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Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival: the final day

Posted 11:57pm on Sunday, Mar. 30, 2014

If you walked onto the grounds of Fort Worth’s Coyote Drive-In on Sunday afternoon somehow unaware that a Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival event was going on, you might easily have believed that the year-old drive-in had become Fort Worth’s latest food-truck park.

The drive-in was the site for the festival’s “Meals on Wheels” for Meals on Wheels event, in which about a dozen food trucks showed off dishes in a $50-a-ticket benefit for the charity, which delivers food to homebound people.

“It’s going to help us be able to serve more people in need,” said Carla Jutson, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels Inc. of Tarrant County. “We’re so grateful to the promoters of this festival, because it will mean more people being fed. I’m thrilled -- it’s a gorgeous day and people are coming out and everybody I’ve talked to has said they’ve had a wonderful time.” Jutson added that the event was the festival organizers’ idea.

Familiar trucks on the DFW scene, such as Salsa Limon, Nammi, Easy Slider and Taco Heads were there ... as well as a couple of chuck wagons -- “the original food trucks,” as festival director and co-founder Russell Kirkpatrick put it.

Also on site were such trucks as Bellatrino Pizzeria -- which not only features a full wood-burning oven, but a small “bar” area at the rear where diners were catching up with March Madness games on the two TVs -- and Sauzy’s Food Truck, making vegetarians (as well as a few meat eaters) happy with a beet-patty veggie burger. (Sauzy’s offers beef burgers as well, but each truck was only allowed one item for this event.)

The Meals on Wheels event was the final event of the festival, and Kirkpatrick was there, as he was at all events, chatting with diners, chefs and cooks and making sure things were running smoothly. We asked him to sum up the inaugural festival, and he had a quick response.

“Amazing,” Kirkpatrick said. “Surreal. I think surreal is the best word.”

From an observer’s perspective, the festival had remarkably few hiccups for a first-time event; maybe there weren’t enough trash cans at the Kickoff Party on Thursday night at Billy Bob’s Texas, maybe the $500 ticket price for the fancy “Tastes of the World” event Saturday morning at Bass Hall scared some people off of that; maybe the blues at Saturday night’s “Burger, Brews and Blues” event at Edwards Ranch/Heart of the Ranch wasn’t reflective enough of Fort Worth’s blues scene (the burgers and brews did a good job of making up for that).

But the turnout was strong for the events we attended, everything was well-run, and the festival was blessed with near-perfect weather for outdoor events such as Burgers, Brews and Blues and the Meals on Wheels event, adding to the good vibes.

“I’ve heard a few [complaints] -- which I want to hear,” said Kirkpatrick, who is also assistant general manager of Reata. “As a restaurant guy, I want to hear feedback. I would much rather have somebody tell me at the tabletop something’s wrong, so that I can fix it. Same goes here. There’s tweaking we’re going to do. But there hasn’t been a major ball-drop of ‘Oh, my God, we don’t have plates’ or ‘we forgot something.’ ”

Earlier Sunday, the festival had its second Sip + Savor event at the Worthington Hotel, in which restaurants, bakeries, food vendors, wineries, distilleries and breweries offered samples for a large but not claustrophobic crowd in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom.

The mellow event had a large and diverse lineup, with restaurants such as Godley’s Del Norte Taco (which impressed with a spicy shrimp cocktail and brisket tacos); Fort Worth’s Aventino’s Italian Restaurant, Little Lilly Sushi and Shinjuku Station; and Dallas’ Barter (whose executive chef, Andrew Dilda, is an alumnus of Fort Worth’s Woodshed Smokehouse) setting up stations while retailers such as Happy Tomato Salsa and The Virgin Olive Oiler caught foodies’ attention.

Swiss Pastry Shop offered slices of its popular Black Forest cake, Stir Crazy Baked Goods had an array of sweets, and speaking of sweet, Dude, Sweet Chocolate offered ... well, sweet chocolate. And yes, we’re leaving a lot of presenters out -- there were too many to mention. (For a longer list, go here and scroll down.)

“I was so excited for those guys,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s good for the Jesus Garcias [of Little Lilly Sushi] to get that attention and Salsa Limon and Mariposa and these places where people are like, ‘I’ve heard of you, but I’ve never eaten there.’ Then they taste things and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh -- where’s Del Norte Taco? I’ve got to find this place.’ ”

Kirkpatrick acknowledged that Friday night’s Grand Tasting, which was also at the Worthington Grand Ballroom and had even more restaurants and vendors than the Sip + Savor events, got a little too crowded -- but festival organizers solved that by adding tables to the ballroom foyer for the Sip + Savors.

“I really thought people would gravitate there during the Grand Tasting,” Kirkpatrick said. “I was totally wrong. Nobody came back out of the ballroom. It was like they’d rather stay in this really crowded room than in this giant space out there. So that’s why we added tables and chairs for the Sip + Savors. It really got people out there.”

But Kirkpatrick said that otherwise he couldn’t think of anything he would do differently, other than a few small adjustments for next year’s festival, which is already planned for March 26-29.

“It’s been fun,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s been so fun. Hindsight’s 20/20, they say, but I couldn’t be more pleased. I think we’ll tweak some things along the way, but I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

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