Our highlights from the Moontower Comedy Festival went way beyond comedy. We had plenty of time in the afternoon and in between shows to check out some local Austin culture and took full advantage of it. Rule #1 in Austin, is go local. Everything in Austin that we saw (with the exception of the day we took a cab past U of T), was 100% local, especially downtown. If you’re in Austin for Moontower, the first area you’ll check out is 6th Street, also known to the locals as Dirty Sixth. It’s hard to avoid, as many of the Moontower venues are on and nearby Sixth, and you’ll find yourself passing through on the way to all the shows. Austin locals generally stay far away from Dirty Sixth, and you will too eventually, but don’t be so anxious to act like a local that you miss the fun of walking down the street hearing live music, as many as five live bands at a time, coming out of every bar in earshot. Yes, its annoying that these bars are 18 and up and attract a college crowd, yes they tend to play to the tourists, but that’s okay, hang out walk around, grab some Voodoo Donuts (actually a Portland original, but still pretty good in Austin and open 24/7). Check it all out and then move on to other areas.
Just off of dirty Sixth there are some great places to eat, most of our favorites were west of Congress street. We checked out Frank’s hot dogs, Gourdough’s Public House where you get a donut with everything you order, and our pick for the best food in the Moontower zone, Turf N’ Surf Po Boy. With a window to the sidewalk and another one inside the adjoining Lacava Street Bar, they have some of the best fish tacos, and Po Boys we’ve ever eaten outside of New Orleans.
We only had four days but we found time to get out of the downtown zone, and the two favorite spots we visited were the popular South Congress area, and Rainey Street. Just hit up Congress, and walk south (or grab a cab) and walk the extensive length of South Congress from Riverside to Mary and enjoy the massive stretch of shops, restaurants, bars and food trucks. We hit up Guerro’s on the recommendation of Goddamn Comedy Jammer Johnny Skourtis, and it was fantastic. Skip the inside experience and head straight out to the outdoor taco bar, with live music, all the tequila you’ll ever need, and some great fish tacos. If that’s not your thing there are dozens of great looking places to stop in and eat, you could spend weeks eating your way down congress, including a pretty good cupcake truck, a joint that serves the infamous bullet/butter coffee, and Amy’s ice cream. South Congress is also where you’ll be able to get your hands on cowboy boots and shirts at Allen’s, all things vintage, old timey candy, Tom’s shoes, and some authentic jerky if you’re there during the week.
Most of Austin is pretty gritty. If you’ve had enough gritty after a day or two and want to sit somewhere pretty, take a ride over to the newly developed Rainey Street, where beautiful bungalows have been transformed into a row of adorable eateries, with live music all around, a great taco truck, and Bangers, a beer garden with all kinds of wurst, sausages, amazing sides and a massive beer list. Beware of anything that might have ghost peppers lurking, they are not fucking around at Bangers.
And yes, our off time included a journey to Austin’s mecca. Ask locals and visitors alike whether you should spend some of your visit time going to to the city’s most famous BBQ joint- Franklin’s BBQ– and a fight will likely break out between those who insist it is absolutely 100% worth it, and those who tell you it’s a waste of time and there are plenty of other great spots in town to get meat. The answer is they are both right. We decided to go for it though, and spent six hours, yes, you read that right, SIX HOURS waiting in line for BBQ. For those unfamiliar with Franklin’s, people begin lining up at 5:45 am. They open at 11. If you get there by 7am, you’ll probably be eating pretty close to that 11am open time, but that’s still four hours. We arrived at 9:15, and found ourselves around the corner from the entrance, expecting about a three hour wait. Around 10:30 we learned two awful things. First, our wait was going to be a total of six hours, not the three we thought, and second, they were going to start running out of some things, like ribs, before we could get to the front. In fact, the person behind us in line got designated “last person standing” which means anyone behind her was not guaranteed to get any food.
The six hours passed quickly, meeting people from all over the world, making friends with a famous Korean Chef, talking best restaurants in various cities, and drinking beer sold by the Franklin’s girls walking up and down the line. When we finally got to the front, we were thrilled to find out that the only thing they had run out of was ribs, and the food was outstanding. Ridiculous brisket that was cooked to perfection, outstanding sausages, pulled pork that was the best we ever had, and fantastic smoked turkey was piled on butcher paper and served with a Mexican coke. We took the advice not to waste our time on sides, and ate like we had just walked through the desert for weeks. Was it worth it? That would be your call to make. The naysayers are absolutely right, there are many incredible bbq places in Austin, which may very well may be just as good and have either no wait, or at least a shorter wait. On the other hand, the food was incredible. Without a doubt one of the best meals any of us had ever eaten, with plenty of leftovers to bring over to our friends waiting downtown. Here’s the best tip we can give you. Show up around 1:00. The back of the line will now be close to the front of the line (most people aren’t willing to wait without a guarantee of food). They will repeatedly tell you that you might not get fed. Stay anyway, and you’ll wait about an hour to 90 minutes with a pretty good chance of eating.
We also checked out a few local chains, including Amy’s Ice Cream, Torchy’s Tacos, and P. Terry’s and gave an across the board yes to all three. Amy’s ice cream is sublime, we recommend the simple clean sweet cream vanilla with your choice of great toppings, but every flavor we tried impressed. P. Terry serves some great slow fast food burgers, fries and shakes. If you’re from the North East, think of it as Austin’s version of Shake Shack. Don’t waste your time here for a major meal with so many local unique spots to check out, but if you’re hungry late at night after you’ve been at the bars, you’ll be very excited that P. Terry’s stays open late. Ditto for Torchy’s Tacos.
It’s out of the way, but we still checked out Jeremiah the Innocent, a mural dedicated to the great Daniel Johnston just off the University of Texas campus. If you have no idea what that means, go get a copy of the Devil and Daniel Johnston this weekend. You’ll thank us. A few things we missed, but still recommend- the bats at the Congress bridge (Google it), two stepping at the Broken Spoke (closed Sunday), the Stevie Ray Vaughn satue, some of Austin’s best water spots like Hamilton Pool, and Barton Springs Pool, and the original Alamo Drafthouse. Foodwise, we missed out on East Side King, a food truck recommended by absolutely everybody, a list of a dozen great BBQ spots including Salt Lick, Mickelthwait, and LA BBQ, Veracruz Tacos, and La Reina.
One final note. If you find yourself leaving Austin, and you’ve missed your chance to get any BBQ or local ice cream, there is one last chance for you to check it all out. At least one terminal at Austin’s airport has a few local joints. Is it the same as eating in the city? God no. This is an airport food court. It should never substitute for the real thing. But if somehow you find yourself leaving town without trying anything, and you’re from a part of the country where BBQ means flame broiled cheeseburgers, at least go over to Salt Lick and grab yourself some brisket and sausage. And yes, they’re open at 6am, and serve breakfast.
So that’s a wrap on Moontower 2016. Make sure you check out our story about Maya Rudolph’s Princess Show, our separate story on the Goddamn Comedy Jam’s Austin Run, and our mid-festival what you’ve missed so far review. We’ll see you next year in Austin. And by all means, if you have favorite places to go, things to do and foods to eat in Austin, please add them in the comments.