Good Times Great Food
The 2019 Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival was the best, in our humble opinion, and the most ambitious take on the event since the culinary extravaganza began in 2014.
Organizers opted for holding every event except Desserts After Dark at one easily accessed place with lots of parking — a tree-shaded clearing near the Trinity River known as Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork. The big gamble was the weather, so massive tents were set up and fingers crossed. New to the mix that year was Ring of Fire: A Next-Level Cookout, an ode to the power of flame and smoke, and the Culinary Corral, a riff on the former brunch event. There was room to roam, plenty of seating and cool additions such as the Hello Trouble Hall, a honky-tonk on wheels that doubles as a bar and lounge filled with authentic memorabilia.
Best of all, the FWFWF was filling its coffers — it is a nonprofit run mainly by volunteers — to fund its mission of supporting young talent with culinary scholarships. Then 2020 happened. In June, the organizers announced the cancellation of the fall event and pushed the festival to April 2021. And it was decided to flip the beneficiaries of the festival’s philanthropy to the newly created Restaurant Employee Relief Fund. As a result, close to $100,000 was distributed to food service workers.
Come spring of 2021, COVID conditions remained unfavorable for large gatherings. When planners had to cancel the festival again, they opted instead for a series of small dinners plus a scaled-down event in the fall, which gave everyone a taste of what they had been missing for more than a year.
The planning and organizing of this year’s event has been ongoing in an attempt to recapture some of the early magic. Given that weekend passes already have sold out, it appears food lovers want to see that happen, too. — Meda Kessler
All your favorite events are back, with Desserts After Dark now known as Nite Bites (expect sweet and savory along with special cocktails). And if the food and plentiful drink (wine, beer, spirits) aren’t enough, look for appearances by special guests, music, festival swag and much more. Here’s a day-to-day breakdown. All events are held at Heart of the Ranch at Clearkfork except Nite Bites, which takes place at Whiskey Ranch, home to Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co.
March 31 Tacos + Tequila
Get your fill of both and a deeper understanding of why tacos rank high in our favorite food category. Check out offerings from festival veterans such as Juan Rodriguez of Magdalena’s and Chris Garcia of Del Norte Tacos in Godley and newcomers including Felipe Armenta of Maria’s Mexican Kitchen and Mary Patino Vasquez of Enchiladas Olé. A couple of barbecue favorites, Zavala’s and Dayne’s, will be there, too. And look for Toro Toro Pan-Latin Restaurant to add a little South American flair. Sip and learn more about sotol and tequila from a variety of makers, but there’s also beer and wine.
April 1 The Main Event
It’s the priciest ticket, but you’ll get bang for your buck thanks to the wide variety of chefs and restaurants, from Asian fusion to ranch-style cuisine. Familiar faces include Jon Bonnell (Bonnell’s), Molly McCook (Ellerbe Fine Foods) and Michael Thomson (Michaels Cuisine), who never disappoint with their festival offerings. Don’t miss Jenny Castor of Luckybee Kitchen for something unusual (and beautiful). Newcomers include Ben Merritt representing his new restaurant, The Fitzgerald, caterer Katrina Rischer-Carpenter and Victor Villarreal of La Onda, one of the city’s top spots for fish and seafood.
April 1 Nite Bites (Whiskey Ranch)
The distillery space is the perfect spot to sample sweet and savory dishes from a variety of restaurants, bakers and caterers. Familiar faces include Robbie Werner of Stir Crazy Baked Goods, Trey Smith of Dusty Biscuit Beignets and the dumpling duo of Hao Tran and Dixya Bhattarai. Plus, the cocktail game is strong at this event. Shaking and stirring cool concoctions, top mixologists on the bill include Misty Villarreal of La Onda, Kellen Hamrah of Provender Hall and Fern Orozco of Nickel City.
April 2 Culinary Corral
Think of this event as an extended brunch. This year’s lineup is an interesting one. Look for festival newcomers Todd C. Brown of Lettuce Cook, Christian Lehrmann of Courtside Kitchen and Tasha Monticure of Bodega South Main. Out-of-towners include Maurice Ahern of Grounds & Gold Coffee | Bakery in Arlington and Rena Frost of Mac’s On Main in Grapevine. Pizza faves Cane Rosso and Black Cat Pizza will be there along with Hurtado Barbecue. Beverage vendors include The Bloody Buddy with bloody Marys, natch, plus local distilleries and breweries.
April 2 Burgers, Brews + Blues
This popular event is one of the first to sell out because people love burgers. And beer. There’s an award for best slider, plus you get a vote in the fan favorite contest. A 2019 winner, Caroline Perini and Easy Slider, is back; veterans include Kincaid’s, Fred’s and Tommy’s. A highly anticipated newcomer is Gigi Howell of JD’s Hamburgers, which opens later this spring. Craft beer rules — look for locals such as Funky Picnic Brewery, HopFusion and Martin House along with Dallas representatives such as Lakewood Brewing and Peticolas. LangeTwins Family Winery out of Lodi, California, will be pouring for all you wine lovers.
April 3 Ring of Fire: A Next-Level Cookout
While you’ll be wondering how you can eat one more bite come Sunday, it’s worth pulling on those stretchy eatin’ pants for the festival finale. Take your pick from some of the big names in barbecue, including local pitmasters from Brix, Heim, Dayne’s, Panther City, Hurtado, Smoke-A-Holics and Zavala’s. Out-of-towners include Michael Wyont of Flores Barbecue in Whitney, who was working on a grilled pork rib-eye taco topped with black garlic crema wrapped in one of the tortillas he makes with smoked beef fat. Killer. In a good way.
TIPS AND SAGE ADVICE
Go hungry, but pace yourself. Do a lap around the grounds to see who’s there. Wear comfortable shoes. Life is messy so pack a few wet naps in your bag. Drink water (hydration stations are provided). Go early, as some might run out of food. That being said, don’t go through the line four times. Parking is plentiful, but a car service is wise if you plan to drink.
In addition to the four-day eating/drinking marathon, there are two focused events.
March 10 Reserve Wine Tasting, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Sample wines from around the world, mingle with fellow grape lovers, talk to experts and enjoy small plates from chef Jett Mora of Wolfgang Puck Catering/Café Modern.
March 31 From Houston to Ho Nai, Brik Venue
Rescheduled from 2019, the collaborative sit-down dinner from Tuan Pham of Fort Worth’s Four Sisters: A Taste of Vietnam and James Beard Award-winning Chris Shepherd (Underbelly Hospitality) explores the Asian influence on Texas cooking. You also get an autographed copy of Shepherd’s book, Cook Like a Local: Flavors That Can Change How You Cook and See the World.