A FEST FETE: Austin Wine & Food Festival Happy Hour

*Hi Reader!  I’m terribly excited: We’ve got two Austin Eavesdropper contributors today, one veteran wordsmith (the lovely Megan Renart, who joined me on our wine sippin’ video Monday), and one new recruit, local photographer and my dear friend Nicki Lemon. They went to the Austin Wine & Food Fest Happy Hour last week, and sent in this dispatch!

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A journey of a thousand meals begins with the first bite.

The Austin Food and Wine Festival is the SXSW for people Who Like to Eat. (I am one of them; I bet you are too.) Held in April, (27th-29th, 2012) it’s a ritual of madness, ecstasy and maenads.

In order to rev up the appetites of festival attendees, the Austin Food & Wine Alliance, the Tipsy Texan, and Franklin’s BBQ teamed up to offer a celebratory happy hour at Franklin’s brick and mortar.

When I showed up with AE photographer Nicki, we were convinced we had the dates mixed up—at that point, we were the only ones standing uncertainly on the deck. It had the same chilling vibe as that scene in a horror movie where the two characters look at each other and realize at the same time that what they’re standing on is an iceberg, and then the camera zooms back, and the iceberg is in…Antarctica.

(I’m used to seeing lines at Franklin’s as early as 8:30 when I drive by on Sunday mornings, you see—be it cold and drizzly or nine-thousand degrees—and this place opens around 11.)

Turns out we were just early. The first ones there. Ah, okay.

We were welcomed warmly.

Why, hello.

Immediately to the right of the door was a station of liquid courage, hosted by the Tipsy Texan. On the menu? St. Germain-infused cocktails.

Are these recipe postcards charming or what? Nothing says “Order me” like two bare derrieres from the 1920s.

I ordered the pink one. It had lovely in it. Se laisse boire!

The crowd started to grow.

The anticipation of what was to come made us raise our voices till they hit the ceiling and rained back down on us. I could barely hear the person who was standing a few inches away from me. I made small talk, but my mind kept repeating the same thought over and over, like a ticker running across the bottom of a news channel: When do we get to eat? When do we get to eat? WhendowegettoeatWhendowegettoeatWhendowe

And then the Organizers That Be stepped forward and the room hushed.

“Austin is on the cusp of being a culinary destination,” said chef Tyson Cole. We nodded reverently. Then he said something even more profound: “The line starts over here for the food.” He gestured towards the wall and I elbowed a sharply-dressed lady in the cheekbone to ensure I was one of the first.

We chatted happily with our line-neighbors as we waited, discovering who had eaten at Franklin’s before and who was about to have a holy experience.

And there was Aaron Franklin, serving his famous food, advising us on which cuts to pick.

“I like the fatty one”, he said, and that was all I needed to hear. “SOLD!” I shrieked, yanking my plate out of his hands and hunching over it at my table.

By this point, everyone had a plate in front of them, and so the volume of conversation metered out until it was a steady hum. I shared a table with Courtney Bond of Texas Monthly (who is liberal with the espresso-infused BBQ sauce) and Cathy Cochran-Lewis of the Austin Food & Wine Alliance. It was a lively crew. (Side note: Cathy revealed that at the next “Live Fire!” cooking event, Alamo chef John Bullington is going to cook a STEER. What the –I don’t even–)

And so, we chewed on, mouths against the current. It was delicious, and a perfect taste of the meal that’s ahead of us at the end of this month at the festival.

And finally, a word of caution: This baby totally tried to steal my plate…after cutting me in line. Note to Austin: Baby is dangerous. Be ye warned.

More Austin Food & Wine Fest here.

More Franklin’s BBQ here.