Bold Bites and Creative Cocktails at Austin Food & Wine Festival
Learn about the delicious dishes and drinks at this year's fest
Austin has a well-deserved reputation as a hot locale for food enthusiasts, and voracious diners can participate in any number of festivals, specialty dinners, and limited-time pop-ups throughout the year, but recently we attended the latest installment of what just might be our city’s most celebrated food event: the Austin Food & Wine Festival. We found plenty of exciting highlights, delicious dishes and drinks, and a brand-new evening activation that exceeded all expectations at this year’s festival.
Attendees enjoyed a weekend of perfect festival weather.
Austin Food & Wine took place at Auditorium Shores on Saturday, November 4 and Sunday, November 5. The gates opened to ticket holders at 1 p.m., and on both afternoons, the lines for entry ran several blocks down Riverside Drive. But, as luck would have it, the weekend’s weather proved ideal for a daytime food festival held outdoors. Temperatures hovered in the high 70s with a nice breeze, and the clear skies removed any fear of unexpected rainfall. The entry lines moved quickly, and thanks to the strategic positioning of tents throughout the open venue, the festival never felt overcrowded.
Austin and Central Texas chefs were well represented.
As the festival’s name suggests, chefs based in Austin and other parts of Central Texas are the stars of Austin Food & Wine. Major Austin restaurants and food trucks that chose to participate included Con Todo, Licha’s Cantina, Juliet Italian Kitchen, Wu Chow, Swift’s Attic, Grizzelda’s, Diner Bar, Uchi, and many more. Each vendor offered a single bite of food that represents their current menu, ranging from tiny ceviche boats to mini tacos to crostini to, in Juliet’s case, a very successful polenta dish with butternut squash, corn, Spanish chorizo, micro greens, and a crème fraiche drizzle.
Large wine and spirits producers and small distilleries served up straight pours and signature cocktails.
Austin Food & Wine does shine a spotlight on both food and wine, but spirits are also a huge force on this festival. Brands with big name recognition like Tito’s, Bailey’s, Bulleit, and Don Julio all offered cocktails and tasting pours of their spirits, and attendees also had the chance to sample spirits from smaller producers like Aguasol tequila, Carabuenas tequila, and High West whiskey. Margaritas, Palomas, Old Fashioneds, and gin & tonics were plentiful, but the craft cocktail event of the day happened courtesy of Suntory Whisky, who offered a by-appointment-only cocktail tasting inside a specially built “tiny house.” Guests could add their names to a waitlist and receive a text right before their cocktail “appointment”. Upon arrival at the Suntory House, the guests would be ushered into a replica of Tokyo’s famous midcentury micro bars. A bartender then mixed and served two distinct cocktails made with Suntory spirits: a whisky highball with citrus and a whimsical vodka drink with Midori and matcha powder. Drinking cocktails out of actual glassware and enjoying a more intimate mixology experience made the Suntory experience unique and engaging.
The Fire Pit is always an iconic part of the festival, and 2023’s version didn’t disappoint.
Austin Food & Wine always pays homage to Texas’ impressive BBQ heritage with the “Fire Pit”, an outdoor activation where pit chefs from Texas and elsewhere in the country cook over open flame. Chefs like Vinnie Cimino of Cordelia in Cleveland, Ohio, Harold Marmulstein of Salty Sow in Austin, Misti Norris of Petra and the Beast in Dallas, Meredith Shaffer of Tillie’s and Camp Lucy in Dripping Springs, Jason Dady of the Dady Restaurant Group in San Antonio, Adrian Abella & Camille de los Reyes of Sari-Sari Supper Club in San Antonio, Leo Davila of Stix & Stone in San Antonio, and Esaul Ramos of 2M Smokehouse BBQ in San Antonio all participated, and dishes like roasted lechon pork belly, smoked chicken with sesame cucumbers, and blackened corn on the cob all met with enthusiastic approval from the (long but quick-moving) lines of festival attendees.
The new “Made In Texas” event on Saturday night was a total triumph.
“Rock Your Taco”, a Saturday night competition in which celebrated chefs make one signature taco and festival guests vote on their favorite, has been a staple of the Austin Food & Wine Festival for several years now. The announcement that Rock Your Taco would be replaced by a new “Made In Texas” event in 2023 met with some understandable concern from long-time festival goers. However, we’re happy to report that Made In Texas is just as well-curated and unmissable as its predecessor.
This VIP-only event took place in a smaller section of Auditorium Shores, and because the list of attendees was far smaller than the general festival, guests could easily move around, seating was more abundant, lines were shorter, and the beverage stations offered full cocktails and wine glasses rather than sample pours. The food itself was exclusively prepped and served by Texas-based chefs. Some highlights included a plush potato cake with sweet honeynut squash puree and a slice of flatiron steak from the new Bureau de Poste on South Congress, a perfectly crispy pani puri sphere made with pimento cheese and filled with red cabbage chow chow (courtesy of Lenoir on South 1st), and a magnificently spiced chicken thigh shawarma from Ezov on East Cesar Chavez served with skordalia (a condiment made with potato and garlic), Middle Eastern-inspired hot sauce made with Morita chiles, and roasted garlic aioli.
Made In Texas left attendees with an excellent first impression of this brand-new AF&W feature, and the 2023 festival overall was a weekend to remember.