Fort Worth Food + Wine Fest: A Recap of the Tasty Weekend

Rise + Dine. Photo by Nancy Farrar. 

The fifth annual Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival started on Thursday and wrapped up yesterday. Here’s a bite-by-bite recap of the four-day event:  

Tacos + Tequila

Photo by Malcolm Mayhew. 

Held at BRIK, a beautiful, refurbished historic building near the South Main redevelopment, T&T kicked off the festival on Thursday by bringing together tequila vendors with local restaurants such as Wild Salsa, Meso Maya, Salsa Limon and east side spot Alma’s Paleteria, which offered ... tortas? (Shoot, I didn’t care, they were good.) For being a brand-new event, it ran incredibly smoothly. But there’s room for improvement. I feel like the fest missed an opportunity to show off the handiwork of the local mom-and-pop taquerias that many of us know and cherish. These are the places that truly represent our city, not Dallas-based corporate restaurants like Wild Salsa.  

Main Event, Desserts After Dark

Photo by Nancy Farrar. 

Day two of the fest featured this doubleheader of events, both of which lucked out by narrowly missing inclement weather, although guests and chefs wrestled with flapping table skirts.

I can’t recall a year in which the food at Main Event was this good, from Grace’s smoked swordfish, cloaked in a zesty chermoula sauce, to the beautiful porchetta from the Piattello/Clay Pigeon crew, to Ellerbe Fine Foods’ excellent charred cauliflower with arugula and romesco vinaigrette. Bob’s Steak & Chop House turned in a succulent filet and lobster combo, and I had so many rounds of HG Sply Co.’s refreshing shrimp ceviche tostada, chef Danyele McPherson probably thought I was stalking her. I kept coming up with fake reporter questions to ask the Texas Bleu Steakhouse staff so I could keep stealing their skewers of sous-vide beef tongue with tonnato sauce ("How do you spell 'tonnato'?"), and Michael Thomson’s pecan-smoked pork tacos in guajillo chile sauce were otherworldly good.

Next was Desserts After Dark, held at the sprawling new Whiskey Ranch. TX Whiskey was used in some form or another in most of the drinks and desserts. My top 3 picks: Joy Macarons’ ice cream macaron sandwich, Loft 22 Cakes’ butterscotch pudding and local chef/caterer Jen Williams’ clever turmeric mousse. This event is always a blast, and this year was no exception. Some of the vendors donned costumes (my fave: the guys from B&B Butchers & Restaurant were decked out in '50s soda shop gear), and guests genuinely had a good time eating super-sugary food, exploring the nooks and crannies of the maze-like ranch and dancing to '80s and '90s music.    

Rise + Dine, Burgers, Brews + Blues

Photo by Malcolm Mayhew. 

Wherein outstanding food was served during less than outstanding conditions. The brunch-inspired Rise + Dine took place Saturday afternoon at the Pier 1 Building and the triple-B party was held later that night, once again at the Heart of the Ranch. Best bites at R+D included Rise No. 3’s escargot shooters with mini goat cheese souflees; Cannon Chinese Kitchen’s pork congee, the perfect bowl of warm to battle the cold; Jon Bonnell’s fried quail and waffle; and a bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed date in a charred red pepper sauce from Grace.

Windy conditions meant outdoor vendors on the bottom level had to come inside. On top of that, the escalator going down went out, causing rush hour-like human traffic jams. But even on the upper level, it was so crowded, it became difficult to move from one end of the room to the other. Some vendors ran out of food, and some guests ran out of patience, causing them to split. I like the Pier 1 Building, but it might be time to look for a larger venue.

All the participants of the Burgers, Brews + Blues showcase and competition brought their A-games, no doubt making it difficult for voters to chose a fave. When the grill smoke cleared, local food truck Easy Slider beat out stiff competition from the likes of Fred’s Texas Cafe, Hookers Grill, Kincaid’s and Rodeo Goat, snagging best burger bragging rights from both judges and guests — a fest first — for its goat cheese and strawberry jam mash-up.

Scheduled to appear but absent from the event was Heim BBQ, whose burgers have been drawing huge crowds on Monday nights, the only time the restaurant serves them. Owner Travis Heim said by text he recently lost two cooks, causing the last-minute cancellation.

Lousy weather looked to put a damper on the event, but luck must be a fan of burgers: Rain was a no-show, and the crazy wind died down; it was just a little cold.

Pitmasters Picnic

Photo by Malcolm Mayhew

The festival went up in smoke, literally, Sunday afternoon with the annual gathering of local and regional barbecue pitmasters. It’s always fun watching these guys try to out 'cue each other. Black’s BBQ, the storied Lockhart joint, drew the longest lines for its rich, fatty brisket and mini sausage and doughnut hole sandwich (the beef sausage was blow-torched, causing much oohing and ahhing). Dallas’ Lockhart Smokehouse made a big splash for carving meat off a T-Rex-size bone. Reata/Magdalena’s made cabrito tacos and displayed the remains of a goat.

I ate a lot of excellent barbecue. Among my faves: fatty brisket from BBQ on the Brazos, brisket-topped elote from Panther City BBQ, a brisket/chorizo meatloaf from Cousin’s, brisket tamales from Meat U Anywhere, a pulled pork slider from The Ranch House in Glen Rose, and a chopped brisket empanada from Cattleack BBQ out of Dallas. Thanks for your concern; I'll make a full recovery in about three days.

Every year, the festival gets bigger and more popular, which this year led to several vendors running out of food before their events were even close to ending; some events seemed overcrowded. Organizers may need to sell fewer passes or find larger venues — good problems to have, but ones that'll need to be addressed. Just some food for thought for next year.