Rise and Dine, the Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival’s brunch ‘til you bust event, dawned bright and early for those who attended the previous night’s Desserts After Dark, but couldn’t have come soon enough for those of us who skipped the event in order to watch the Texas Rangers take on the Toronto Blue Jays (my son skews Canadian in fandom) during a rain-delayed cold-front/Armageddon-esque night when the Dilly Dog didn’t impress and high winds canceled the game-ender fireworks display.
Good thing there were a few culinary sparks that metaphorically lit up the lobby of the Pier 1 Imports building. With temps in the (um?) 30s and the nasty wind still at bay, we braved the elements and were warmly rewarded with a decadent array of sweet and savory offerings.
Best Weather-Appropriate Item: Cannon Chinese must have a meteorologist on staff. How best to understand their most-perfect offering of pork congee? The piping hot porridge was studded with pieces of pork belly, a small mound of scallions and carb-laden pillows, called “Hong Kong waffles.” Rich and slightly spicy, it was the first thing I tried, and I could have left happy at that point.
Best Plate Worth the Wait: For Rise and Dine, it was Enchanted Catering & Events’ sweet potato tots, an overly generous bowl of the taters, which were perhaps lightly fried, and then matched with Italian sausage, bacon and an over-easy egg. Herbaceous and delicately nuanced, the flavors were exceedingly complementary. And whoever cooked that egg is my hero; the yolk was ridiculously runny.
Best Execution of a Seemingly Simple Idea: Chef Jon Bonnell has got this festival thing down. He’s at four of the six events this year, but that didn’t stop him and his crew from serving an irresistibly delicious preparation of fried quail and waffles. Crunchy and savory, the quail was paired with a light-as-air waffle. And the raspberry reduction garnish was sheer not-cloying brilliance.
Best Healthy Dish That Gently Reminded You Your Pants No Longer Fit: Cane Rosso offered a kale and farro salad that reeked of clean eating. Garnished with a wedge of hard-boiled egg and an orange segment, the light vinaigrette clung to the rough-hewn roughage in a tasty way. A friend’s serving had a piece of pancetta, but alas, by the time I made it to the table, things had gone a little awry: My portion was even missing its yolk.
The only thing absent Saturday night — besides a curious no-show in Heim Barbecue —w ere the cute sundress/cowboy boot outfits and natty popped polo/ chino short combos at the Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival’s most popular event, Burgers, Brews + Blues.
It was too &$%^%$ cold for any sort of sartorial interludes. And so it was best to eat the dozen or so sliders on hand, down a beer or seven (in the complimentary Rahr taster glasses) and get the hell out of the Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork.
At least that’s what I did. But, interestingly, it was as if the near-frigid weather had an inverse relationship to the creativity on display. In the four years of attending this event, I’d never seen such smoking hot, or as my 10-year-old says, “lit,” entries.
The fact that there was new blood, or fresh meat, also helped: First-timers Hookers Grill and Easy Slider impressed with their disparate takes on the mini-burgers. Hookers’ sauteed-onion riddled patty was straight-forward, but not for those who shun bad breath, while Easy Slider took home the night’s biggest honors—both the judges’ and the people’s choice awards.
About That Burger: The Deep Ellum food truck walked away with both prizes due to the fact that its offering was ridiculously, perfectly cooked medium rare, AND featured a tried-and-true mix of ingredients that toed the sweet-and-savory line. Jam on burgers is not really my jam, but the strawberry preserves here just subtly complemented the smoky bacon and thick semi-melted slab of goat cheese. The angus beef, well seasoned, amped up the proceedings to the point that the entire slider, a hefty six-biter, completely disappeared from my paper boat—contrary to my FWFWF MO.
The Other Burger Worth Waiting For While Your Fingers Were Getting Numb: Perennial favorite Rodeo Goat served a “Bodacious” slider, whose hallmark ingredients included fried onion strings and slices of raw jalapeno. It was a jaw-bender, topped with bacon, American cheese and not one but two condiments—smoked jalapeno mayo and barbecue sauce—all yielding a messy but blissful experience.
Best Somewhat Boring Slider: Fred’s Texas Café’s Whiskey Bacon Jam burger was solid, if not a tad low-risk. With the jam taking a backseat to the slider’s beefy heft, it was unadorned simplicity.
Best Use of a Garnish: Tributary Café had a “French-inspired” slider that was topped with a French-oniony fondue, so decadent I wished I could drink it. Or, as I captioned a picture on Instagram, marry it.