A line of eager folks snaked along Red River Street outside of the Mohawk on Saturday afternoon. The doors had yet to open, and the line numbered into the hundreds. It looked like a scene out of South by Southwest.
But these people weren’t queued for a secret show by Spoon or a reunion set from a hardcore group that disbanded in the 80s. They wanted queso.
Event producers Adi Anand and Patrick Waites threw the fourth annual event dedicated to the unofficial snack of Austin, and the large crowd served as testament to the allure and diversity of the melted cheese dish.
More than 20 teams competed in spicy, meaty, wildcard and best of show categories, with the event giving restaurants, retailers and home cooks a chance to show their skills and creativity. Attendees paid $5 for a bag of chips and worked their way through the multi-tiered music club, sampling ramekins of cheesy goodness.
Due to the layout, number of vendors, and multiple bars, people were able to easily move from table to table for samples. Some of my favorites included a pineapple-and-brisket queso from Michael Gonzalez, an employee at the Burro Cheese trailer, who told me the trailer makes a La Barbecue brisket and grilled cheese sandwich on Fridays; and Evan LeRoy from Freedmen’s Bar, who made an excellent brisket queso. (You can get the queso at Freedmen’s Tuesday-Thursday of this week.)
It was my second time in a month to try LeRoy’s stand-out brisket outside of his restaurant. Freedmen’s catered a friend’s wedding earlier this month. It was the first catering venture from the campus-area barbecue restaurant, and the quality and smooth service earned The Feed’s seal of approval. You can order Freedmen’s catering by visiting freedmensbar.com or emailing email@example.com.
My award for best presentation went to the Austin Facial Hair Club, which used a slew of peppers (ghost, Trinidad, poblano, jalapeno, habanero) and Austin-based Yellow Bird habanero hot sauce to make a spicy queso that included nduja sausage spread from locals Salt & Time. They topped their spicy concoction with avocado, cilantro and red "facial hair threads" (Japanese shredded red pepper strands).
Ingenuity points go to a couple of guys who made what they called Swamp Cheese, which blended crawfish and chimichurri in their queso; the group from Justine’s, who made a lamb-Harissa queso; and a couple who created queso ice cream, proving that queso can do just about anything.
As Anand and I made our way through the crowd, one attendee approached the event’s co-founder and, in hallowed tone, said to Anand, "Thank you so much for everything."
People in Austin take queso seriously.
PHOTOS: Check out scenes from Quesoff IV.
The winners, as chosen by a panel of judges that included Alex Maas of the Black Angels, Elaine Garza of Giant Noise, Bobby Johns of the Bunkhouse Group, media polymath Andy Langer, and Courtney Bond of Texas Monthly: Freedmen’s (overall/meaty), Queso Beso (spicy), Frank (veggie), Cream Team (wild card, with their ice cream).