When I go out to eat, I often take a restaurant's beverage program into consideration when deciding where to get my grub on. For someone like me, the drinks play just as important a role as the food does in a dining experience.
What about going out to eat at one of Austin's numerous food trailers?
Renegade cooks in guerrilla trailers have multiplied in force over the past few years, and some of the city's most exciting food is being cooked in an Airstream. But alcohol — and the required permits — is not part of the business model for food-on-wheels operations. For the serious culinary boozehounds or even the casual diners, there is a solution.
People don't always think to BYOB, but in many areas around town it's not only legal, it's a practice taken advantage of by those in the know (some restaurants that sell only wine and beer also offer this DIY option).
Today, we start Booze à la Cart, a new series in which we take a local expert in food or drink to a food trailer with booze in hand to find what pairs best and what simply doesn't work. We'll explore both well-established and buzz-worthy new trailers, get some guidance on the best libations to bring along and share our findings with you.
Coat & Thai (1603 S. Congress Ave. 970-2154)
Wes Mickel, winemaker for Argus Cidery, brought the Bandera Brut hard cider to this South Congress Thai food truck. The creamy Crab Rang Goon stood out as the best food match, thanks to the contrasting crisp fruity nature of the cider, and the rich cream-filled fried wonton Rang Goon. Mickel said his second favorite union was the Yellow Curry Fried Rice with the cider, because "the spiciness of the curry, the combination of spices in the curry itself, and the fried nature of the fried rice went great with the cider. We loved it."
Takeaway: Matching crisp citrus-forward beverages with food that has a heavy spice profile (such as many Thai or Indian dishes) will help balance and cut the heft and heat of the dish.
Love Balls (1001 E. Sixth Street. 574-7525)
Who would have thought traditional Japanese street food would pair well with nuanced European wines? Gabe Rothschild, co-owner of Love Balls trailer on East Sixth Street, says he usually eats the savory fried pancake dumplings (known traditionally as Takoyaki) with beer, but local wine expert and blogger Jeremy Parzen of Do Bianchi and I found that the wines complemented each flavor of Love Ball in delightful ways. "With the Sauvignon Blanc we really loved the most avant-garde of the Takoyaki. It was a Caprese ball, a fried dough ball filled with mozzerella, tomato and basil. The bright acidity worked really well with the tang of the dressing on that one," Parzen said. "The Cabernet Franc, that is very earthy with big salinity to it, great fruit, a lot of mushroom, really worked well with the traditional Takoyaki that is stuffed with octopus. So very chewy, salty, meaty. What was interesting is that the octopus was so salty it kind of tamed the saltiness in the Cabernet Franc, drawing out its fruit."
Takeaway: With the rich. fried Love Balls, you'll want to have a drink with a good amount of acidity that will slice through the weight of the heavy batter. Aim for lightly sweet beverages such as a white wine or even a light beer, because they will balance out the salt in the food.
Firefly Pizza (1001 E. Sixth St. 745-4052)
Texas Sake Company owner and Toji (Japanese for brewer), Yoed Anis, surprised me when he suggested we find a pizza trailer to visit with his sake in tow. After trying several of the wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizzas from Firefly Pies with Anis' Rising Star (Nigori Junmai Sake) and Whooping Crane (Tokubetsu Junmai Sake), I was converted to the notion. The Eden pizza, a white olive-oil and roasted garlic-based pie with smoked Gouda, prosciutto, figs, pine nuts and sea salt was an outstanding match with the unfiltered Rising Star. "As soon as I bit into the fig, I knew that the sweetness would need to be balanced out considerably," Anis said. "Since our Whooping Crane is a little bit sweeter and doesn't do as well with the sweet flavors as our Rising Star does, I poured some of the Rising Star and started drinking. It worked very well. I know because I just kept pouring more and more Rising Star in my glass until I went to the next pizza."
Takeaway: With savory and sometimes acidic foods like pizza, your accompanying beverage should be smooth and lightly sweet, with low acidity. Don't discount unusual pairing ideas like sake, because you don't know what flavor combinations work until you try.
J Mueller BBQ (1502 S. First St. 229-7366)
"In a town full of awesome barbecue, J Mueller was at the top of our list," Austin Beerworks co-founder Michael Graham said while sampling the brisket and sausage at the South Austin trailer. "I think the type of beer that we make pairs especially well with barbecue, so it was an easy choice to make. I'm sure I'll be glad we did it tomorrow, but right now I might have to sleep it off. It was a really great meal, and our beers paired exceptionally well." After tasting all of the Beerworks brews alongside the delectable smoked meats, the crowd favorite was an almost-unanimous pick. "The Pearl Snap is such a bright, clean beer that when you eat something fatty like brisket with it, it reopens that beer. You start to taste some of the spiciness from the hops, a little bit of the sweetness and breadiness from the malt, and then you take a bite of the brisket, and you get that nice fatty, smoky flavor. They're very contrasting flavors so you really notice each flavor profile," brewer Will Golden said.
Takeaway: With fatty smoked meats like brisket and sausage, aim for lager-style beers with bright hop profiles. Beer and barbecue are natural partners, but wines would bring an additional earthy or fruity dimension to the meaty match.
Bits and Druthers (1001 E. Sixth St. 361-850-0645)
On an overcast, drizzly spring afternoon, eating fish and chips with a malty brew lifted Thirsty Planet brewer Jake Maddux's spirits. While the pairing might seem like a natural fit to any educated anglophile, Maddux, a self-confessed foodie, shared that sometimes the more simple dishes are the ones that miss the mark. This wasn't the case at Bits and Druthers. "What makes (the fish and chips) really great is the simple things: the proper breading, the proper oil temperature makes it a crispy, beautiful and moist fish and chips. A slight bit of sea salt on the fries. It's so simple but so well done." We both thought the Thirsty Goat amber ale perfectly matched the traditional British dish because it has "a nice sweet malty component with a nice hoppy finish to it, and it just really accents the fattiness from the fish and chips. It cleanses it right away with the sweetness from the malt. I think it's a match made in heaven," Maddux said.
Takeaway: Sometimes food pairings are traditional for good reason. Malty amber ales pair classically with fish and chips.