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ACL food vendors offer more than stuff on a stick

Will Olivia's fried jalapeno with bacon and cheese topple the Mighty Cone? Try both and see.

Patrick Beach

James Holmes is having to think a whole lot bigger heading into the Austin City Limits Festival, which starts Friday in Zilker Park.

The man behind Olivia, the much-buzzed-about boutique restaurant on South Lamar Boulevard, a week ago said he'd been preparing already for half a month.

‘I've hit 15,000 jalapeños,' Holmes said. ‘It's a lot of burning hands.'

The jalapeños are for one of the items on Olivia's ACL menu — fried bacon-wrapped peppers with a honey glaze that includes Lone Star beer.

That's right, folks.

‘Fried bacon,' Holmes says, ‘You can't beat that.'

Somewhere, a hot and crunchy chicken cone is quaking with fear.

It's a safe bet that nobody goes to ACL just for the food, but the emphasis on local vendors and better-than-average festival food sure doesn't hurt. More than three dozen food and drink purveyors will be on hand this year, including the Mighty Cone — pretty much the supreme and uncontested champion of ACL food — from Hudson's on the Bend.

Of Hudson's Jeff Blank, ACL subcontractor Jeff Click says: ‘That guy's got lightning in a bottle. There's nothing like it.'

Holmes agrees: ‘He's the godfather. When he talks, everybody shuts up and listens to him.'

Another new contestant this year is Bess Bistro, whose offerings will include fish and chips and a steak sandwich.

The downtown Taqueria Garrido's is in with what Click, who works with all the food vendors on behalf of C3 Presents, calls ‘some fancier burritos' in addition to a turkey chipotle BLT and an avocado serrano wrap, while Hyde Park Bar & Grill will offer pimiento cheese and Kerby Lane Cafe is promising a sausage pancake, which sounds like just what a lot of fans will need after a round of late-night after-shows.

And if you're a fan of Mangia pizza, here's some news that will make your day: They'll be selling huge, quarter-pie slices.

Of course, they'll have Tex-Mex covered, too. Torchy's Tacos was there last year and they're back again with, among other things, the best green chile pork tacos you'll ever eat.

All these places and more are putting in lots of extra hours to keep you fueled for three days of sweat and music.

‘I don't think people realize the amount of up-front work and effort it takes,' Click says. ‘You walk off with a cone and you don't realize these guys are cooking in the middle of a park with no real kitchen facilities, They spend months preparing. Jeff Blank spends all this time breading and freezing. You don't realize some poor guy spent a month working on that thing you just walked off with. But they don't want anybody standing in line for an hour and missing the Eagles.'

(Actually, some of us are hoping to miss the Eagles.)

For Holmes, that means ordering 200 pounds of cayenne pepper, hundreds of gallons of buttermilk and thousands of pounds of flour. He's secured 15 fryers. ‘I grew up in the propane business, but I've learned a lot about fryers,' he says.

He'd initially hoped to use local cheese and house-smoked bacon, but the scale of the operation required him to go elsewhere.

In addition to doing all the necessary prep and making sure he has enough hands to keep the line moving, Holmes has another fan-friendly menu option: a bucket of chicken big enough to feed four. Because most everybody goes to ACL in a group, right? So one of you goes to get a bucket of Olivia chicken and the rest of you don't have to miss the show.

Since posting the news that Olivia would be at ACL on Facebook and Twitter, Holmes says he's gotten ‘a big response.' And who knows? That might translate into new customers.

‘I didn't think I'd be gaining customers, but maybe people who haven't eaten at Olivia will stop by, have a bucket and come to the restaurant and have brunch. So I hope to spread the word.'

pbeach@statesman.com; 445-3603