Saturday was the third day of the inaugural Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival, and one of the busiest days as well, with events at the Sundance Square Pavilion, Bass Hall, the Worthington, and Edwards Ranch/Heart of the Ranch in Fort Worth.
Events ranged from free cooking demonstrations in Sundance Square to a $500 Tastes of the World lunch prepared by Fort Worth chef Jon Bonnell ( Bonnells Fine Texas Cuisine and Waters) and Dallas chef Stephan Pyles ( Stampede 66 and Stephan Pyles).
At the Sundance Square Pavilion, DFW chefs -- such as Lou Lambert, John Tesar (Dallas Spoon Bar & Kitchen), Donatella Trotti (Fort Worths Nonna Tata), Andrew Dilda (Dallas Barter and formerly of Fort Worths Woodshed Smokehouse), Blaine Staniford (Fort Worths Grace and Little Red Wasp), David McMillan (Fort Worths Bird Cafe and Dallas Meddlesome Moth), Marcus Paslay (Fort Worths Clay Pigeon) and Molly McCook (Fort Worths Ellerbe Fine Foods) -- each took a 45-minute slot to show off a feature dish in the small pavilion, usually to a standing-room only audience.
There was also a Sip & Savor event (which will be repeated from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday) at the Worthington Hotel, as well as a Burgers, Blues and Brews event Saturday evening at Edwards Ranch/Heart of the Ranch in southwest Fort Worth.
We couldnt get to everything, but here are our impressions of what we did get to.
Tastes of the World
This was arguably the most intriguing -- and certainly the most expensive -- event of the four-day festival: Bonnell and Pyles, two of DFWs best-known chefs, preparing a four-course meal for diners seated on the stage at Bass Hall, with wine pairings selected by Houston-based Guy Stout -- one of only 214 master sommeliers in the world, according to the Tastes of the World program, cleverly presented as a passport.
But it wasnt just a fancy lunch: Each course, as well as a pre-meal reception, was accompanied by an entertainment portion. Fort Worth Opera tenor Ian McEuen and baritone Matt Moeller, accompanied by pianist Stephen Carey, performed Verdis Au Fond du Temple Saint at the reception, while the Texas Boys Choir -- sporting black cowboy hats -- sang Old West Medley, featuring portions of songs such as Red River Valley and Home on the Range during the first course.
During the second course, presented by the Cliburn, pianist Evan Mitchell performed George Gershwins Prelude No. 2 and Gottschalks Ojos Criollos. The third course featured a change of pace, with Dallas-based choreographer Jenny Durbin Smith and partner Jeremy Hernandez performing a hip-hop inspired dance, while the dessert course was accompanied by a A Fashion Statement, a brief runway show featuring the fashions of Fort Worth native Shawn D. Florence of Paparahzzi Couture.
Pyles and Bonnell alternated courses, facing the additional challenge of fire officials moving them off the Bass Hall premises so that they had to set up their kitchen in a nearby parking lot, leading to a little extra running from a sharply synchronized serving staff. Each course was inspired by a different region of the United States, with master of ceremonies Quentin McGown reading from a script explaining (at times overexplaining) the history of each dish and its pre-American heritage.
Pyles started by representing the Deep South with his modern shrimp and grits, with what Pyles describes as an encapsulated shrimp essence -- essentially a bubble that diners broke, letting the essence flow into the dish. The grits were smooth and had just a hint of spiciness, which went well with the mildly sweet Far Niente Chardonnay from Napa Valley that Stout chose for the meal.
Bonnell followed with a Creole Country-inspired seared rabbit and grilled andouille jambalaya, which also came with a large shrimp. More of a deconstructed jambalaya -- servers poured the rich, tomatoey sauce over the unsliced proteins sitting atop a rice bed -- its highlights were the almost aggressively spicy andouille sausage and the flavorful rabbit, which stood up to the sausages assertiveness. Stout paired with this a Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon that took on a more kicky character after a bite of the sausage.
The third course, Pyles Pacific Northwest-inspired cedar-planked salmon, was a delicate, well-cooked piece of fish covered in a subtle old-fashioned egg sauce and accompanied by crispy kale. Stout explained that both his pairings for this -- Louis Latour Chateau Corton Gracey from Burgundy and Cheateau Tanunda Riesling Grand Barossa from Australia -- were offbeat, and some diners thought the riesling smelled like gasoline or kerosene at first sniff but tasted almost sweet after a few swirls. At our table of six diners, opinions differed over which was better, with the riesling eventually winning out as the best pairing ... by a nose.
Bonnells dessert course, a New England apple tartlet with heirloom cider glaze and Vermont maple ice cream, was arguably the meals highlight, a not-too-rich mix of strong apple flavors and subtle maple, with a wonderful just-soft-enough texture. The wine pairing, a Beringer Nightingale dessert wine from Napa Valley, was a matter of taste at our table -- those with a sweet tooth loved it (and it surprisingly didnt compete too much with the sweets on the plate), while others found it cloying.
Bonnell and Pyles spoke briefly after the meal, with Bonnell citing the Dallas chef as one of his influences when he began cooking professionally in 1995. Proceeds from the meal will benefit the Fort Worth Food + Wine Foundation, which is designed to develop culinary talents throughout North Texas through a series of scholarships and grants.
Burgers, Blues and Brews
One of the reasons the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival was founded was to showcase the increasing diversity of the food here, and how its more than just beef, barbecue and Tex-Mex.
But lets not forget that Fort Worth is a burger town, and a number of the best-known places -- Rodeo Goat, Freds Texas Cafe, Kincaids, Dutchs, Tommys, Shaws Patio Bar & Grill -- were slinging sliders for this laid-back event Saturday evening at Edwards Ranch/Heart of the Ranch in southwest Fort Worth.
It was quite a contrast from the semi-formality of the Tastes of the World event, with the evenings shorts, jeans, boots and sandals taking over from the afternoons suits and cocktail dresses; the weather was perfect, and although an Allman Brothers tribute band called Almost Brothers might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think Fort Worth blues, the band did a respectable job of replicating Allman Brothers numbers such as Jessica, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed and Might Be Your Man.
But this was about more than the usual burger suspects -- Swiss Pastry Shop, known mostly for its breakfasts and Black Forest cakes, got a lot of peoples attention with its Fort Worth Cheese Steak, a mix of Hatch chile queso blanco and smoked ribeye; Far Out Burger (which doesnt have a brick-and-mortar shop but can be found at farmers markets) had lines forming for its Pump up the Jam burger, featuring a mango jam that played perfectly off of more savory elements like bacon and
crackedroasted-pepper spread (made with 3 different peppers, cilantro and avocado, all locally sourced, thanks, Far Out Burger, for the clarification); and Dallas Luck had a great lamb slider seasoned with aromatic saffron.
UPDATE: In fact, Far Out Burger and Swiss Pastry Shop both did well enough among the burger crowd that they won second and third, respectively, in the voting for best burger. But we werent surprised to learn that the overall winner was Rodeo Goat, which had the longest lines we saw -- and won DFW.coms own Battle of the Burgers in 2013. (Were told, however, that upstart Far Out Burger was a very close second.) Wahoo Brewing Co. -- which just changed to Panther Island Brewing and announced plans for a brewery near the Trinity River just north of downtown Fort Worth -- got the most brew votes.
More than two dozen craft breweries, including such North Texas favorites as Rahr & Sons Brewing Co., Revolver Brewing, Martin House Brewing Co., Grapevine Craft Brewery, Justins Rabbit Hole Brewing Co., Deep Ellum Brewing Co., Four Corners Brewing Co., Lakewood Brewing Co. and others served sample glasses of beer to help wash down the sliders, with out-of-towner No Label Brewing (from Katy, outside of Houston) impressing with its Don Jalapeño Ale -- brewed with 60 pounds of jalapeños for a nice flavor and fiery finish.
The festival continues Sunday with another Sip and Savor event from 11 a.m, to 2 p.m. at the Worthington ($75) and a food-truck event called Meals on Wheels for Meals on Wheels Inc., from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Coyote Drive-In ($50). For information, visit http://www.fortworthfoodandwinefestival.com/.