Formula 1 and Fabulous Food in Austin!

Last weekend my husband and I took a trip (along with 399,998 other fans) to enjoy the Formula 1 race in Austin. Currently, the only place in the US to enjoy Grand Prix racing is in Austin, but next year Miami will be added to the list. There were no direct flights from Bozeman, so we took an American Airlines flight to Dallas, and then caught a quick connection to Austin.

We had not flown American for quite a while, and were actually pleasantly surprised at the level of service and condition of the new planes we flew on. I let my husband be the guinea pig for the meal service…I don’t think I missed much.

Right as we walked off the plane in DFW we came to an outpost of world renowned Texas BBQ restaurant, Salt Lick. Following the uninspired inflight meal service, my husband couldn’t resist. While it was better than the AA offerings, it was just OK. The smoked turkey was an attempt at a healthy choice.

We were fortunate to score a room at The Four Seasons Austin along with a good number of the F1 drivers and their teams. Architecturally the hotel isn’t particularly exciting, but the location in downtown is hard to beat. I have been somewhat disappointed with the mediocrity of Four Seasons accommodations recently, but the property in Austin was an exception. While nothing was innovative or cutting edge, the staff were exceedingly friendly and helpful, and everything was spotlessly clean and well attended to. The one curious item was the litter box we found in the room when we arrived, along with a supply of doggy -poo bags. This was disturbing to me, but once I called down, housekeeping quickly came and took them away.

Because the hotel was filled with F1 fans, the Ferrari champagne and sweets were a nice touch.

First stop on our eating tour was Suerte located on 6th street in East Austin, the heart of the hippest food scene ever. Suerte was a hard reservation to get, but after much persistence we got a prime time table outside on their patio. Luckily we were eating with friends which allowed us to taste a good portion of the menu.

The Guacamole con Macha Verde (middle left) was particularly delicious as were the Suadero Tacos with Suerte’s Black Magic Oil (middle right). There was a squash dish that was on the appetizer list that was just fair (second row center), but the Huarache dish of oyster mushrooms, tomato pico, quesillo morita y potato puree topped with fried onions (bottom right) was quite tasty. The Quesadilla Azul (bottom left) with chorizo, pumpkin seeds and escabeche was a crowd pleaser as well.

The most anticipated dish may have been the ChocoTaco (which unfortunately didn’t photograph too well). Four of us split it, and it was the perfect sweet bite to cap off a yummy introduction to Austin’s food scene.

We decided to give the breakfast at the Four Seasons a try on Saturday morning. We ate outside and while the service was swift and friendly, the food was just mediocre. My husband had to give the Brisket Tacos a taste and deemed them fine- my oatmeal was not worthy of a photo. Luckily we had a coffee date with friends, so after breakfast we headed to a local spot for coffee 2.0.

Mozart’s Coffee Roasters located right along Lake Austin was a great local oasis. The location coupled with great people (and dog) watching, delicious coffee, and breakfast entertainment, made it a very good spot to fuel up for the day.

Before we headed over to the track to watch some of the qualifying races we walked up and down South Congress Street which was terrific both for shopping as well as people watching. We didn’t have much time, so my husband grabbed a quick meal at Big Vinnys BBQ Truck. The ribs and smoked turkey were proclaimed to be excellent (much better than Salt Lick), and the sides were tasty too.

Rather than BBQ, I opted for a Buddha Bowl from Sun Life Organics. I was in heaven! The food was delicious, and the space was light and happy.

We got ourselves to the COTA track, which is so vast, it is hard to describe. After 18 months of relative isolation it felt good (and weird) to be amidst 400,000 unmasked international fans. The weather was hot, but beautiful, and everyone was excited to be there. The logistics were a bit daunting, parking was a nightmare, and the shuttle buses seemed overwhelming. We were fortunate to have a driver dropping us off and picking us up, which if you can manage it, is the way to go.

Having navigated around the track a good portion of the day, we had built up a pretty solid appetite. Our dinner was to be at Hestia, a highly acclaimed spot from the Chef Kevin Fink and the restaurant group that has a lock on some of the best spots in Austin. Billing itself as a modern grill house, Hestia is named for the the Greek Goddess of the hearth. While a restaurant that cooks everything over an open fire may seem kitschy, Hestia turned out to be anything but.

The experience at Hestia hit it out of the park from start to finish. It is a sophisticated space with service to match. The food was all excellent, not a weak dish in the bunch. Again, we were luck to be dining with a friend, so there was opportunity to taste a lot. The most exceptional dish of the meal seemed to be the homemade Parker House Rolls served with homemade smoked cream, blackened pecan syrup and caviar (an additional fee). This dish literally disappeared within minutes. My squash dish (top right) was as delicious as it was beautiful, and the Lions Mane Mushrooms prepared like a veal cutlet (bottom center) was outstanding.

The Matcha Kakigori (bottom right) which we shared for dessert was amazing. Lavender and rhubarb ice cream, salted cream, mango syrup, matcha and white chocolate…superb.

Race day was Sunday and we got up early to meet some friends at Veracruz All Natural located at the Line Hotel which is conveniently just around the corner of the Four Seasons. There is a big buzz about Veracruz, and the line out the door attested to the fact that it is indeed a popular Taco spot. Unfortunately, the tacos and quesadillas we ordered were just ordinary, nobody was all that impressed.

The Line Hotel did have an outpost of Alfred Coffee which I have enjoyed in Los Angeles. There was a crowd there as well, and the coffee was pretty good!

The ride to the track on Sunday was congested and slooooow. If you are in Austin for F1 be prepared to leave loads of extra time to travel to and from the race. I am not going to recount the results here, aside from the fact that it was very exciting, and our favorite driver Verstappen beat out Hamilton for the win. We purchased a package through Sports Illustrated that afforded us access to a luxury suite at turn 12 with endless food and beverage service, as well as air conditioning. There was ample seating both inside and outside to enjoy the race, but very few of those seats were in the shade. Suffice it to say there were some heated disagreements about reserving and saving seats, but it all worked out.

Following the race we were thrilled to enjoy a Kool & the Gang concert. If you are thinking of attending one of the F1 events, buying a package makes it much more civilized. The Sports Illustrated package we purchased promised a lot, but under-delivered. Formula 1 offers their own packages, so that may be an option to explore.

We did not make a reservation for our final night in Austin, but we were able to grab two seats at the bar at Canje the Caribbean concept from the Hestia and Emmer & Rye folks. Canje is very new on the scene, but it has already developed a great buzz. The inspiration for the fresh and delicious food draws upon Chef Tavel Bristol Joseph’s Guyanese roots.

The bar at Canje has a terrific selection of Rum in honor of its Island roots, but I challenged the bartender to come up with a mocktail. It was delicious, perfect alongside the plantain chips, melon and pink pineapple and Amberjack ceviche with taro chips. For our mains we opted for eggplant with purple hull peas and pecans, as well as pork belly. Everything was expertly prepared, and the flavors were so out of the ordinary. We wanted to try dessert, but we were both stuffed. Canje (like Suerte) is on East 6th street which is lined with fabulous nightlife and dining choices. We decided to walk off some of our dinner and see what was happening.

Our last activity in Austin before our very early flight Monday morning was meeting some friends for drinks at Midnight Cowboy tucked away amidst all the action on 6th street. Midnight Cowboy is a secret hideaway which absolutely requires a reservation whereby you are emailed instructions on how to enter. You can easily walk by Midnight Cowboy several times(which we did) before we figured it all out.

Not too far in the past, Midnight Cowboy was a working Brothel masquerading as a massage parlor. While there are booths in the front, you can also gather in small private rooms in the back. This was a lot of fun, and truth be told, my first visit to a Speakeasy (and a Brothel). The Bartender/Mixologists visited our room and crafted cocktails for us from a drinks cart that was part theater and part science experiment. It was a perfect way to wrap up a fabulous weekend.

If you have not been to Austin in a long time (we hadn’t been since 2012) book yourself a visit! The city has grown and is packed with young people and great energy. F1 or not, it is a fabulous long weekend.

The glorious sunrise that we witnessed upon landing in Dallas was a consolation for our 4:15 am wake-up call

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