In the Field

Playing With Fire at Austin’s Best Food and Music Festival | Listen

By: Veronica Meewes

Sound Bites From Hot Luck Live Food & Music, Austin’s Best Food and Music Festival

The smoke has just settled from another wildly delicious and event-filled Hot Luck Live Food & Music. Austin’s annual Memorial Day food and music festival was started in 2017 by Aaron Franklin (of Franklin Barbecue fame), James Moody (owner of iconic venue The Mohawk and co-owner of Uptown Sports Club with Franklin), and Mike Thelin (founder of Feast Portland). I’m often asked, by locals and visitors alike what the best food festival in town is, and Hot Luck is my resounding answer. Not only is it the most delicious and best executed, but it also benefits Southern Smoke Foundation, a nonprofit that provides no-cost mental health services and an emergency relief fund for those working in hospitality. Read on for my Hot Luck highlights, and you’ll undoubtedly be kicking off your summer at this festival next year!

Hot Luck Photo Credit Chad Wadsworth
Image courtesy of Chad Wadsworth

The hospitality vets behind this fest know how to keep things fresh and exciting, so Hot Luck’s events fluctuate slightly each year. This year’s kickoff event, Giddy Up!, took place at The Mohawk and featured dishes from some of the best taquerias in town. My favorite came from Nixta Taqueria: sweet and creamy Alaskan king crab on a crisp squid ink tostada with habanero, avocado, lemon aioli, smoked trout roe, and chives. OMG Squee quenched the steamy crowd with cups of halo halo, layered with vivid ube ice cream, pandan jelly cubes, red bean, brown sugar bananas, and leche flan over sweet milk shaved ice.

This year, the Friday night Fair Market event was inspired by midcentury supper clubs, a theme that is, without a doubt, challenging to pull off in the heat of late May in Austin. But it’s not called Hot Luck for nothing; if you serve it, we will come! One of the best aspects of this festival is the stellar lineup of chefs Franklin brings in from all over North America. Some of my favorite bites included a decadent char siu barbecue duck bun with foie gras butter from Andy Quinn of The Noortwyck in New York, a deceptively simple smoked beef tongue on tomato from Marc-Olivier Frappier of Montreal’s Vin Mon Lapin, and tender beef tongue gribiche on milk bread toast with a punch of Fresno and kumquat from Nick Goellner of The Antler Room in Kansas City.

Our local talent also brought the period-specific heat for this event. Franklin curated a 1950’s-era pop-up called Frankie’s Delicatessen, complete with counter-service cooks in white button-downs and paper caps serving brisket pastrami reubens on rye sourdough with red cabbage slaw. Ian Thurwachter (Poeta and intero) presented a beautiful supper club-worthy spread of dips, crackers, crudites, and bread. And pastry chef Ariana Quant (Hai Hospitality) passed out salted caramel-coffee crunch chocolate cigars (complete with gold foil labels) that were almost too beautiful to eat.

Al Fuego tacos Photo Credit Veronica Meewes
Image courtesy of Veronica Meewes

Al Fuego is the main event of the fest, an over-the-top display of culinary prowess (with plenty of live-fire and open-air cooking) held out at Wild Onion Ranch each year to a twang country soundtrack. While the words “live fire” might bring to mind plenty of red meat, one of the things I love about Hot Luck is the abundance of seafood you’ll find at each event (thanks to a partnership with Alaska Seafood). Representing Mi Compa Chava in Mexico City, Chava Orozco’s costra de camarón with chipotle and beans was a standout, as were Sophina Uong’s (Mister Mao in New Orleans) Alaskan Bairdi crab and weathervane scallop omelet in rice paper with hot chili, and hometown hero Yoshi Okai’s (Otoko) okonomiyaki “tacos” with seared bonito. 

Houston’s Aaron Bludorn (of Bludorn and Navy Blue notoriety) promoted his upcoming venture, Persied, with delicate jambalaya-stuffed squash blossoms, while Austin chefs Fiore Tedesco (L’Oca d’Oro and Bambino) and Bob Somsmith (Lao’d Bar) both represented their newly opened restaurants with memorable dishes: a juicy Italian beef sandwich and a flavor-packed waterfall rib-eye lahb, respectively. On the drinks front, I was happy to see LoLo pouring natural wine and Nickel City shaking up dirty martinis with caviar-stuffed olives. (I lower my beverage expectations for most food festivals, but that is another area where Hot Luck shines.)

Camp Sunnyside Brunch Leroy and Lewis Tinga Photo Credit Veronica Meewes
Image courtesy of Veronica Meewes

This year, Camp Sunnyside added a Sunday brunch event to the lineup, bringing us all back to Wild Onion Ranch for a delicious finale. There are simply too many favorites to list but I’ll tempt you with a few: Silver Iocovozzi’s (Neng Jr.’s) loganiza corned beef with bitter melon and cabbage sarsa, Gabriel Rucker’s (Canard) beef tongue French onion quesadilla with Funyun crunch, and Sarah McIntosh’s (Épicerie) Southern Glizzies (boudin wrapped in croissant dough with chili mash cream cheese).
In addition to the fantastic food of Hot Luck, there is also a robust schedule of live music happening each night of the festival. Music was Franklin’s first love (he was a musician before he became a barbecue sensei), so each year he and Moody curate diverse lineups at several venues around town. This year’s headliners included Calexico, The Mummies, Lightning Bolt, Amplified Heat, and A Giant Dog, among others. And in a city where food and music are equally obsessed over, Hot Luck is exactly the festival we need.

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