Recently, I was in Austin, TX, celebrating the birthdays of a few of my favorite Librans (my life is full of Librans that are close to my heart) at the Austin City Limits music festival. I got to spend much needed face time with my pals Niti and Josh in their old/new home state and spend some much needed downtime with birthday boy, and fellow Austin first-timer, B. The good news is that although I didn’t hit up even a tiny percent of the places I wanted to eat at, it was only because I kept getting diverted by other interesting eats (and drinks) along the way. The bad news is that the festival got rained out the last day, so we missed some amazing music. The good news is that we had a free day to spend around the city gorging ourselves with breakfast tacos. The bad news is that despite the rain, its only a few degrees cooler than the temperature on the sun’s surface. I’ll be be back, Austin (when you chill out just a touch more.) You can listen along to these pairings with a (free) Spotify account.
What better way to take your mind off the unobstructed blazing sun, grass sticking to your sweat soaked ankles, and general feeling of listlessness that overpowers every muscle in your body than the breezy, waves-crashing-ashore harmonies of Local Natives?
The first day was all about acclimation to the sun against our bodies, so there wasn’t a lot of food ingested. There was a lot of snow cones, and beers, and juices, and beers, and water, and beers. One of the few things I ate was the avocado banh mi from Second Bar + Kitchen with a cell-quenching strawberry lemonade. Verdict: too much toppings and not enough avocado, but the real offense was that the sandwich was served on a squishy sweet roll, so it should have been advertised as an avocado-ish HOAGIE. The lemonade was divine, though. This sandwich was only OK, but what was truly spectacular was that after 30 years, DM still puts on a new wave synth-pop show to shame younger bands. Niti and I sang along to our favorite songs, arm-in-arm, gasping to keep up with their dazzling showmanship and energy.
Breakfast tacos and Tito’s vodka, part of your well balanced Austin breakfast. I can eat these every day (and not just for breakfast). Soft tortillas filled with gooey cheese, soft scrambled eggs, picante sauce and meat or potatoes as you wish. These provided the ballast we needed to soldier through the heat for the long day ahead. We needed that fortitude to hold our own amongst the sea of fans, by far the biggest crowd for a non-headlining act, for the inimitably smooth flow of the unaffectedly cool Kendrick Lamar. Bottles up.
A full 24 hours after setting foot on Austin soil, my blood finally got acclimated to the heat and my hunger started up again full force. Niti pointed me in the direction of The Mighty Cone for a hot and crunchy avocado. It never, ever occurred to me to deep fry avocado, nature’s most perfect food, but *because* of its perfection it goes without saying that a fried avocado is a mighty tasty avocado. After spiking the next strawberry lemonade with the contents of our flasks, we enjoyed the sharp but soulful stylings of English rockers Arctic Monkeys.
And then it rained (and rained, and rained, and washed the next day’s concert away.) The last thing I ate at the festival before ducking under an umbrella to watch The Cure serenade a football field of drenched fans is the fantastic spinach and mushroom empanada from Mmmpanadas. The pastry parcel was tender and flaky, and the flavorful filling warmed my cold, wet heart. Hand in hand with B, grinning in the rain as the music washed over us, I was pretty sure this is just the moment that the complex, lush melodies of The Cure’s music is made for.
Oh, but the rain didn’t stop us. We headed out to the flooded streets of Austin and started our evening, at midnight, with another round of tacos. From the upper left: fish, shrimp, carnitas, and egg & potato. We pushed forward into the rainy night, raising another glass to future tacos. We compared notes of the festival so far, and I delighted in the fierce edginess of Savages, who played a brilliant set (despite blistering away in the sun) as if they were born to play these songs.
Alas, the next day of music was not meant to be, so we used our bonus day to eat and also to eat. We started at the Blue Star Cafeteria where I was allowed to indulge in my enduring love for grits. The grits were buttery and smooth, with the perfect tang of cheddar. They were soul-comforting and rewarding on an unexpected level, like the heart-and-brain-engaging country-ish jams of Wilco.
Since we didn’t have anywhere to be, we shared a stack of pecan French toast and a round of all the sparkling breakfast drinks. Crisp, sparkling and sweet can describe the Smith Westerns’ music as well. Like their show at Austin, our brunch was meandering and left us overstuffed. I might stick to them on headphones.
All the drinks, then all the cheeses. That’s what we ordered at Hopfields, a small gastropub bursting with charm and Austin hospitality. After a few beer tastings to choose the perfect accompaniment to our meal, we settled on Belgian style brews to compliment the selection of hand made savory tarts. This place is a little modern, a little rustic, a whole lotta thoughtful and and a whole lotta smart – very much like breakout star singer/songwriter Jake Bugg.
Leaving Austin on a sweet note, and obtaining sweet release indeed from the unyielding heat, we waited in line next to the historic Continental Club for Amy’s ice cream. Although I loathe waiting in line for food, the queue gave us time to tailor our ice cream concoction wish list down to a personal signature creation. In addition to their famous Mexican Vanilla flavor, the have some boozy choices like Honeyed Brandy and Guiness Stout. I walked away with a cup of intensely smooth Belgian chocolate ice cream, with a a free topping of peanut butter cups because I knew the answer to the trivia question that day, hooray! And with Amy’s in town I now I see an upside to the constant heat. Good one, Austin. Let’s celebrate with the garage-rock exuberance of the precocious The Orwells, shall we?