Stop for a moment and savor this, Fort Worth:
We are having our “foodie moment.”
Every week, it seems, another buzzy restaurant rolls into town (Cane Rosso, AF+B, Clay Pigeon, Bird Cafe, Velvet Taco and the incoming Bite from Chef Eddy T), raising the bar (and menu prices) another notch.
Our most treasured chefs are being invited to cook at the James Beard House or popping up on national best-of lists. Texas Monthly is taking notice of our culinary innovation, too, recently naming Little Lilly Sushi among its 10 Best New Restaurants in the state.
And, these days, you can’t shake a sprig of rosemary around town without running into a TV crew filming a food show. (Watch for Revolver Taco Lounge featured on Andrew Zimmern’s Travel Channel show in mid-April.)
At this time in American culture, when food has become both a spectator and full-contact sport, Fort Worth (and North Texas in general) is fully engulfed in the feeding frenzy.
Many of us have become devoted patrons of the culinary arts, plunking down our hard-earned shekels for everything from gourmet burgers to over-the-top tacos to gotta-see-it-to-believe-it seafood served up by brand-name chefs.
Just about every weekend, we’re tempted by pop-up dinners and beer and wine tastings. And as we turn toward spring, there are festivals. Oh, Lord, are there food festivals.
Dotting our horizon like a burst of bluebonnets and blue sage, foodie fests fill the calendar starting now, and continuing through spring and summer.
Taste of Fort Worth … Big Taste of Fort Worth … Empty Bowls … Food Truckin’ Fest … Fork & Cork (formerly Taste Addison) … and perhaps the most highly anticipated, the ambitious new rookie: the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival, which will whip up a heavenly aroma March 27-30 with burger and brew outings, food truck tastings, celebrity chef demonstrations and a $500-a-plate culinary world tour dish-ed up at Bass Hall.
So many choices. It’s a good problem to have.
But as we let “our moment” marinate, we must also face the reality of being a Fort Worth foodie in 2014. It ain’t cheap to keep your plate piled high with Wagyu and your pint glass filled with craft beer.
You and your tastebuds have tough choices to make, especially when it comes to the allure of food festivals.
But that’s where we come in. Consider us your concierge for the food festival season.
If beer floats your boat, there’s Brewfest on Crockett this weekend and the Big Texas Beer Fest in April.
If you like a good cause with your gumbo, check out Empty Bowls.
And if you’re all about big-name chefs and the latest trends, and you want to immerse yourself in a day — or a weekend — of demos and tasting, the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival is probably the place to start.
So grab a fork, and dig in.
Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival
Though other food fests have been around longer, the inaugural Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival is the most ambitious of the season. For years, local foodies have heard about similar events in Austin, Aspen and South Beach, but this is a first for Cowtown: seven signature events over the course of four days, highlighting the best North Texas has to offer.
Considering our foodie moment, the timing couldn’t be better.
“We’ve gotten extremely lucky,” says Russell Kirkpatrick, festival co-founder and assistant general manager of Reata in Fort Worth.
“I want to say it was probably August three years ago when I finally approached my boss, [Reata president] Mike Micallef, with the idea, because I knew I would need his help and his blessing to make it happen.”
For years, the Fort Worth culinary scene was synonymous with meat and potatoes: Bonnell’s, Lonesome Dove, Reata, Del Frisco’s. But in the past 10 years, Kirkpatrick says, the city’s culinary palate has started to change.
Part of that, he says, is the influx of people from other regions, which has resulted in the emergence of restaurants like Ellerbe Fine Foods, Shinjuku Station and Little Lilly Sushi.
“But even then, you talk about 18 months ago, when we really started putting pencil to paper, and Jon [Bonnell] opened Waters, where we had a hole in that dining segment of a high-end seafood restaurant. And even in the last six months, you’ve got Clay Pigeon and AF+B and Bird Cafe. We’ve been extremely fortunate to have all these different restaurants and cuisines to be able to highlight, where it’s not just Reata there cooking a steak, or Jon Bonnell up there cooking an elk.”
When they started looking at other big food festivals across the country to use as a model, there were of course the marquee examples to consider: Aspen, Pebble Beach, South Beach. “For those, it’s about picking a pristine spot in the U.S. and inviting your top Food Network stars and Top Chef contestants,” Kirkpatrick says.
Instead, they looked to Charleston, S.C. “They really highlight what that area’s known for, and the talent indigenous to that area. There are half a dozen James Beard chefs there,” he says.
“So the idea is not to bring in a Bobby Flay or an Emeril Lagasse for everybody to come check out. But for us, it’s to highlight the Jon Bonnells and the Molly McCooks and even reach over to the east and bring over the John Tesars and Matt McCallisters. I think there’s enough exciting culinary talent in Fort Worth and North Texas to create a buzz here and bring people to us and show off what we have.”
There’s a bounty on the menu at the four-day event (see more below), and organizers aim to highlight both high-profile chefs and more of the mom-and-pop or upstart restaurants. Here’s a breakdown of the signature events:
Kickoff Event at Billy Bob’s. This is a pure tribute to Fort Worth chefs, and features what Kirkpatrick refers to as the Big 12. That list includes the likes of Tim Love (Lonesome Dove, Woodshed Smokehouse), Molly McCook (Ellerbe), Keith Hicks (Buttons), Blaine Staniford (Grace), Donatella Trotti (Nonna Tata) and Terry Chandler (Fred’s Texas Cafe). “I don’t think there’s gonna be an event in town where you can go for $65 and have Lanny Lancarte and Tim Love and Jon Bonnell and the other chefs we have lined up, then on top of that, catch a concert from Stoney LaRue afterward.” 7 p.m. Thursday ($65).
Grand Tasting at Renaissance Worthington. A showcase of more than 100 wines, craft beers and spirits, along with well-known area chefs and food artisans, such as Dallas celebri-chefs John Tesar of Spoon and Matt McCallister of FT33. 7-11 p.m. March 28 ($125).
Culinary Plaza in Sundance Square. Free demos in the pavilion by eight chefs: Lou Lambert (10 a.m., roast lamb), John Tesar (11 a.m., seared braised beef tongue, salsa verde, arugula and caramelized onions), Donatella Trotti of Nonna Tata (noon, taglioni with creamed leeks and shrimp), Andrew Dilda of Barter (1 p.m., breakfast sausage), Blaine Staniford of Grace and Little Red Wasp (2 p.m., chorizo-stuffed dates), David McMillan of Bird Cafe (3 p.m., sabzi khordan or fresh herb platter), Marcus Paslay of Clay Pigeon (4 p.m., pasta carbonara), and Molly McCook of Ellerbe (5 p.m., sauteed Louisiana Gulf shrimp and kale). 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Activities free; beer and wine for sale.
Tastes of the World at Bass Hall. The ultimate indulgence for well-heeled patrons, this features a once-in-a-lifetime progressive lunch prepared by Stephan Pyles and Bonnell on the Bass Hall stage, complemented by performances from members of the Fort Worth Opera and Texas Ballet Theater. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. March 29 ($541.25).
Burgers, Brews & Blues at Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork. Burgers from Fred’s, Rodeo Goat, Dutch’s, Kincaid’s, AF+B and more, and craft beers from local and national brewers (Rahr & Sons, Martin House, Deep Ellum, Rabbit Hole, Franconia, Grapevine Craft and more). 6-9 p.m. March 29 ($60; close to being sold out at press time, but still available through the event package for $324.75).
Sip + Savor at Renaissance Worthington. Billed as the “ultimate culinary showcase,” these two days of tastings offer a chance to drink up and fill your plate several times, with participants such as Little Lilly Sushi, Shinjuku Station, Mariposa’s Latin Kitchen and Dude, Sweet Chocolate. “The Sip and Savors are $75, which sounds like a lot,” Kirkpatrick says, “but the amount of food and drink that’s going to be there to sample is going to be pretty mind-boggling. … There’s no way you’re gonna be able to hit every table and taste everything before you get full.” 11 a.m.-2 p.m. March 29 & 30 ($75 per day).
Meals on Wheels for Meals on Wheels at Coyote Drive-In. The only event that will benefit something other than the festival’s own charity will be a food truck bonanza, featuring Taco Heads, Salsa Limon, Easy Slider, Nammi, BellaTrino Pizzeria and more. 3-5 p.m. March 30 ($50).
Of course, depending on what your paycheck looks like, many of the events aren’t cheap — a fact not lost on Kirkpatrick. “Obviously the Bass Hall event is up there,” he said. “The goal was to create something where, if you were gonna go out to eat, what would that price point be? Obviously there’s cost involved, you’ve got some expenditures to cover. We’re trying to over-deliver on every price point we have.”
You can get a subscription package that includes most events (except the Bass Hall and Sip + Savor) for $324.75. Again, that sounds like a lot until you consider some of the splashier U.S. food and wine festivals: Kirkpatrick says packages for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen were running $1,300; in Austin, packages run $250 and $850.
Organizers are pinning onto the festival some big hopes and dreams for Fort Worth. “The long-term vision is that it will help make it a culinary destination, just as much as people come to the Stockyards and the museums,” Kirkpatrick says. “It would be a really fantastic thing for the city.”
More info at fwfwf.com
April 25-27: Austin Food and Wine Festival. If you’re a looking for a foodie getaway later this spring, consider this well-regarded festival, which features three days of tastings, panels, demos and appearances by big-name chefs like Andrew Zimmern, Dallas chef Kent Rathbun and Fort Worth’s own Tim Love. Taste Pass $250, Savor Pass $850. austinfoodandwine festival.com
All about the cause
Saturday, March 22: 7th Annual Taste of Fort Worth. This event — not to be confused with Big Taste of Fort Worth (see below) — benefits the Northside Inter-Community Agency, and features food and beverage tastings from local restaurants, including Daddy Jack’s, Bob’s Steak and Chop House, Campisi’s, and Boo Ray’s. 7 p.m., River Ranch in the Stockyards. $75, $140 couples. nicaagency.org.
Thursday, March 27: Empty Bowls. Sample food from local restaurants (including Clay Pigeon, Grace, Waters, Paris Coffee Shop and Rodeo Goat) and take home a hand-painted bowl or dish designed by local artists; some are signed by the likes of Penn & Teller, Miranda Lambert, Olga Kern, Roger Staubach and Richard Petty. There are also great silent-auction and raffle prizes. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Will Rogers Memorial Center. $50-$130. www.tafb.org.
March 30: Barrett Havran Memorial Big Taste of Fort Worth. This big event benefits Big Brothers Big Sisters, with restaurants from North Texas providing small bites in a friendly competition. Diners cast votes for their favorite dishes (although it can be hard to sample some; we never got to the Del Frisco’s table last year because the lines were so long), and a judging panel selects winners for best of Big Taste, best culinary presentation, best decor and best wine. More than three dozen restaurants and wineries, including new kids AF+B and Max’s Wine Dive, are scheduled to participate. VIP wine tasting 4:30 p.m., main tasting 6-8:30 p.m. Omni Hotel, 1300 Houston St., Fort Worth. $125-$200. 888-887-2447; www.bigtaste.org.
April 12: No Tie Dinner & Dessert Party. This benefit for AIDS Services of Dallas features a progressive dinner and a public dessert party with 2,000 guests. Participants include Frosted Art, Komali and Dallas Affaires. 7 p.m. at Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas. $50 minimum donation suggestion. aidsdallas.org; notiedinner.org.
April 10: Burgers 4 Babies. Tim Love’s twin daughters were born prematurely, so care for “preemies” is close to his heart. In 2010, he launched Burgers 4 Babies, an annual event benefiting NICU Helping Hands, which develops hospital- and community-based projects that provide education and support to families of premature infants. Top-name chefs local and national serve up burgers — and a whole lot more, including some pretty good-looking desserts. This year’s non-local participants include Top Chef alumni Ilan Hall and Mike Isabella; Austin-based chefs Andrew Wisehart, David Bull and Rick Lopez; and Nashville’s Carey Bringle. 6:30-10 p.m. Woodshed Smokehouse, 3201 Riverfront Drive, Fort Worth. $175, $400 package that includes Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival tickets, including admission to several events. nicuhelpinghands.org.
May 16-17: Fork & Cork. After more than 20 years as a strolling eats and street fest, Taste Addison will transform into Fork & Cork, a festival “designed for the epicurious.” Celebrity chef and Food Network star Marcus Samuelsson is the headliner, though you’ll have to pony up $100 for a VIP ticket to see his cooking demo. Pat Green will also perform May 17, which is included in the $35 general admission. There will be food for purchase ($1-$5), cooking demonstrations, and beer and wine tastings. Tickets to a Friday-night tasting, 6-10 p.m., are $65, and include food and drink. That event benefits Cafe Momentum, helping at-risk teens. addisonforkandcork.com.
Al fresco noshing
March 20-22: Savor Dallas. Highlights include a popular Arts District Wine Stroll on Friday (sold out) and the International Grand Tasting, including restaurants such as CBD Provisions, Grace, Hibiscus, La Duni, Nick and Sam’s, Olenjack’s Grille, Stampede 66, and Stephan Pyles. 7-10 p.m. Saturday. Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. $120-$135. www.savordallas.com.
April 18-19: Taste of Keller. This northeast Tarrant County city has seen a bit of a restaurant boom during the past couple of years, and the first Taste of Keller will celebrate that with chef demonstrations, wine and beer tastings, a barbecue competition, and live entertainment. Participating restaurants include Elote Mexican Kitchen, FnG Eats and DeVivo Bros. Eatery. 5-11 p.m. April 18, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. April 19. Keller Town Hall, 1100 Bear Creek Parkway. tasteofkeller.com.
July 11-13: Taste of Dallas. A weekend of tastings and chef demos, this year with more than 50 restaurants/food trucks outside, and considering the sweltering time of year, 20-plus eateries inside. Benefits American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. Fair Park, Dallas. $10 for one-day admission; food samples $1-$3. tasteofdallas.org.
Drink up, eat up
March 22: Brewfest on Crockett is an annual street festival celebrating craft brews with live entertainment in the heart of the West 7th development. There will be live music and cash sales of beer. Music includes Ronnie Heart, Big Mike, Jacob Furr, Bobby Dade, the Travoltas and the Tontons. For info, search Facebook for “ Brewfest on Crockett.”
April 5: Big Texas Beer Fest. It’s the third year for this fest, which hopes to attract 100 breweries, including more than 25 from the Lone Star State. There’ll be food trucks, samples of artisan food and performances by the Beef; Bravo, Max!; and Grand Ramble. 2-6:30 p.m. Fair Park, Dallas. $35, VIP $60. bigtexasbeerfest.com.
April 25-26: Texas Food Truckin’ Fest. Among trucks featured at this installment of the ballpark fest are Vegan Noms, What’s Da Scoop, The Butcher’s Son, Taste of Cuba and Say Kimchi. Benefits the Tarrant Area Food Bank. 4-10 p.m. Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday. Globe Life Park, Arlington. $10 Friday, $12 Saturday; children $5; $2 off with canned good listed on the FAQ page at texasfoodtruckinfest.com.
April 4-5: ChocolateFest in Grapevine. This 10th annual celebration of chocolate consists of two events: On Friday, it’s An Evening of Chocolate and Wine at Delaney Vineyards, 7-10 p.m.; $50. Saturday, it’s A Day of Chocolate and Art at the Palace Arts Center downtown, with samples from area chocolatiers, restaurants and bakeries, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; $5-$15. chocolatefestgrapevine .org.
April 26: TacoCon (Cerveza), presented by the North Texas Taco Festival. Few foods are more popular in North Texas than tacos, which may explain why more than 6,000 people turned out for the first Taco Festival in Deep Ellum last spring. The festival is back, this time at Four Corners Brewing, 423 Singleton Blvd. in Dallas, and it will feature about 20 taquerias (Revolver, Rusty Taco, Salsa Limon and Velvet Taco among them), a Taco Throwdown cooking competition and an eating contest. 11 a.m. Admission free. northtexastacofestival .com.
— Robert Philpot contributed to this report.