Just in time for South by Southwest this year, and I mean just in time, Austin’s extravagant new Fairmont hotel opened. Connected to the city’s Convention Center, where SXSW is officially housed, by an elevated, winding, modernist concrete bridge, it towers over Cezar Chavez just West of I-35 and not far North of Lady Bird Lake. Across the street from the bright blue reflective glass of this love letter to Millennial materialism is a dusty vacant lot, which serves as the home of this year’s SouthBites Trailer Park where trendy food trucks from across the country set up to feed SXSW attendees everything from vegan dumplings to barbecue sandwiches.
Among the food trucks in attendance this year are Austin favorites like Noble Sandwich Co., mmmpanadas, and Lick Honest Ice Creams, all of which offer tasty Austin-centric fare for people coming into town from far flung places. For me personally, I wanted to try food from one of the vendors that came from outside of Austin, and there were a few of those as well.
From Houston came the Zagat rated and much ballyhooed The Waffle Bus where they turn just about anything you can think of into a waffle sandwich. There’s the Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Waffle, the Waffle Burger, even the Smoked Salmon Waffle, plus sweeter verities with Nutella, chocolate covered Strawberries, and the best: S’mores. They also do Waffle Fyders, which are pretty much waffle fry sandwich sliders. Yeah. It’s damn good, but definitely not on your cardiologist’s approved list of regular eateries.
I opted though for Ghost & Grits, a food truck out of Brooklyn, New York. For $20 I went all Tony Bourdain and got everything on the menu. That included the pulled pork sandwich, their namesake grits, and an iced tea. First of all, I respect a place that does just a few things on their menu, but does them very well. Go big or go home. In this case home is more than 1,700 miles away.
As a big fan of grits, I’ve had a lot of them. Texas isn’t the heart of grits country for sure, that’s South Carolina, but you do see them on menus, and it’s a dish my wife likes to make, so I love to eat them. The Ghost & Grits I had were creamy, rich and the spicy ghost pepper jam that was weaved throughout the cup was fantastic. It gave the grits a heat that I loved! The pecorino cheese on top gave it that salty cheesy finish you were looking for to complete the dish. It was a great way to start and a good namesake dish for the food truck.
Then I moved onto the Smokey Shoulder Sandwich which featured slow smoked pork, ghost pepper aioli, cabbage raita, lime preserves on a toasted brioche bun. Let me first say that there is nothing like a good brioche bun if you’re going to have a fancy sandwich. I know, that sounds like something only a food writer would say, but go with me here. It’s a bun like you would have for a burger, but it’s made with the addition of pastry ingredients like cream, eggs, and lots of butter, we’re talk extra goodness. It’s the perfect vessel for a fancy barbecue sandwich like the one from Ghost & Grits.
The smoked pork on the Smokey Shoulder is tender, moist and worthy enough to sit next to barbecue on plate anywhere. The cabbage and preserves add that extra crunch and tang that you’re looking for in a sandwich like this. They are the perfect addition. To top it all off the spice of the ghost pepper aioli reminds you that the sandwich came to play. It punches in all the right ways with that spicy heat that hurts so good. Everything comes together to make the Smokey Shoulder Sandwich the perfect South by Southwest bite.
The SouthBites Trailer Park is a relatively new addition to SXSW, and since it occupies a plot of land that is sure to be a high rise, ultra expensive condo complex sooner rather than later I’m not sure how long it will stick around, but as long as it’s here, SouthBites is a great way for festival attendees to get a sampling of the great food truck scene that Austin, and other cities have to offer.
Now it’s time for what SXSW is really about: The music!