No other lunchtime event in Fort Worth gets 2,000 people to start lining up for tiny cups of soup at 10:30 am. Tarrant Area Food Bank's Empty Bowls, now in its 16th year, has become the city's most highly anticipated food-driven fundraiser.
The 2018 edition on March 7 proved to be one of the biggest ever, featuring noshes from more than 50 local chefs and restaurants. But the food is only one part of the event's appeal. The other main draw is the free bowl — handcrafted by a local school, artist, or community group — that each guest gets to take home as a keepsake. "The bowl serves as a symbolic reminder that not everyone in our community has the ability to fill up their bowls," the food bank explains.
Upon entering the Will Rogers' Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall, some attendees headed for the food stalls, while others began circling the display tables for first pick among thousands of gorgeous bowls. Soon, long lines formed for both.
Despite the crowds, participating chefs and eateries didn't fail to bring their best bites and sips. Chef Jon Bonnell's team from Waters scooped out Cajun crawfish bisque next to the team from Bonnell's, who served pork belly pozole. Chef Blaine Staniford of Grace and Little Red Wasp also drew long lines for his ivory sweet potato soup.
Reata served Southwest beef and broccoli soup with rice noodles; Max's Wine Dive went with curry butternut squash soup with coconut lime crema, and Bob's Steak and Chop House ladled lobster bisque. Among the chili entries were Texas red with elk from chef Tim Love's Woodshed and Lonesome Dove; and meat chili with cornbread from Buttons chef Keith Hicks.
There were plenty of non-soup noshes, too. Chef Ben Merritt of Fixture prepared roasted cauliflower hummus with carrot chips, "something for the vegans and vegetarians," he said. Lettuce Cook dished up four-cheese mac and cheese; Z's Cafe topped crackers with their yummy chicken salad; Mariposa's served tamales; Petroleum Club prepped mozzarella-stuffed meatballs; and newcomer Rise No. 3 offered two kinds of sandwiches — ham and gruyere, and brie and cornichon.
Dessert and drink stands got plenty of action, too. First-time participant Robbie Werner of Stir Crazy Baked Goods displayed several different kinds of "cookie bomb" cookie sandwiches, and newbie Cheri Morgan handed out samples of locally made Wildtoad Toffee. Lisa Adams of Proper bar poured cups of refreshing "Gigi's Fruity Pebble Punch" and mint-ginger shrub with Topo Chico.
Besides the free bowls, there were a number of bowls signed by stars of stage and screen offered in an auction. Dozens of local merchants also provided fabulous items — season tickets to sporting events, artwork, fine jewelry, concert tickets, restaurant gift certificates, and more — for live and silent auctions and raffles.
Each $65 general admission ticket helped provide 325 nutritious meals to hungry people in the 13 counties that Tarrant Area Food Bank serves, the organization says. Empty Bowls 2018 raised enough money to serve 1.4 million meals, it reports.
TAFB collaborates with a network of 270 partner agencies to empower communities to eliminate hunger by providing food, education, and resources.