For many tech fans, there’s nothing like the annual South by Southwest gathering that takes place in Austin each spring. The exchange of information about the latest and greatest gadgets, as well as seminars on what’s happening in the cloud that encompasses the world of digital information, is akin to geek nirvana.
And it doesn’t stop there. There’s the film festival, and the music that Austin is known for filling the air on both sides of the lake.
But something else is happening in Austin that is making the SXSW scene all the more exciting this year. It seems as if food wants to join the party. In a big way.
Food and drink is a part of every party, to be sure. And last year, food celebrity Rachael Ray threw several shindigs that showcased local producers as well as sponsoring food companies, distillers and more.
But this year Cooking Channel set up what it calls Beer Garden at Easy Tiger, offering a dual menu of house favorites and recipes from the network’s stars, including Nadia G from Nadia G’s Bitchin’ Kitchen. The party may be over, but Easy Tiger is open, offering an excellent coffee-rubbed pastrami sandwich with house-cured sauerkraut and a nutmeg- and ginger-laced bratwurst. The beer cheese with the pretzel is also a winner, with that pretzel a star among the exceptional breads baked in house.
BakeSpace.com hosted a gathering with numerous local and state producers, including Driscoll’s berries, tea merchants, bakers with ultra-miniature cupcakes (most likely to replace last year’s cake balls, a dessert trend that just never became trendy), chocolatiers and paleta producers. Perhaps the most attention-getting product of the event was Batter Blaster, which puts pancake and waffle batter in a whipped cream-style canister. Now you can make your own pancakes in minutes and without a lot of mess. The cakes were good and buttery, though the appeal may have been jacked up a bit by the lox, sour cream and fresh dill that were served on the side.
The party was held in Hickory Street, a new restaurant serving up American fare with a modern Texas twist. Samples were passed of several signature items. Charred sweet corn guacamole wasn’t bad, but it was a little busy, with too many textural bumps for guac. Braised short rib with macaroni and cheese really hit the spot.
There was a food truck showcase that we missed because we went instead to a private party hosted by digital communications company Waggener Edstrom. The company was featuring an up-and-coming six-piece band called Quiet Company, which rocked the block. Unfortunately for the band, the sound system was erratic, to say the least. The tacos, however, were quite good, especially with rings of pickled onion on top. There were also gorgeous cocktails with fake ice cubes that lit up a sparkly emerald green. You had to know the wizard to get one of the shiny cubes, which let us out of the loop but it certainly didn’t stop us from enjoying the sight of them.
This coming weekend, it’s back to Rachael Ray’s parties, where she’s laying down the music while hopefully showcasing some new food trends. Last year, the headliner was Wanda Jackson, the Queen of Rockabilly, who once toured with Elvis and still knows how to how a crowd in the palm of her hand. This year, Train captured top billing, but I’m more interested in reggae great Jimmy Cliff, whose soundtrack for “The Harder They Come” was a part of my teen years.
There will be more, including some great music at the Baker St. Pub for a free show Friday night that the Austin Music Journal is sponsoring. Free is always a good word, especially when it applies to the parking, too. Parking downtown during SXSW can be aggravating to one’s wallet. We saw garages and lots charging $20 and $30 a day. You could always park south of the bridge and catch either one of the free Chevys around town (free during the fest) or the bus, which is only $2 for a one-day pass.