By Oscar Adrián Montes Iga, Certified Executive Chef of Wine Arts; Wine and Food Writer, Texas Wine and Trail
The Texas Two Taste column is a periodical editorial with intent to discover eateries around Texas where one can uncork and enjoy wines made across the Lone Star State, bringing wine & food pairings closer to you, two tastes at a time.
In Austin, when Spring and Summer hit the town, people are out and about, they enjoy outdoor patios, the green belt trails, kayaking, and tubing in the river. Few people turn away from scorching temperatures as there is so much to still do! So, for the benefit of my beloved fellow Austinites and other visitors, I gained inspiration to write this column based on a highly possible and positive avenue to enjoy any of your dear Texas wines with some of your favorite meals. The secret? Private Trailer Food Courts. Indeed, grab a cooler, a few of your enticing bottles from your cellar, and you’re unstoppable – unless you’re not in a privately owned lot, so make sure to check and ask your Traileranteur if their food trailer is BYOB!
For my sunny day out, I stopped by one of the few trailers that I frequent, because I know the food is great, and no surprises to ruin your appetite by trying uncharted territory. Nonetheless, experimenting is the color of the flag – your options would be endless if you grab a case of mixed wines, and you end up in a food court with several trailers – there would be so much to try and experiment with. The Fat Cactus is located on the corner of (SOCO) South Congress Avenue and Gibson, near other Austin well known establishments like Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, and Jo’s Coffee.
The yellow, cactus infused trailer sits below the shade of a big tree, providing plenty of cool breeze and break from the sun for its patrons. Their food however, can get you thinking of the hottest places west of Texas…New Mexico and Arizona that is. The Fat Cactus specializes in scratch-made and hand crafted Navajo Frybreads. In operation since February 2011, it is Austin’s only and original venue to get your frybread on, with all their chiles imported from New Mexico, you can bet to experience the true art of frybreads. The dough is hand pressed daily, and the frybread ‘’tacos’’ made to order. There is a set menu, but there is also usually a great special to try. Frybreads? What’s the big deal you ask? Well, the Navajo frybread was made with resources (sugar, lard, salt) given to the Navajo by the US Government, as they had a simple bean and vegetable diet. So it’s not surprising that “indian tacos” are often topped with chiles, corn and beans, but the possibilities are endless. The frybread can also be eaten alone, or with a jam or honey.
The Fat Cactus is keeping Navajo traditions alive in Austin, and the mom and pop trailer, is owned and operated by Courtney Jones Howell, and Chef and Certified Sommelier Chris Howell. And they will not steer you wrong if you don’t know what wine you should bring, or what frybread taco (or pizza) to get. They are great at hospitality, but they’re awesome at doing their food! There may be a wait at times, but your patience shall be rewarded – again, everything is made from scratch and cooked to order – and they are so popular that they do often sell out, so visit early, and stay a while.
On a precious leisure day I brought with me my camera, my dog, and a good bottle of Texas wine, the 2011 Westcave Cellars Winery, Texas High Plains “White Merlot” from Hendricks Family Vineyards – the wine was a clear and bright cherry red with dark hues, with a nose of hibiscus, strawberry, cherry, and white pepper. The flavor was a bit more complex, showing the bright red berries, fresh plum, orange zest, ginger and cloves. Finished, medium dry, and balanced with smooth yet lively acidity with a pleasant long finish. Westcave Cellars is north of Dripping Springs, just about a 45 minute drive from Austin, and although I had a lush delicious rosé for my frybread tacos, they are actually making a name for themselves for their estate grown fruit made wines of Viognier and Tannat. Worth the drive to talk to their vines, and watch them grow, owners Allan and Margaret Fetty will welcome you enthusiastically.
In all honesty, with such a refreshing and food friendly wine, it was very hard to pick one of the Navajo tacos to try a pairing…notwithstanding, I suffered to a trail and tasting of multiple of them. My favorite pairing was indeed with the day’s special, which was a Slow Roasted Pulled Pork with a secret chile rub, and of course, pinto beans, red chile, lettuce, tomato, and cheese. Also on my menu, I had the Foghorn, a delicious inspired chile rubbed chicken with goat cheese, cilantro pumpkin seed pesto ranch dressing and toasted pepitas. Lastly, I also hit the Greek Western; a green chile hummus with zucchini and squash, chayote, black olives and feta cheese. If you’re not yet salivating (or drooling) then go have the doctor check your taste buds. And frankly, all the pairings worked really well, which goes to show me that Texan wines and Southwestern food are evolving into an emergence of harmony. The spices and condiments on the frybread tacos are certainly well deserving of a wine that can stand up to them, but the wine also brings nuances as you take another bite of your taco.
Whether you’re headed to The Fat Cactus for their pet friendly shaded area, for their vegetarian friendly options, for one of their classics, or for the special of the day, make sure you bring a bottle or two of your favorite Texas wines, and they are sure to become new friends, and who knows, you may find a new favorite trailer too. All my heroes ate frybreads…did yours?
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Oscar Adrián Montes Iga, MC; ECWA; CSW; CBS
Oscar Adrian is the contributing editor of the Texas Two Taste column, and writer for Texas Wine & Trail Magazine
Oscar was recognized as a Magna Cum Laude after graduating with a specialization in Nutrition, Diet & Health Science. He attended college and finished degrees in Travel & Tourism, Meeting & Events Planning, Food & Beverage and Hospitality Management; Oscar’s background in Food Service and Hospitality started long ago however, as he was part of family-ran restaurants throughout his childhood, but it wasn’t until working at a Texas prime steakhouse in 2005, when he visited a vineyard for the first time that he discovered a drive for lust of wine & vine – the rest is history in the making.
He has worked in three distinct Texas Hill Country wineries, and has been an essential staff component in wine festivals, seminars and conferences throughout the state involved with major community organizations such are The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas, the Texas Hill Country Wineries Association, the Texas Wine & Food Consortium, the American Wine Society, and additionally, Oscar is now a Panel Wine Judge for the Texas Wine Journal.
Oscar is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators, also a Certified Executive Chef of Wine Arts and was granted a Master Candidate title with the International Wine Guild. To sum up Oscar, he is a dedicated Texas Scholar, grape hunter and oenophile, foodie and avid ambassador for hospitality, and he takes great joy in sharing his passions with others.