The coldest April weather in years couldn’t keep Fort Worth from chowing down at the city’s fifth annual Food + Wine Festival. The four-day event, April 5-8, showcased Fort Worth's best restaurants and chefs at venues around town.
As per tradition, mayor Betsy Price sabered a champagne bottle to kick off the event on April 5.
"We're pushing the envelope to get Fort Worth even more out there, and Food + Wine Festival is a big help to that," she told a gathering of patrons and sponsors who included festival founders Russell Kirkpatrick and Mike Micallef, as well as organizers Julie Eastman, Richard King, and chef Jon Bonnell.
"Pace yourselves this weekend," she added wisely, "or you'll be sick by Monday."
Then it was time to eat.
While smaller groups headed to exclusive sit-down dinners at Grace, Mac’s on Main, Waters, The Classic at Roanoke, and Reata, the hungry masses queued up around BRIK Venue on the Near Southside for the festival’s first tasting event: Tacos + Tequila. Eight Mexican eateries and taco trucks handed out all manner of tacos, the buzziest of which was Salsa Limon's “tongue and cheek” version, made with cow tongue and barbacoa. Alma's Paleteria surprised with icy "pop-tails" sprinkled with spicy salt.
For every taco, there was a tequila shot, margarita, or mezcal to sip. And when the DJ dialed up the '90s hip-hop, the second floor of the venue became a rockin’ taco discoteca.
On the evening of April 6 — while it was hailing in other parts of Fort Worth — hundreds headed to the Pier 1 Imports headquarters for The Main Event. This, the signature event of the festival, was the biggest feeding frenzy of them all. And, seeing as so many of the chefs and restaurants in the lineup have been nominated for CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, it also was clearly the best.
A handful of the chefs — including Little Red Wasp/Grace's Blaine Staniford, Michael Thomson of Michael's Cuisine, and Piattello's Marcus Paslay — braved the high winds and grilled on Big Green Eggs on the patio. Meanwhile, no fewer than 44 beverage providers poured wine, beer, and cocktails.
The night owls moved on to Whiskey Ranch, Firestone & Robertson Distilling Company's new headquarters, for Desserts After Dark. Against views of the illuminated Fort Worth skyline, sweet-toothed patrons sugar-rushed through desserts and cocktails spiked with TX Whiskey. Hits included Dough Boy's doughnuts served hot and fresh from their truck, Joy Macarons' ice cream "sammies," and Loft 22's butterscotch banana pudding.
Reata, Thompson's Bookstore, and Cork & Pig Tavern were among those pouring fun whiskey-drinks featuring flavors of peanut butter, maple, apple pie, and more. Bird Cafe's booth was arguably the most popular, not just for their creative takes on Jell-O shots but because they were set up across from the big, warm fireplace.
After visions of sugar plums danced through their heads all night, festival-goers got up early for Rise + Dine, held back at Pier 1 on April 7. The late-season Arctic blast rendered it too cold to set up outside, so about 50 restaurants and drink servers nestled their stands on two floors inside. A broken escalator didn’t keep hundreds of mimosa-fueled brunchers from navigating the close quarters on both floors.
One of the longest lines was for chef Bonnell’s fried quail and waffles. Another was for chef Jenna Kinard's breakfast melange that involved sweet potatoes, sausage, and cooked-to-order eggs. Rise No. 3 thrilled with escargot "shooters" topped with mini goat cheese marshmallows.
The always sold-out Burgers Brews & Blues competition took place the night of April 7 at Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork. Folks dug deep into their closets for scarves, hats, fleeces, and puffer coats to bundle up in for the outdoor event.
A dozen purveyors — from Fort Worth classics like Kincaid's and Fred’s to LUCK in Dallas' Trinity Groves and Pearl Snap Kolaches — served up sliders and battled for burger glory. Dallas' Easy Slider came out victorious for its strawberry-goat cheese-bacon topped burger. HopFusion Ale Works won best beer honors. But Swiss Pastry Shop earned honorable mention from many patrons for serving slices of their famous Black Forest "crunchy" cake.
It was back to Heart of the Ranch the afternoon of April 8 for more meat. Pitmasters Picnic, the Texas barbecue event, welcomed a special guest: the sun. This event featured chefs who’d come the farthest. Hill Country barbecue favorite Black’s drew lines of 30 minutes for its smoked brisket and doughnut hole-sausage sandwich. Also drawing crowds were Lockhart Smokehouse, Kreuz Market, and Ten50. A team of cooks from Reata and Magdalena's, led by Micallef and chef Juan Rodriguez, smoked cabrito on site and sliced it up for tacos, and Melt Ice Cream scooped out frozen goodness for dessert.
All who attended no doubt went home to their stretchy pants, happy that a weekend of eating well did good for the community.
Proceeds from the festival go to the nonprofit Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival Foundation, which raises funds for local grant programs and culinary scholarships. Going into the 2018 festival, the organization had raised more than $130,000.