My second day (Sunday) at the 2015 Austin Food + Wine Festival was another glorious one! The festival had officially been going for three days, meaning that Sunday was the grand finale day. Of course, I did everything in my power to go out with a “bang” — eating and drinking just about everything in sight.
It all started when I realized that my first event of the day would be a whiskey-centric one. At, ahem, 11:15 a.m.. This was exactly 15 minutes after the festival gates opened, meaning that if I wanted to make up for my lack of breakfast (I did), I had to act fast. Never under-estimate the speed of a hungry, determined power-walker!
In that short time, I headed over to the H-E-B Grand Tasting Pavilion and was able to sample a wonderful selection of bites that truly exhibited the culinary diversity of the event as a whole. My first bite was a dish of smoked duck, sea island red and black pea salad, whipped chèvre and blackened pistachio, served chilled. Chef James Robert of Fixe outdid himself with this refreshing summer dish with superb flavor and texture. Kangaroo and pork sausage dressed with a peach-jalapeño chutney and goat gouda from Frank was the next thing to hit my mouth. The chutney perfectly complimented the full flavor of the sausage and the dreamy creaminess of the cheese. Then, a huge “sample” of Ranch 616’s Frito pie, served right in a Frito bag truly hit the spot, as did a jerk pork belly taco from Tubby’s. I punctuated my short, yet effective initial eating binge with an incredible blood and beef tongue sausage with beets and chrysanthemum by way of Counter 3. Five. VII.
Then, for the whiskey. ‘Ryeopeners’ was the name of the event I attended in one of the festival’s massive tents, hosted by winemaker and craft distiller Austin Hope of Highspire whiskey. A shot of whiskey and three cocktails greeted me at my seat. Hospitality at its finest! Hope took us through the history of the highly approachable Highspire pure rye whiskey. This slightly spicy whiskey existed in the 1800’s, but never came to light again after Prohibition. Serendipity led Hope to meet people connected with the original Highspire label and was shortly after on his way to reviving the brand name. Fast forward to today, and we found ourselves tasting and learning to make three cocktails — Peach Julep, Hillstepper and Gingered Highspire. The latter was my favorite:
-1 ounce Highspire Whiskey
-2 ounces ginger beer
-1 lime wedge
1. Pour whiskey and ginger beer into glass over ice
2. Squeeze lime wedge in glass
3. Drop lime wedge in glass
Hope closed out the session by telling us to reach under our seat, where we found a flask to take home. He and his team then happily proceeded to help us break in the flask by pouring Highspire inside. Score!
And then, more eating happened. A lot. Close to 100 exhibitors — of both the bites and the libations kind — were competing for attendees’ palates. I savored all the bites that I could, and found many favorites along the way. Chef and Partner at Bufalina, Fiore Tedesco, put out highly praiseworthy sage burrata with beaujolais syrup-poached strawberries on top. Farmhouse Delivery served up slivers of watermelon relish holding pickled shallots, mint, serranos, whipped feta and yogurt and sumac that were a bright burst of flavor. And a collaboration of Chefs Paul Qui and Thai Changthong of East Side King resulted in some mighty fine grilled Thai chicken wings topped with cilantro — what I took as a friendly reminder to “keep it simple, stupid.”
For my final act, I attended ‘Uchi & Sushi,’ where Chef Tyson Cole spilled the beans about many things, such as what makes Uchi special (the people), where he sources his fish from (all over the world) and his main objective in life, and at his restaurants (never settle). He also demonstrated how to make Uchi’s P-38 hand roll — a lovely roll stuffed with hamachi, cilantro stems, garlic chips, yuzu, nori (seaweed) and boquerones aioli. He even selected some enthusiastic attendees to hop on stage and join him in his craft. Last but not least, he offered valuable tips for making sushi. For instance, he advised against buying already-cut fish at grocery stores due to freshness concerns. He also explained that sushi rice is made easiest in a rice cooker, after rinsing the rice three to five times until the water runs clear. It was the attendees that walked out richer at the event, yet it was Chef Cole that beamed with pride for being given the opportunity to represent the Austin Food scene.
After chowing down on my hand roll, I headed towards Dolce Neve’s stand, where I thoroughly enjoyed thick, silky, decadent buttermilk and roasted strawberry ice cream. It was at this point that I felt that I had delightedly gone, eaten and conquered the 2015 Austin Food + Wine Festival.
From the two-day, delicious experience I had, I can already tell that’ll I’ll be increasingly thirsty for next year’s event during each of the next 365 days. Yes — it was seriously that enjoyable. Thank you for reading along!