At the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival, the only thing more important than the food or wine is, of course, the weather. But today’s forecast of ferocious storms has only slightly affected today’s lineup. The lunchtime Culinary Corral will still take place at the Heart of the Ranch but now under 15,000-square feet of tent space.
Since storms are expected to dissipate by late afternoon, tonight’s Burgers, Brews + Blues event will go on as planned, outside at the Heart of the Ranch. If rain persists, it, too will be moved into a tented area.
Today may be a different story, but the festival could not have asked for more picture-perfect weather for Friday night’s double feature of events: the Main Event and Desserts After Dark.
While the festival has gone through various reworkings since it began six years ago, these two events have remained virtually unchanged. The one change is a welcome one: The Main Event was moved from the cramped Pier 1 building to the spacious Heart of the Ranch, where Friday night's patrons comfortably grazed, singer-songwriters plucked guitars and pop-up bars served fancy drinks, all against a backdrop of cool breezes and a setting sun.
The Main Event is designed to spotlight the handiwork of the city’s A-list restaurants and chefs. More than a dozen restaurants participated, each serving bite-size portions of food meant to exemplify what they do best.
There were several memorable bites: Magdalena’s Beef Wellington, which came with a side of crunchy elote; Zoli’s pastrami slider, made with tender house-brined short rib meat and Russian slaw; Reata’s simple pulled pork slider (the pig from which it came was displayed nearby); Shinjuku Station’s smoked, miso-cured escolar; and Piattello Italian Kitchen’s simple, comforting lasagna.
I wasn’t so crazy about Bob's Steak & Chop House’s bacon cheeseburger slider, the bacon for which was undercooked. Fixe had the same issue, undercooking its lamb lollipops. But Fixe served two other items that were divine: a deviled egg, dabbed with hot sauce, and smoked trout dip, served on a pleasantly salty Carolina Gold Rice cracker.
Like bands playing South by Southwest, some of the Main Event chefs used the festival to try out new ideas. Jon Bonnell showcased a beautiful pozole that he promises will soon be on the menu at his self-named restaurant. Nearby, Bird Café chef Kyle Baker offered a wonderful squash blossom and roasted tomato tamale with tomatillo sauce. And Stefon Rishel gave us a sneak preview of his forthcoming Wishbone & Flint restaurant with a killer chicken ballotine, plopped upon a small pond of honey dijonnaise, that sent me back for seconds.
After Main Event came Desserts After Dark, held at the beautiful Whiskey Ranch on the east side. While there’s a certain amount of chef-showboating that happens at other FWFWF events, Desserts After Dark is a time when everyone just drinks, eats sugary foods and has a good time.
With the downtown skyline twinkling in the background, nearly 900 people did just that, sampling the sweet tooth-pleasing wares from 16 pastry chefs and 14 mixologists while gentle winds and old-school hip-hop tunes swept along the grounds.
Best bites - most of which were infused with TX Whiskey (the Whiskey Ranch’s namesake product) - included whiskey-buttermilk pie from Sweet Lucy’s Pies; Dough Boy Donuts’ slightly fiery whiskey-mango-habanero doughnut; and Loft22 Cakes’ wonderfully decadent cookie butter whipped cheesecake.
The festival continues on Saturday with Culinary Corral and Burgers, Brews + Blues, and on Sunday with Ring of Fire. For more information, visit fortworthfoodandwinefestival.com.