The Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival kicked things off with BBQ Showdown on Thursday, March 30, 2017, at W.R. Watt Arena. As festival-goers entered the arena the smell of smoked meats and anticipation was in the air. Ultimately, Heim Barbeque took home the big prize for best barbeque.

The longest line of the night led to Lockhart Smokehouse, where they were carving off of tantalizing tomahawk ribs. Kreuz Market, at a table nearby, served up some amazing sausage, in original (with just a hint of spice) or jalapeno cheddar, which was my favorite. The delicate texture of their sausage was on point, and their crunchy bread and butter pickles were addictive. Angelo’s ribs were also a stand-out item, tender and understated as ever.

A familiar face was spotted at the BBQ Showdown this year. Chef Tim Love was on hand representing his own Woodshed Smokehouse. It was kind of like stumbling across Tiger Woods at a golf tournament that he doesn’t usually play. Love’s busy schedule has never aligned with his hometown Food Festival until this year, so this was his first appearance.

His dish was hard to beat for me. He served a hearty chunk of short rib that was smoked over hickory wood. The even marbling of the fork-tender beef was served with a twist. Love’s classic vinegar-based chimichurri sauce was a welcome change, bringing heat from red pepper flakes, as well as freshness from the garlic and parsley, as well as a fresh South American vibe to the showdown.

Tim Love’s Chimichurri Short Rib - Photo by Nancy Farrar

The Main Event took placed Friday night at Pier 1 Imports Building. The weather was beautiful again this year and the lower level outdoor scene was smokin’ hot. Marcus Paslay’s Clay Pigeon Food and Drink served up Korean Bulgogi beef with a side of pickled veggies.

Blaine Staniford of Grace and Little Red Wasp wrapped a date stuffed with chorizo sausage in bacon for the perfect bite. Michael Thomson of Michael’s Cuisine presented skewers of pecan smoked duroc pork belly topped with fresh pineapple pico salsa.

On his second appearance to the FWFWF, John Tesar, of Knife in Dallas, smoked a whole hog and pulled the meat by hand. He presented it carnitas style on fluffy handmade tortillas with a drizzle jalapeño crema and a dusting of of cotija cheese.

VOX Table in Austin, upped the cool-factor with their smoked Hamachi pipettes. They filled a “syringe” with a coconut and soy vinaigrette and skewered smoked Hamachi, pickled cucumbers, tomato and raisin for a fun and tasty experience.

John Tesar’s Whole Hog Carnitas style - Photo by Courtney Dabney

The Shack at Panther Island played host to Desserts After Dark which polished off Friday evening with a major sugar rush.

The dessert creations ran the gamut from Alchemy pops to Dr. Sue’s chocolates. A couple of new-comers were real stand outs this year. Pastry Chef Maurice Ahern introduced visitors to his Gold Ribbon Confections which specializes in cheesecakes. He brought along three of his flavors to sample, including the light and creamy Praline cheesecake.

Hurley House Bakery, which opened earlier this year on Bryant Irvin, had a lovely set up that displayed many of owner/baker Katherine Sasser’s desserts, but they won Fan Favorite Dessert for her original whiskey soaked carrot cake featuring a double dose of TX whiskey.

My favorite dessert of the evening was a colorful lemon sugar cookie with almond icing atop an airy plantain pudding served by Irma Gamez of Mariposa’s Latin Kitchen. The flavors were so enticing and it was good to learn that this dessert is now available on their spring menu the next time I am craving it.

There were too many delicious craft cocktails to mention. The most creative might have been Bird Café’s entry they called the Smash Garden. TX Whiskey was blended with lemon juice and mint simple syrup, then topped with colorful flavor beads (caviar) which popped in your mouth. A decoder card was presented with flavors like apple, hibiscus, and violet to explore. The Lazy Moose went in a different direction. Their Maple Bacon Cider added apple cider, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and candied bacon garnish to TX.

My favorite was the Dixieland Delight shaken by Fixture. It incorporated TX Whiskey, Lemon curd, ginger liqueur, Orgeat (a syrup made from almonds and rose water) and Burlesque bitters in a graham cracker and brown sugar rimmed original.

Mariposa’s Plantain Pudding - Photo by Nancy Farrar

Fixture’s Dixieland Delight - Photo by Nancy Farrar

Rise + Dine served up a classy brunch on Saturday, April 1at Pier 1 Imports Building. Just like at the Main Event, winemakers were on hand pouring their best. I knew brunch was off to a good start when Chef Juan Rodriguez, owner of Magdalena’s, created a savory breakfast churro, topped with ancho and chili pequin cured salmon and caviar, capers, chopped egg, red onion and lemon cream cheese.

Sarah Castillo of Taco Heads prepared a crispy fried bourbon and black bean sopa with mild chorizo and egg. Chef Denise Shavandy kept with the Mexican theme with her Torta Ahogado. The Guadalajara style smothered sandwich with wagyu beef short rib inside a baguette, was topped with fresh tomato guajillo salsa and crema.

Lanny Lancarte of Righteous Foods delighted with his healthy coconut chia seed pudding served with mixed berries and house made maple granola. And, Joe T. Garcia’s Esperanza’s Bakery crafted delicate empanadas in flavors like lime and buttermilk.

My favorite dish was prepared by Chef Aaron Austin of Vintage Grill in Weatherford. He brought one of his brunch menu regulars – The Fastback. His tender and sweet cornbread is topped with lean BBQ pulled pork and sunny side up egg, draped generously with Sriracha gravy.

Vintage Grill’s Fastback - Photo by Courtney Dabney

Burgers, Brews + Blues capped the festival in style at the Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork. Before another round of storms rolled in, some of the best breweries and burger-flippers rolled up their sleeves to welcome guests to the final event of this year’s FWFWF. Over 20 breweries offered samples of two of their best and one of Fort Worth’s newest breweries, Hop Fusion, took home top honors.

Some folks are all about the bun. It can make or break their experience. Rock City Burger of Bridgeport offered up a simple, yet divine, City Jalapeño Burger. The cheese burger was served on a melt in your mouth, mild and sweet (think Hawaiian bread) bun they have delivered from a Houston bakery, with a side of jalapeño ketchup. Likewise, Pearl Snap Kolaches burger was Spartan and kolache-bun-centric (which won for Fan Favorite).

There were also some interesting color variations. Chef Deb Cantrell’s entry was the perfect alternative slider, with sun-dried tomato, mozzarella cheese and quinoa, served with chipotle horseradish and aoli with peppery arugula leaves – appearing like a Texas sunset. Terry Chandler of Fred’s Texas went bold with his green-hued creation. Chandler lovingly formed each chorizo pork patty with fresh spinach and epazote herb seasoning. It was served on a bed of serrano coleslaw.

Some of the best burgers were fully loaded and were in the lean forward and mop-your-chin category. Among them, was Rodeo Goat’s Bad Hombre (which won Judge’s Choice). It was piled too high to wrap your mouth around, and Little Red Wasp’s wagyu slider draped in fontina cheese.

One of my favorites was created by Chef James Gaines of Reata. His Tamale Burger (which will be featured soon at the restaurant as a special) was composed of wagyu beef, topped with a sundried tomato sauce, pecan mash on an onion and garlic bun. I even caught one festival-goer licking the sauce off his plate (which is poor form - but you couldn’t blame him).

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