SXSW: Things to eat, drink and see in Austin

March 3, 2014

An interview with Icehouse’s Nick Hodge and Nathalie Doucet

Before we go any further, it should be said that Nick Hodge is actually from Houston, and not Austin, Texas. But it isn’t easy to find Texas transplants in Montreal who also happen to own one of the city’s most popular BBQ joints, that is Icehouse, in the Plateau. Thankfully, Hodge and his wife Nathalie are well travelled and love to talk about the ambience and flavours that make Austin so special.

Described as “hipster ground zero”, Austin is overflowing with art and culture, great food, delicious libations and friendly people. SXSW-ers looking for refreshments and an energizing place to discuss the day’s events will have no shortage of casual dining options – many offering patios where you can enjoy a cold beer or margarita once the sun goes down.

Food & drink sure bets

  • Franklin’s – Considered by some to be the best BBQ in North America.
  • Barley Swine – Named by GQ as one of the top ten new restaurants in the U.S – and its little brother Odd Duck (Jan-Nicolas’ favourite eateries in Austin).
  • The Ginger Man – Beers lovers will get weak in the knees when they see this list.

If you’re a fan of tex-mex, welcome to the home of tex-mex cuisine. In Austin, even bad tex-mex is light years better than what you’re used to. But that seems to be the case with everything in Austin. “I tend to stay away from touristy strips when I travel, but in Austin, even the touristy places are fun and relaxed,” Hodge comments, adding that Lamar Street, 6th Street and Guadelupe Street are lined with some of the world’s best BBQ joints, as well as pubs and more trendy eateries.

Your Austin must-hit list

  • Perla’s – Casual dining on South Congress Avenue. Linger on the oak-shaded patio, enjoying ultra-fresh oysters and fish from both coasts. Story is, the founders consulted with Montreal’s own David MacMillan (Joe Beef) when creating this dining experience.
  • Congress Street Bridge at sunset – Starting in March, hundreds of people gather on the Congress Street Bridge to watch the world’s largest urban bat colony emerge from under the bridge and take flight. Watching 1.5 million bats take off in a black swoop is an experience not to be missed.
  • The Salt Lick – Located a 30-minute drive from Austin, this all-you-can-eat BBQ is worth the detour. Tables are scattered across the property, surrounded by a natural setting that’s breath-taking at sunset. Bring a cooler of your favourite brews to go with dinner.

If you’re more of a rambler, Austin has a plethora of food trucks selling everything from gourmet hot dogs to cupcakes, from crepes to tacos. Make sure to download the AustinFoodCarts app to help you search for food carts by cuisine or location. This is especially useful if you’re combining your mobile food experience with a brewery tour (yes, Austin is also involved in the microbrewery revolution).

Three things you need to know

  • Stay hydrated. As Hodge says, “Texas is as hot as fuck”, so if you’re pale, find cover.
  • Plan your routes beforehand. Austin doesn’t have a subway system and the bus system is not extensive, so be careful not to get stranded.
  • Order accordingly. Food portions are huge in Texas, so share when you can and don’t be shy to bring the rest back to your hotel for a 3AM snack.

Essentially, your belly will want for nothing during your SXSW experience. And when you get home to Montreal, you can still reminisce with a visit to Icehouse. Named for a pre-refrigeration tradition, in which the people who sold blocks of ice began offering unpretentious eats and cold beer on the side, Nick Hodge’s Icehouse is as inventive, laid back and delicious as its Texas cousins. It may not have the Texas heat, but this tex-mex eatery serves buckets of ribs, fried chicken and tacos that go down real smooth with a bourbon lemonade.

Nick Hodge at The Salt Lick near Austin, Texas. Photo taken by Nathalie Doucet.
Nick Hodge at The Salt Lick near Austin, Texas.