ACL's Food Court Keeps the Crowds Nourished and the Good Times Rolling
Take an ACL break Austin-style with local eateries and portable fine dining
After spending most of last year's ACL Festival visiting behind the scenes with the vendors at the food court, I can attest to the incredible amount of hard work (never mind the heat) that goes into feeding the thousands of hungry and thirsty festivalgoers who line up all day long to keep themselves nourished and hydrated. This year, there are four newcomers offering everything from spicy wings to Mediterranean pasta. Of course, perennial faves will abound, and expect second appearances by a couple of fine-dining establishments that were big hits last year. The organizers keep variety in mind so that there's always something for everyone, from barbecue to falafel. All the vendors are truly doing a heck of a job out there, so be patient and leave a tip here and there. They will appreciate it!
The swanky, Rat Pack-inspired Downtown lounge dives into ACL featuring the creative cuisine of Executive Chef Benjamin Nathan. The offerings for the maiden voyage include a pressed Cuban sandwich filled with roasted pork, ham, chipotle mayo, and pickle relish; a fajita steak and cheese sandwich; and tempting jalapeño cheese tots (who doesn't love tots?).
Pluckers Wing Bar
The homegrown wing chain that puts smiles on our faces on Sundays during football season makes its first appearance at ACL. Pluckers will be serving jumbo chicken wings in three sauces, plus chicken tenders, fried pickles, and its infamous fried Twinkies.
A longtime Downtown favorite for tapas and Mediterranean-style cuisine, Louie's 106 makes its ACL debut with cool, light fare for the Austin heat: penne pasta salads with three choices of toppings; primavera (all veggie), pulled Jamaican jerk pork, or grilled chicken.
Torchy's Damn Good Tacos
Here's your opportunity to sample some of the South Austin taco icon's most popular offerings, including the Trailer Park Taco, green chile and pork taco, and a potato, bean, green chile, and cheese taco for the non-meat-eaters, all priced at $4.
FOOD AND SNACKS
The Mighty Cone
The hot and crunchy cone has now reached iconic status with its own trailer on South Congress, and with good reason; these things are delicious. Hudson's on the Bend chefs place a rolled-up flour tortilla in a paper cone; fill the bottom with a cabbage, mango, and jalapeño slaw; add the hot and crunchy part – a choice of chicken, shrimp, or avocado (or a combination of meat and avocado) coated in an almond, sesame seed, corn flake, and red chile crust; and then top it off with a drizzle of ancho chile aioli. New this year is the Purple Pig cone: pulled pork topped with purple cabbage slaw and a horseradish mustard sauce. Hungry for dessert? Don't forget the Death by Chocolate.
Aquarelle Restaurant & Wine Bar
Aquarelle returns to ACL keeping things simple and tasty with steak frite sandwiches with homemade garlic aioli and fried-crawfish po'boys dressed with a creamy rémoulade. Of course, Aquarelle will have plenty of fresh-cut, crispy, black-pepper french fries.
Austin's Best Burgers
Chef Luke Bibby and his crew are back with Austin's Best Burgers, an icon of the ACL food court. These folks have so much fun at the fest that they have crew members coming in from Colorado and even Russia to work this year's booth. The menu needs no tweaking, and four of the five things they serve are vegetarian. Stop by for backyard-tasting burgers, cheese fries, and ice-cold watermelon slices. Be prepared for some of the longest lines at the festival.
One of Austin's favorite savory pie purveyors returns with an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude, offering the same portable 7-inch personal pizzas, in cheese or pepperoni. Parents thank them for providing a no-brainer option to feed young music lovers.
The Best Wurst
Jon Notarthomas, beloved purveyor of grilled sausage sandwiches, and his amazing staff know how to turn a mere grilled sausage into a work of art. Pick your choice of four locally made, freshly grilled sausages – smoked Italian, Texas jalapeño, all-beef country sausage, and bratwurst – and the Best Wurst serves it to you on a roll with fresh-cut grilled onions and hot sauerkraut, dressed with homemade brown mustard and/or curry ketchup. Don't miss the New York buttered salt potatoes, boiled in a mild salt brine, served whole with melted butter and chopped green onions and sprinkled with spicy seasoning.
Boomerang's Gourmet Veggie & Meat Pies
Boomerang's will be serving savory Australian-style pies – including the ever-popular Southwest Chicken pie and the Guinness Steak and Potato pie – along with two vegetarian options: the fan favorite spinach-and-mushroom and the curry veggie, which is vegan-friendly. These guys brag about having the fastest line and friendliest staff at ACL.
After a year's hiatus, the folks at Moonshine return with a new menu. No pulled-pork Cuban sandwich this year (alas!), but they will be dishing out hand-dipped chicken "corn dogs" (a variation of the popular appetizer made with shrimp), served with honey mustard, plus zucchini fries with ranch dressing, a Lunar Burrito filled with either grilled veggies or steak, and fish tacos with crunchy jicama slaw.
Original Hoffbrau Steaks
Austin has enjoyed Hoffbrau's affordable butter-fried steaks and no-frills chopped salads for 75 years. The Austin institution will be serving New York Strip sandwiches for $7, juicy cheeseburgers for $6, and the original all-Angus-beef jumbo hot dog for $4, served with all the fixings.
The people from Austin's favorite homegrown burger stand return to offer their signature hamburgers; cheeseburgers; double-meat, double-cheese burgers; and the popular veggie burger. As always, the hamburgers are made from all-natural beef that's 100% hormone- and antibiotic-free and 100% vegetarian-fed. The veggie burgers are made in P. Terry's own kitchen with brown rice, crimini mushrooms, black beans, cheese, and fresh parsley. Yummy stuff!
Representing the River Rock Cafe north of San Antonio is Pureheart Catering, which will feature its popular classic beef and lamb gyros with tzatziki sauce; Mediterranean gorditas, a vegetarian take on the gyro with hummus, roasted red bell peppers, kalamata olives, red onion, romaine lettuce, and feta cheese (optional, to accommodate the vegan crowd, as is the tzatziki sauce if desired); a beef or chicken souvlaki (marinated beef or chicken, skewered and grilled, served with or without pita and with tzatziki upon request); and a classic Greek salad with romaine lettuce blend, kalamata olives, red onion, sliced tomato, sliced cucumber, feta cheese, a special herb/spice blend, and golden Greek dressing – also available without feta cheese for the vegans.
Chef Parind Vora returns with his eclectic cuisine and an explosion of flavors in every bite. Last year's refreshing and tasty cold pasta with mint and black olive pesto and feta cheese is back, along with some fancy "on-a-stick" options such as mild chipotle-glazed chicken, spicy Jamaican jerked pork, and Indian curried vegetable skewers.
The Salt Lick B-B-Q
The world-famous Hill Country barbecue staple is back with traditional fare: chopped-beef sandwiches, sausage wraps, sloppy nachos (chopped beef, queso, and jalapeños for those who like it hot), and pulled-pork sandwiches. Salt Lick's hardworking general manager Jay Knepp is always behind the scenes with a big smile on his face and his apron covered in barbecue sauce.
Solar Natural Food Wraps
Solar Falafel will be featuring hummus wraps in original, spinach artichoke, and black bean cilantro flavors. New this year will be a smoky chipotle hummus wrap. As always, there will be original and spicy handmade falafel wraps as well as chicken wraps, all for $7 each. All flavors of hummus are available with a side of chips for $5.
The legendary purveyor of live music, barbecue, and ice-cold beer will be serving pulled pork, sliced brisket, and chopped-beef sandwiches, made with smoked pork shoulder or tender, slow-smoked brisket served with barbecue sauce on a burger bun with a side of Fritos ($7). Add a house pork/beef blend sausage wrap to any item for $3. New this year: jalapeño marinated brisket, served as tacos wrapped in flour tortillas. Each $8 order comes with two tacos and a side of Fritos.
For lighter fare, count on Thistle Cafe's popular whole-wheat wraps filled with chicken chipotle, smoked turkey, grilled steak, or veggies, as well as the bestselling honey Dijon turkey melt on sourdough bread. For a quick bite of something sweet, try the famous Thistle chocolate chunk cookies.
Wahoo's Fish Tacos
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's also a bean-and-cheese burrito that would make a great option for the kiddos.
DRINKS AND TREATS
Amy's Ice Creams
Scoops of Mexican vanilla (most popular flavor), Belgian chocolate (super yummy milk chocolate), Oreo (Mexican vanilla with Oreos), and Zilker Mint Chip will be available in small for $3 or large for $4, with toppings (M&Ms and pecans) for $1 more. Amy's will also have handmade shakes made out of any of the four flavors for $5. There's a possibility that the stand will have floats as well; if it does, they'll also be $5, available with Coke, Dr Pepper, root beer, Sunkist, Big Red, and possibly grape and cream soda options.
The Best Lemonade folks are back, citrus squeezers in hand, to make regular and strawberry lemonade and regular and strawberry limeade to keep the crowds refreshed. They squeeze case upon case of fresh lemons and limes nonstop to keep up with the demand for the refreshing beverages.
Children of the Kettle Corn
The local popcorn company with the coolest name, Children of the Kettle Corn is one of the highest-demand snack options at ACL. Healthy, savory, and light, this is the perfect in-between-bands snack to grab and go.
Maine Root Beverages
Maine Root has become a perennial favorite, with plenty of ice-cold root beer as well as my favorite soda, the Ginger Brew. The small-batch favorite Prickly Pear Agave Lemonade, made with Central Texas prickly pear juice and Fair Trade organic agave nectar, is always a winner, and kids love the intensely purple blueberry soda.
Nice Conez is back with 20-ounce sno-cones in cherry, strawberry, coconut, Tiger's Blood, watermelon, margarita, blueberry, and root beer for $4. Its unique "stuffed" sno-cones – enhanced with a scoop of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream on the bottom – go for $5 and were wildly popular last year. Owner Shay Jones says the ice cream "really thickens up the sno-cone, and pretty much turns it from a snack into a light meal."
Sweet Leaf Tea
The kind folks who provide us with those awesome thirst-quenchers offer the whole lineup at two food court booths: original sweet tea, half-and-half lemonade tea, peach sweet tea, lemon and lime unsweet tea, mint and honey green tea, pomegranate green tea, mango green tea, diet original sweet tea, diet peach sweet tea, and original lemonade, either in ice-cold bottles for $3 or with a 32-ounce cup and ice for $4. Sweet Leaf will have half-and-half and mint and honey available at all the beer and water bars, and it's also doing some exciting text-to-win contests, so look out for Granny at the fest!
Sambazon Amazon Berry Smoothies
Sambazon will be serving its popular acai bowl: 16 ounces of organic acai sorbet topped with Nature's Path hemp granola and sliced banana ($6 each or two for $10). One of these babies first thing in the day will hold you over for hours of fun without feeling blotto. Sambazon will also have bottled juices and smoothies ($3 each or two for $5) in the original flavors and will be introducing two new ones: Pomegranate Synergy and Rainforest Immunity, a blend of organic acai with immunity-boosting passion fruit, acerola, and rose hips. This juice supports the immune system exceptionally with a serious dose of antioxidants and 800% of the suggested daily value of vitamin C per bottle – five times the amount in regular orange juice.
Snowie Shaved Ice
Of course, there will be the all-natural flavored Snowies – along with the traditional fest flavors. Snowies are superhuge and are guaranteed to cool down the hottest of ACL concertgoers.