FWFWF Sunday Recap: The Ring of Fire

FWFWF Ring of Fire

Like James Taylor, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain, and I saw both Sunday at the Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork, where the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival came to a flame-forward finish. 

The grand finale to the four-day/six-event festival, Ring of Fire, started with a few sprinkles but eventually went down in flames, which was the whole point. More than 20 local and regional cooks, chefs and barbecue pitmasters were encouraged to create dishes using fire. Smoke billowed and flames flickered, turning the festival grounds into what could have possibly been the city’s largest outdoor cookout.  

Barbecue events have always been a strong selling point of the six-year-old fest. This year, organizers took a different approach, expanding and rebranding the barbecue showcase to include non-’cue vendors. Longtime festgoers may have initially balked, especially at a time when craft barbecue is so hot in Fort Worth. But enlarging the circle of participants added some much-needed dimension; it wasn’t just the usual barbecue dudes peddling brisket and ribs. 

Some of the day’s best dishes, matter of fact, had little to do with traditional ‘cue. Out of dual paella pans, Juan Rodriguez and his Magdalena’s crew scooped out helpings of a beautiful chicken paella. Abe Froman’s of Fort Worth delivered a flatbread, pressed on site, topped with smoked chicken, pickled veggies and a Carolina barbecue sauce made with smoked guajillo peppers. Tributary Café, in a stroke of genius, busted out a crawfish boil, offering paper boats filled with fresh crawfish, potatoes and corn. 

Barbecue still played a vital role in the event, though. Here are the highlights: 

Best single bite: Had the “Best Bite” competition component of the event not been axed, I’m pretty sure the beef ribs from Richardson’s Ten50 Barbecue would have won. Each tiny bite had a good portion of juicy meat, well-rendered fat and peppery crust.
   
Best BBQ tacos: A toss-up between the smoked barbacoa tacos from Panther City BBQ and Brix BBQ’s beef cheek tacos. 

Best sneak preview: Flores Barbecue offered a sneak peek of their upcoming restaurant with a dish that, like some of my ex-girlfriends, kissed me, then punched me: smoked carnitas served on a bed of green chile and oaxaca cheese grits. That blast of spice snuck up on me.  

Best sampler dish: The oft-overlooked Cousin’s Bar-B-Q always puts its best food forward at the fest and this year was no exception. The family-run Fort Worth chain offered a plate of small, various bites: reuben sausage, perfectly crusty brisket, beef rib and collard greens. Did I mention the reuben sausage?   

Longest line: Once again, it was Black’s Barbecue out of Lockhart, although Waxahachie newcomer Meat Church held a steady line for its excellent apple and brown sugar habanero pork belly bites. 

Biggest portion: While most of the portions at this event were small, Bangers Sausage House & Beer Garden, out of Austin, delivered a full-on pulled pork sandwich, topped with housemade slaw, Carolina gold mustard sauce and a crispy chicharrón. Even more impressive, they smoked the meat – a whole hog – on site via a makeshift pit cobbled together out of cinder blocks. Unfortunately, my first – and consequently last – bite consisted of nothing but cartilage. 

Best underdog: The best bite you might have missed came from Raw Republic Meats, the nom de plume for TCU grad Jack Matusek. His handmade pork sausage was studded with aged cheddar and pickled jalapenos and dabbed with a one-two punch of aji and poblano cream sauces.   

Best dessert: Swiss Pastry Shop’s whiskey caramel banana pudding. Need I say more?