The Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival was hastily canceled back in spring of 2020 and then postponed from this past spring. It took place this past weekend at its usual location at the Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork, which is helpfully outdoors. I’m glad to see it back, but I found that tables were scarce when I reached the place. I wasn’t keen to sit down, and I appreciate that the event organizers want us to be safe, but I spent an eternity looking for places to set down my drink so I could sample the food. Also, I would have liked more light in the common areas during the evening. When not looking for places to stand and eat, I was looking for places with sufficient light so I could take Instagrammable pictures of my food, which is half the point of holding an event like this. Fortunately, the latter two events were both during daylight hours.
The first event was a tacos-and-beer tasting that I got a late start on, so Brix Barbecue and Four Seasons were out of their tacos before I could taste them. I found Del Norte Tacos was best with the beef brisket, although so many brisket tacos wound up dulling my taste buds. Maybe that’s why I so appreciated Mesero’s chicken tacos, which are good enough that they can even convert someone like me who doesn’t usually go in for chicken tacos. Even better came from Guapo Taco, where I took a dish that, in the darkness, looked like pork carnitas. I was disabused of my notion when I bit into the thing and got the flavor of seafood. It took a while for me to place what I was eating, which was not the right color or shape for shrimp or lobster. It was octopus tacos! I said in my review of Il Modo that octopus was the ultimate test for grillers. This came out just right, meaty and smoky in a way other seafood dishes can’t match.
The following afternoon was an event for gameday bites, and they probably should have had a TV with a college football game on. I saw Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch earlier in the week (stay tuned for my review later this week), and the small plates on offer reminded me of the part where Jeffrey Wright’s food critic explains the concept of “police cooking.” That and gameday food are both intended to feed people whose attention is otherwise engaged. The biggest line was for Don Artemio, which is soon to open on West 7th. Their specialty is goat tacos al pastor, and the restaurant had half a dozen goat carcasses strung up and roasting over a fire, talking about Instagrammable. I was burned out on tacos after the night before, but their tortilla chips are thick and crispy. Good chips are always an encouraging sign for a Mexican restaurant.
Funky Picnic Brewery & Café put out bacon meatballs that started my afternoon out right, but they couldn’t compare to the decadence of the plate Trident Restaurant Group offered, with truffle mac and cheese alongside candied beef bacon on a skewer that made my knees go weak. Dusty Biscuit Beignets surely knows that fried dough is always good, so they served a Cajun-style savory beignet with andouille duck sausage, with a regular powdered-sugar beignet to chase that down. On a more innovative front, Waters had two kinds of grilled oysters, with a guajillo chile and lime oyster to go with a more traditional lemon butter and panko one. Austin’s Underdawgs only offers three kinds of hot dogs, and they laid out mini versions of two of them. I quite liked their Straw Dawg, with its raspberry BBQ sauce and fried onions on top, even if the bacon bits were unnecessary.
The festival wound up with a Sunday brunch where the service was sit-down at outdoor tables rather than a bunch of vendor booths that one had to visit. There are advantages to this set-up, and the food was … just fine. Nothing truly failed during this five-course meal of small bites, and nothing blew my mind, either. The first course, a bacon waffle crisp with Bloody Mary jam, was too clever for its own good. The fourth course went for a Middle Eastern flavor with slow-cooked lamb dotted with pomegranate seeds. The best part was the dessert, a Carolina Gold rice pudding in a geometric crust that made it like a cheesecake. I broke the praline wafer when I removed it from the pudding, so I think I got eliminated from the Squid Game. It was paired with a cocktail made from pecan brown sugar Bourbon and amaro black tea, which wasn’t too sweet the way so many dessert cocktails are. The dessert course was by Sarah Hooton and Matthew Mobley of Hot Box Biscuit Club, which also made the gift box of two chocolate chip cookies for us to take home.
Anyway, the next edition of the Food + Wine Festival will be back to a spring event next March, giving me another reason to look forward to the season.