their amazing Hawaiian fusion cuisine. Last year I made daily visits for the awesome Mongolian ribs, which will be replaced this year by Asian barbecue hot wings and grilled sausage on a stick. The Kahlua Pulled Pork Nachos are back, along with the ever-sinful Maui Wowie Chocolate Soufflé Brownie. And if anyone thinks fine-dining restaurants don't belong at music festivals, I'm willing to wager Roy's will change your mind.


Hoffbrau Steaks

Since 1934 Austin has enjoyed the Hoffbrau's affordable butter-fried steaks and no-frills chopped salads, served in a funky atmosphere with a great dose of attitude. Repeating last year's ACL success, the Austin institution will be serving New York strip sandwiches, juicy cheeseburgers, and the original jumbo all-Angus-beef hot dog served with all the fixin's. If you've never eaten at the Hoffbrau, how can you call yourself an Austinite?


Solar Natural Foods

An Austin staple and popular vendor at many festivals and events, these folks are great favorites among the vegetarian festival attendees. On the menu will be their well-known falafel wraps (regular or spicy) and four flavors of hummus wraps (regular, spicy, and last year's debutantes, black bean and spinach-artichoke). All hummus flavors will be available as a snack with chips, and for those who have to have meat with their hummus, the tasty chicken wrap will also be on hand.


Snowie

Fans at Austin sporting events are very familiar with the delightful snow cones from this busy concession vendor. Returning to ACL for their second year, Snowie will have lots of regular flavors from which to choose for your 16-ounce shaved ice, but its all-natural flavors will also be available, as well as the option to add cream to any shaved-ice cone.


Best Lemonade

A perennial presence at almost every outdoor festival in Austin, the Best Lemonade stand is a popular spot for guests seeking refreshment from the usual scorching ACL heat. This year it will feature its signature fresh-squeezed lemonade, strawberry lemonade, blueberry lemonade, and limeade. Ahhhh!!


Ben & Jerry's

Young LifeWorks staff members who run the local­ly owned "partner shop" of this national franchise will be on hand selling chocolate-covered ice cream bars in three of its most popular flavors: Cherry Garcia, Half-Baked, and the ubiquitous vanilla.


Flipnotics Iced Coffee & Smoothies

The popular coffeehouse returns to ACL to provide a refreshing caffeine boost and fresh-fruit dosage with delicious strawberry smoothies, mocha frappes, and plenty of iced coffee. Whether you need an 11am wake-up shake or an afternoon pick-me-up, Flipnotics will happily help you bounce back into rocking action.


THE NEWCOMERS


Aquarelle

One of Austin's best fine-dining restaurants, Aquarelle makes its ACL debut after a successful "rehearsal" during its Rosé Soirée celebrating Bastille Day. Party guests (including yours truly) greatly enjoyed Aquarelle's portable fare of Steak n Frit sandwiches with homemade garlic aioli; crawfish rolls dressed with a creamy rémoulade sauce; vegetarian Caprese sandwiches stuffed with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and homemade basil pesto; and delightful crispy, nongreasy black-pepper french fries. Stop by for a bite of wow.


Vespaio/Enoteca

The multiaward-winning SoCo Italian institution is making its first appearance at ACL, and the staff could not be more excited. Unbelievable but true, they will not only keep both restaurants open over the whole weekend but will be making enormous amounts of many of their signature house sauces and cheeses to accommodate everyone. Pounds of fresh mozza­rella will be served with pear tomatoes, drizzled with basil pesto, as an appetizer; gallons of lemon aioli will be whipped to serve with its mouthwatering freshly fried crispy calamari. The feat of all feats will be the 12,000-plus meatballs they'll make for their pork and Parmesan meatball hoagie with even more melted mozzarella and arrabiata sauce. Since Vespaio's chefs purchase whole hogs and butcher them themselves, you can imagine the amount of work they're putting into this endeavor. Stop by, and salute chef Ryan Samson, who will be on hand all three days of the fest. 


Doc Green's Gourmet Salads & Grill

This former franchise (now a locally owned certified green restaurant) opened quietly last November at the new Mueller center. Owner Jason Birnbaum is excited to be part of ACL for the first time. Although labeled "wraps," Birnbaum's creations are really grilled flat breads served open-faced and topped with a variety of fresh gourmet ingredients and sauces. For his ACL debut, he created four new wraps: chicken Florentine with spinach and Feta cheese; Mediterranean, loaded with romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and red peppers, topped with artichoke pesto ranch and feta; grilled veggie; and chipotle steak with black bean corn salsa, roasted red onions, cheddar, and chipotle ranch. Now tell me that doesn't sound good!


Restaurant Jezebel

Another ACL newcomer, highly acclaimed chef Parind Vora brings Jezebel's eclectic cuisine, characterized by a tantalizing fusion of international ingredients and sophisticated cooking techniques. Of course, Jezebel's lovely fine-dining setting and complex plate presentation cannot be reproduced at the food court, but you can be sure the execution and flavor of all Vora's dishes will be flawless. Look for a falafel pita sandwich, cold pasta with mint-black olive pesto and feta cheese, and a big ol' burrito filled with curried potatoes, cabbage, and peas to be among this year's favorites.


El Chilito Tacos y Cafe

What can we say about El Chilito that most of Austin doesn't already know? Expect superdelicious, freshly made tacos with simple fillings and flavored with award-winning salsas that rank among the city's favorites year after year. These tasty Mexican morsels are what hung over music lovers' dreams are made of. Choose from beef, cheese, and salsa; chicken, cheese, and salsa; or bean and cheese tacos, and get ready to face another day at ACL.


Nice Conez

Shay Jones has been running venues, events, and festivals in and around Austin for almost 12 years and in fact helped design the ACL food court many years ago. She comes back this year with her new endeavor, a snow cone stand. "It was time that I got behind the counter and interacted with the fans again," Jones is happy to reveal. nICE CONEz will sell 20-ounce snow cones in cherry, strawberry, coconut, Tiger's blood, watermelon, margarita, blueberry, and root beer flavors. In addition, they'll also be selling "stuffed" snow cones, which include a scoop of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream in the bottom of the snow cone. Jones discovered these treats on a recent trip to Seaside, Fla., and suggests cherry or root beer snow in a stuffed cone.


P. Terry's

South Austin's beloved micro drive-through is known for delicious burgers and sandwiches, made with all-natural beef and chicken and fresh ingred­ients of the highest quality. I bet many ACL-goers have stopped at P. Terry's on the way to Zilker Park in past years. Now, they'll be able to enjoy hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken and Swiss cheese burgers, and veggie burgers (made with P. Terry's own homemade mushroom, black bean, and rice patty, topped with American cheese) right inside the festival grounds. All sandwiches come dressed with special sauce, lettuce, and tomato and served with potato chips. Because they expect to be deservedly busy, they ask that you do not request substitutions.  

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin City Limits Music Festival, Austin Eats Food Court, Sweet Leaf, Hudson's on the Bend, Children of the Kettle Corn, Wahoo's Fish Taco, The Best Wurst, Aquarelle, Vespaio, El Chilito, P. Terry's

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