Autumn in Austin brings about the wafting smell of oak-smoked brisket and a sea of burnt-orange-clad football fans to areas surrounding the University of Texas. While Longhorn games are not to be missed, there are many other reasons to visit the campus area, located just north of the state Capitol. Here are our top picks for enjoying the most-anticipated (and short-lived) season known to Longhorn Country.
Though tickets to upcoming UT football games against heated Big 12 Conference foes Oklahoma State (Nov. 16) and Texas Tech (Nov. 28) can be purchased online through various outlets, Longhorn team spirit cannot be contained to Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Fans young and old reserve space in Centennial Park to build elaborate set-ups early in the morning on game days, proving that everything — even tailgating — really is bigger in Texas.
However, if your idea of fun is more introspective than congregational, the nearby Blanton Museum is home to more than 17,000 works of art, ranging from ancient Greek pottery to 14th-century European paintings and abstract modern installations. The first comprehensive collection by renowned contemporary Brazilian artist Waltercio Caldas, The Nearest Air, opened in late October.
Mere blocks away, The Harry Ransom Center is an archival research center and museum that houses 100,000 pieces of art and a collection of more than 40 million rare manuscripts and books by Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, Aleister Crowley and more.
Schedule a guided tour of the historic University of Texas Tower and see the rest of Austin from a bird’s-eye view. That evening, catch a show at The Cactus Cafe, which has welcomed many country and folk legends to its stage since 1979. It remains an intimate space to see acoustic musicians both local (Matt the Electrician, Nov. 14) and international (Toronto’s Lindi Ortega, Nov. 22).
Even if you’re not attending one of the elite tailgate parties on campus, there are several choice options for meals before or after a game. Ruby’s BBQ has been turning out high-quality, all-natural smoked meats for the past 25 years. Regulars flock there for the lean and tender brisket, all-beef Elgin pepper sausage with pork casing, delectably spicy collard greens and a surprising amount of tasty vegetarian dishes.
Freedmen’s also serves barbecue from its historic building in the West Campus neighborhood. Highlights include course-ground pepper pork spare ribs, grilled cabbage slaw with caraway seeds and cider vinegar, smoked beets with chèvre, and one of the thickest, juiciest cuts of brisket in town. Don’t miss its whiskey wall, which carries spirits from around the world.
You’ll have to look to find Foodheads, an adorable café tucked inside a converted house on 34th Street. Originally known for having some of the best tuna melts and grilled chicken sandwiches in Austin, the place now serves dinner by candlelight Thursday through Saturday, featuring rotating specials such as coffee-rubbed pork tenderloin and white bean chicken cassoulet.
For fine dining just a stone’s throw from the stadium, look no further than The Carillon Restaurant, where chef Josh Watkins reinterprets classics with a sophisticated twist. Gems include a piquant beef tartare, a kale salad bursting with flavors lent by pickled beets and bacon powder, and a succulent olive oil-poached beef filet. Pastry chef Plinio Sandalio’s desserts are equal parts savory and sweet, as seen in the corn fritters with salted butter ice cream, spiced lime curd and cotija crumbles.
Just a bit farther north of The Carillon, chef Shawn Cirkiel serves upscale regional Italian cuisine in the intimate, gorgeous setting found at Olive and June. The menu includes antipasti such as pork meatballs in fig mostarda, housemade pastas such as bucatini made with Calabrese chile, guanciale (cured pork jowl or cheek) and pecorino cheese, and seasonal entrées grilled over Texas oak. In additional to the extensive wine list, discover the many Italian aperitifs and digestifs, including a housemade limoncello.
The Carillon is tucked inconspicuously inside the AT&T Conference Center, which sits right at the edge of campus. The interior exudes ranch house chic with rustic wood touches and warm copper accents. Perks like the extremely high-speed Internet appeal to business travelers. Request a tower room for a view of the UT Tower, which you can enjoy with a cocktail in hand while wrapped in a plush, Longhorn-embroidered robe.
Hotel Ella just opened its doors in September 2013 after a multimillion-dollar renovation. One of Austin’s landmark estates, this turn-of-the-century Greek revival was originally home to Goodall Wooten, son of one of UT’s founders, and his wife, Ella. The hotel offers 48 guest rooms, the comfortable Goodall’s restaurant, a cabana-lined lap pool and a spacious wraparound veranda overlooking the front lawn. The interior design exudes understated elegance: Bathrooms are bathed in white Carrara marble, while navy- and mustard-toned velvet accents pop against cool gray and slate-blue hues.
During Texas’ home match-ups, even Hotel Ella gets in on the action by providing a Longhorn package that includes a tailgating party at the hotel bar, transportation to and from the stadium and suite accommodations. Game on.
Photos Courtesy of iStock, Blanton, Freedmen’s and Hotel Ella