Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Good Night Austin Texas, wherever you are

The Austin Food & Wine Festival was one of the few anchor points we'd planned in this trip and took place on 25-27 April 2014 in Butler Park, just outside the city.

I'd forgotten to look at the information flyer which said that the main Saturday daytime event took place between 12 noon and 4 pm until we were in the car leaving San Antonio so it came as quite a shock to realize we'd likely miss most of the first day and meant that instead of taking the back roads we'd stick pretty close to I35 and leg it for the 120 or so miles.

We arrived around 3 pm, checked into our downtown hotel -- a very nice Marriott Courtyard -- and headed off to the event.

It was 90+ degrees by now and so what could have been a very nice stroll through town and across the bridge covering the Texas Colorado River turned into quite a sweaty slog.  But it did take only about 15 or so minutes and that left us 45 minutes for the tastings!

Tastings are meant to be unhurried strolls.  Small plates of food and small glasses of showcased liquors sipped in a gentile manner are the norm but as we'd missed out on lunch we were definitely anything but.

The Mexican tapas were nice, the ceviche delicious, smoked salmon was scrummy and then we hit the beer stand -- all Belgian, the star being Stella Artois, definitely needed in this heat!  Then I found the Cayman stand (of all things).  They'd brought Tortuga Rum cake!  Trouble was nobody on the stand actually was from Cayman  They were all representatives hired by the island's tourist authority.  But it was nice they were there (Houston is one of their airline gateway cities so there is a connection with Texas).

Right next door was the Cinco vodka stand (see website here).  They did very nice vodka gimlets which on reflection was the beginning of when things started along the wrong path.

At 4 pm on the button all the stands stopped serving so we trickled out and into the city centre again retracing our steps of the morning until we found first a beer only bar and then what turned out to be one of the nicest steak restaurants I've ever been to called Perry's -- see website here.

Neither of us wanted to go to chain restaurants but we did decide to have a cocktail there before considering next steps.  Nice martini's they were too.  But then I decided to use the men's room and when I did I discovered the full story about Perry's.  It was huge and packed.  The decor was dark of course like all steak houses but really elegant too.  And the smell of the steaks!  Wow!!

So of course I had to suggest Viv make a similar journey and was not in the least surprised when she came back saying we had to eat there.  So we did and it was simply magnificent.  We shared a beautiful Porterhouse steak with veggies and it was melt in the mouth lovely.  So good it could be the best ever.  Certainly one of the best ever.

Now Austin has the reputation (actually they say it about themselves) of being the 'Live Music Capital of the World'.  The great guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan was from Austin as was country icon Willie Nelson and as it turned out both were being inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame that night -- SRV of course in absentia -- an invitation only event that didn't include us, by the way.  And 6th Street is the place where dozens of clubs are sited.  So as we were on 7th and were staying on 4th we just had to pass through this den of iniquity.

SRV's statue in the park 

What a cool place it is too!

We found a guitar bar where a 3 piece band was grinding through a bunch of guitar heavy blues numbers, SRV of course being featured.  They were pretty good too I thought but when they finished around midnight, they were replaced by a fat guy with 2 turntables and a slick line in urban speak who played dance music/hip hop/electro and whatever else the audience wanted.  Within 15 minutes the place that I'd thought was pretty busy was absolutely jamming with groups of girls gyrating on the bar taking shots and whooping like there was no tomorrow.

When we finally left, we discovered the entire street was doing exactly the same.

What a place!

Austin could just be right!!

The following day was a lot slower pace.  When we arrived at the fair we found a celebrity chef howling at an audience who were trying to replicate the cooking he was doing up on a stage.  We spoke with a couple of these people later who said it was hot as Hades and the last thing they needed was that final celebratory tequila shot.  But it was fun!

We found the BarBQ pits with several groups cooking up a storm.

Best by far was the quail cooked over hot coals and hung up to finish off on an iron tree like frame.  They tasted lovely and spicy.  The chef told us it was probably the marinating in rendered pig fat for a couple of days that made them so juicy.

Nice quail tree!

Why is everything that tastes so good actually pretty bad for your health?

Pig heads on a string too!

We watched Andrew Zimmern from TV cook eggs and then missed out on a wine pairing session (if they were Texan wines, this would have been difficult!) so sat in on a Cajun chicken cooking session which looked pretty easy actually -- use rosemary, garlic and oil.  Add salt and pepper and cook.  Obviously there's a bit more to it than this but it didn't seem to be.

Then we hit the tasting again but today were more selective than the day before.  Schmidt BarBQ'd brisket was very nice indeed, the Brazilian wines were... how I can I not offend here? We drank some Dripping Springs Texan vodka (another name) in an awful concoction and found a maker of 90% proof gin that was deadly if drunk.  The drink he made Viv was appalling to look at -- 75% of it being gin, the rest being a little ice and some ginger beer.  It was not possible to drink this concoction AND live.

So we returned to Cinco and had a nice Bloody Mary with them and stumbled across a Campari stand where the barman went beyond his normal boundaries and made us a pretty good Negroni.

We also found Michael, the very new CEO of a bakery company called 'Baked By Amy's' -- see website here.  They were showcasing pecan tarts and brownies, both of which were really scrummy.  He said he'd just returned from New York where he'd lived for 20+ years with his new husband as he missed Austin and wanted a change of life balance.  He told us about a place called Barton Springs, a thermal pool just outside the city, which sounded so good that we decided to go there if we could.

I hope they make it.  The cakes were great.

One thing that struck me about the fair was the number of small businesses that were trying to make it in this sector.  Michael said Austin was more liberal than the rest of Texas and was quite an entrepreneurial enclave of a quite different sort to the rest of the state.  The numbers of small firms seems to bear him out.  Silvercar is also headquartered there.

Austin is a pretty good city!

And the heading?  Well its from one of my favorite Frank Zappa albums, made with Captain Beefhart actually, called Bongo Fury.  Its a mainly live album recorded in Austin.  FZ uttered these words as his farewell to the crowd prior to launching into a song called "Muffin Man" -- listen here.

FZ on left and the Captain

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