Away days: The match day experience in Austin

In addition to my three thoughts on Nashville SC’s draw in Austin, I wanted to take readers along with me on my trip to the Lone Star State to watch the Boys in Gold.

Consider this a travelogue of sorts. Hopefully, it will be a refreshing palette cleanser from my normal post-match musings and maybe spark some soccer-specific trip ideas of your own.  

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This was my first proper away trip following Nashville SC. I say “proper” because I have been to another Nashville away game this season. While I did make the short drive over to Charlotte for NSC’s match against the MLS newcomers earlier in the year, that weekend was largely spent with close friends of mine living in the Queen City. This past weekend’s trip to Austin was my wife and I’s first match standing in the dedicated away section.

I have had designs to make this happen much earlier. After all, I have been closely following this club since the USL days. But between COVID and expending resources making the 360-mile roundtrip from Knoxville to attend home matches at GEODIS Park, I just had not yet made it happen. Lucky for me, I could not ask for better timing. This match fell on my birthday weekend and at the time of the year when I need to start burning unused vacation days. 

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To make the most of the weekend, we flew out on a direct flight Thursday afternoon. Upon landing, we rushed to the hotel, dropped our bags, and headed out to a concert at The Scoot Inn. The concert venue in East Austin is one of the most unique music venues I have visited. The Scoot opened in 1871 and is the oldest, continuously operating alcohol establishment in central Texas. The stage is set up in the middle of an outdoor Biergarten creating an intimate, one-of-a-kind venue. If ever in Austin, grab a tall boy of Shiner Bock and catch a show.

Nashville-based country artist “Cam” headlined that night. You may recognize her from her 2015 hit “Burning House.” I will be honest. I had never given her discography a listen prior to my wife Brittany purchasing the concert tickets. While I rarely listen to country music these days, I thoroughly enjoyed the concert. Cam is an immensely talented vocalist and it was evident from the very first note. 

Friday, my 35th birthday, brought an early wake-up alarm. The reason for the early morning was to snag a place in line at the renowned Franklin Barbecue. The restaurant routinely receives reviews as one of, if not the, best barbecue establishments in the country. Pitmaster Aaron Franklin is a legend in the world of smoked meats and is a featured Master Class instructor. 

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If you want a chance to sample arguably the world’s best Texas-style brisket, there is one giant hurdle, the line. On weekends and busier Fridays, the queue for the ‘que can stretch hours long before the restaurant opens at 11:00 AM. For some, it is a time commitment not worth the wait. For me, it was a pilgrimage worth making and one of the big reasons why I was excited to make the trip to Austin.

In one of my last work trips prior to the infamous March 2020, I stopped by Cattleack Barbecue, a heralded Texas barbecue establishment in Dallas known for their American wagyu beef brisket. It was a life-changing meal.

Like many others during the pandemic, I picked up a Covid hobby. Mine was trying to recreate that brisket. I bought a smoker and the seemingly thousand other accessories that go with it. There are the wood splits, fire starters, ash disposal can, butcher paper, black latex gloves (#forthebrand), Bluetooth-enabled thermometers, and everything in between. To learn all the tricks of the trade, I studied up reading copious amounts of articles with little tips on everything from maintaining temperature and properly preparing the meat. One of the resources I always came back to were a series of PBS videos featuring Aaron Franklin.

To make a long story short, that is why the line for Franklin’s was worth it for me. Thankfully my saint of a wife was willing to sit and wait for three hours with me. While that line sounds daunting, it goes by quickly as the vibe feels like a prematch tailgate with people cracking open beers and sparking up conversations with their neighbors in line.

Inside, we ordered a sampling of brisket, pork ribs, and smoked sausage. The meats were simply divine. The brisket, clearly marked with the distinctive pink smoke ring, was perfectly tender with excellent fat rendering. The pork ribs were the best interpretation of the style that I have ever tried.

While you may have heard the phrase “fall-off-the-bone” ribs as a marker of excellence, the competition barbecue world tends to shy away from ribs that literally fall off the bone. It is usually a marker of ribs that have been, intentionally or unintentionally, steamed at one point in the process. Instead, the ribs are judged by having the perfect “bite-off-the-bone” texture.

Franklin’s ribs passed the test with flying colors. The smoked cheddar-jalapeño sausage was also excellent but ranked slightly below the offerings at other tier-one barbecue establishments.

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Once you reach a certain tier of barbecue joints, it becomes difficult to rank one above another. Whether it stands out as the absolute best is hard to say, but Franklin undoubtedly deserves designation as one of the best. If you aren’t fully committed to a three-hour wait or have not spent hours consuming Aaron Franklin’s barbecue tutorials, then feel free to skip it. You can find other fantastic barbecue restaurants if you know where to look. However, you would be missing out on the experience of it all.  

After Franklin’s, we hopped over to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. The center includes a museum on America’s 36th President. The exhibits provide a wonderful lesson on the triumphs and tribulations of Johnson’s presidency as well as the monumental impacts made by Lady Bird Johnson as First Lady. LBJ signed into law hallmark pieces of legislation such as the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and bills that created Medicare, Medicaid, HeadStart, food stamps, and others as part of his “Great Society” initiative.

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Johnson’s presidency occurred during tumultuous times as he began America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Politics aside, it is worth a visit no matter which direction you lean. The parallels between Johnson and the current President are inescapable despite the remarkably different political climate.

From the LBJ library, downtown Austin is a quick 20-minute walk away. While the stroll provided a chance to see the periphery of the University of Texas campus and a few notable live oak trees (the inspiration for Austin FC’s crest), I suggest you learn a lesson from me and avoid it on a 94-degree afternoon. 

We came back to the hotel to find a gaggle of Nashville SC supporters congregating in the courtyard. One of the best parts about traveling away for any sporting event is the sense of community that develops around it. You run into old friends and meet new ones along the way.

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After spending the first four Nashville SC seasons as an unaffiliated supporter, I joined The Roadies this season for the express purpose of facilitating away game travel. Now, I still believe that the club should do a better job of broadcasting and coordinating away game travel for all supporters, but The Roadies have excellently filled the void for its members. 

Still stuffed to the gills from lunch, Brittany and I opted for a drinks-focused dinner down the street at Taquero Mucho. The restaurant decked out completely in pink decor features pouched mixed drinks labeled “Anti-Bitch Juice”. It is tailor-made for bachelorette parties. There were no less than three such parties posing for pictures below the Instram-worthy “Tacos Before Vatos” sign. 

How they have not opened a location on Broadway is beyond me. It would make money hand over fist. Even if not celebrating pending nuptials, it is certainly not the worst place to go on a date night. My Paloma and Ranch Water were refreshing after a day in the heat.

That finally brings us to match day.

A morning stop for breakfast tacos and cold brew served as fuel for an afternoon of day drinking and a self-created brewery tour. With both of us decked out in electric gold jerseys, we were easy to identify as non-locals. The hospitality of the Austin FC community immediately stuck out.

At the first stop on our tour, Hold Out Brewing in the Downtown West Austin neighborhood where we were warmly greeted by the general manager dawning her Austin FC apparel. She hooked us up with a friends and family discount and thanked us for making the journey to Austin. The exchange emblematized all our interactions with Verde and Black supporters.

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Every single person was incredibly friendly and engaging wishing Nashville luck and looking forward to the match. Home fans like that make it really easy to want to book trips for future away games.

One of the standout breweries on the tour was Blue Owl Brewing. We rendezvoused with another couple and met several other Nashville supporters who happened to already be sitting on the patio and others who joined later on. Once again, the sense of community that develops around traveling to an away match cannot be beaten.

Blue Owl is known for their unique lineup of sour beers and seltzers. The offerings include “Cool & The Gang”, a sour session beer brewed with Earl Grey tea; “¡Limetastico!”, a sour Mexican lager with salt and lime; and “Pickled Boss”, a sour pickle beer. The “Pastry Gose”, a sour peach cobbler gose, was a particular standout that could also be ordered in a slushie form.

We made a quick pit stop to grab some tacos from Discada, an East Austin taco truck specializing in combining a Northern Mexico style of cooking meat with a classic street taco. Pair it with a Mandarin Jarrito (by far my favorite soda on the planet) and you can never go wrong. I really should have snagged a picture, but I devoured those tacos immediately. Sometimes, the phone doesn’t eat first. 

After a brief break back at the hotel, we made our way to the Oskar Blues. The expansive taproom was filled with Nashville and Austin fans alike grabbing a final beer (or more) before the match. While just a stone’s throw from Q2 Stadium, it required a 20-minute walk to the away supporters’ entrance to navigate the labyrinth of industrial buildings surrounding the southern end of Austin FC’s sparkling stadium.

Q2 Stadium is an absolute jewel, standing out along with the other impressive venues built by MLS clubs in the last few years. As you might expect, they stick the official away supporters’ section in the tippy-top corner of the stadium. Like GEODIS Park, there really is not a bad seat in the house thanks to steep stands that put attendees right on top of the action.

Inside, Brittany made a beeline to Queso Fountain, a nacho bar right next to the away end. While it disappointingly does not feature an actual fountain of queso (how amazing would that be!), the queso flowed, liberally blanketing every single chip – easily the best stadium nachos I have tried.

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On the other end of the stadium stood Austin’s various supporters groups Los Verdes, Austin Anthem, and La Murga de Austin. As a collective, they are a lively and entertaining bunch providing the atmosphere that has made Austin FC an instant success as a cultural fit into MLS. That support, in part, has helped make the Verde and Black an imposing force with an 8-3-5 home record. Although, I have beef with the beer showers during certain chants, not just goal celebrations – such a tremendous waste of overly priced alcohol. 

After the match, the Nashville SC fans in the dedicated away section were held in place for fifteen minutes for everyone’s safety. I don’t think there would have ever been an issue as every Austin supporter I encountered was a gracious host. But I appreciate the protocols nonetheless. Plus, the wait was made easy by Nashville having secured an impressive road point

Overall, I could not offer a more full-throated endorsement of scheduling your own trip to Austin for a future Nashville SC match. The city as a whole gives off major vibes as the Texas version of Nashville, and it is more than worth the visit. I promise you will have a wonderful experience.

Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His writings focus on the team at large and often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Twitter

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