Saturday, the third day of the third annual Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival, was a day for the b’s: Burgers, Brews and Blues at night, and the Rise + Dine brunch event during the day.
New this year, Rise + Dine took place at the Pier 1 Imports building, which was also home to Friday night’s “Main Event.” The 11 a.m.-2 p.m. “brunch-inspired tasting” drew a smaller (relatively speaking) crowd than the Friday event, making moving around the main floor a little easier, and the downstairs outdoor part of it had a picnic feel as several patrons took their plates, mimosas, Bloody Marys, etc. onto the sunny part of the lawn at the Pier 1 building.
If you didn’t get there at 11, we found, you risked missing some things — a lot of the restaurants serving brunch food ran out of items and were packing up well before 2.
Just a few hours later, Burgers, Brews and Blues started. This is where the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival turns into the Fort Worth Food + Beer Festival, with heavy representation from North Texas breweries as well as a few outliers. This being DFW.com, though, what draws us there is the burgers — and judging from the lines for some of these slider-size entries, that’s what draws a lot of people there.
Here’s a look at both events.
Rise + Dine
The emphasis was on the savory dishes, and occasionally on the “lunch” side of brunch at this “brunch-inspired tasting.” Not a lot from the pancake/waffle/French toast family here.
But Funkytown Donuts had strawberry-sprinkle doughnuts for those with a sweet tooth, and the Tavern surprised with a raising-topped cinnamon roll instead of one of its more savory items. We got to the Pearl Snap Kolaches table just in time for the very last sweet, doughy pecan-pie kolache, which was good, but we were more intrigued by the sign for a kolache burger that the White Settlement Road shop plans to debut in mid-April.
Reata had a “Biscuit Bar” set up with pickle-brined fried chicken, pulled pork and BBQ molasses brisket sliders; the chicken one made for a flaky, crunchy mouthful. Also offered was a meat-free cinnamon butter-biscuit slider that was a good vegetarian (although obviously not vegan) option.
The vegan option came from FW Market + Table, which had a “vegan smoothie bowl” — a sample-size serving that diners either ate with a spoon or simply drank. Chef Kalen Morgenstern listed off more ingredients than we could count, but what we got was a nice punch of fruity flavor along with some crunchy textures in this dairy-free drink/dish.
One of the best savory items — one of the best items, period — was the tom kha coconut soup from downtown restaurant Thai Tina’s. This “hangover soup” was accompanied by a sign saying that it’s a “Thai brunch tradition,” and the bright briny-sweet broth tasted like it would cure anything, not just a hangover.
Shinjuku Station and sister restaurant Cannon Chinese Kitchen also found the savory-sweet balance with some steamed pork buns that had just a touch of sweetness from lychee and, if we heard correctly, rock candy.
Downstairs, Chef Keith Hicks’ Buttons Restaurant had a carbonara couscous with pulled pork, a mix of subtly eggy, Mediterranean and pork flavors (back inside Terra Mediterranean Grill had a falafel wrap that had a great crunchiness to it).
Victor Villarreal, who recently took over as executive chef at Max’s Wine Dive Fort Worth, had a good showing with his ricotta bruschetta with bacon pineapple chutney, hazelnut breadcrumb, local honey and basil, getting as much crunch, salt, sweet and herb as he could into a couple of little bites.
Nearby, another chef who’s a relatively recent arrival at her gig — Cafe Modern’s Denise Shavandy — showed off her Cantonese pork donburi bowl: honey-barbecue pork atop steamed rice with grilled pineapple, cucumber relish and shaved red cabbage, for another sample that packed a lot of different flavors into a couple of bites. Next to her was chef Ben Merritt of Fixture Kitchen + Social Lounge — who’d run out of his Texas Benedict before we got to him. That’s OK, we’ll just go to his restaurant.
Burgers, Blues and Brews
Adam Jones, the owner of upscale downtown restaurant Grace and its more casual sibling Little Red Wasp, is a fan of simple burgers, and that’s reflected in the burgers on the bar menu at Grace and the regular menu at Little Red Wasp, which, thanks to 44 Farms beef, has one of the best straightforward burgers we’ve had at a non-burger-joint Fort Worth restaurant.
So Little Red Wasp’s entry at Burgers, Blues and Brews, a Mexico City street burger, came as a surprise: mustard and ketchup cooked into the patty, mini-hot dogs stuffed into the patty, Tillamook cheddar, pineapple guacamole with a roasted serrano pepper atop the bun. Everything worked, almost from the inside out, as flavors seemed to emanate first from the patty, grow through the toppings and climax with the lingering heat of the serrano. Wow. Not surprisingly, it was voted fan favorite.
Kincaid’s, another restaurant known for its old-school burgers, also successfully went out a limb with its “Texas’ Wurst Burger,” a 50/50 grind of meat and bratwurst with pretzel-stout glazed onions, whole-grain German mustard and Muenster cheese. Although the patty was good, the burger worked best with all its components together, with mustard and onions giving it a nice spiciness.
Speaking of good patties, Hans Peter Muller and his crew from Swiss Pastry Shop pulled off a remarkable feat, delivering patties cooked between medium rare and medium — a big deal considering that it's difficult to cook slider-size patties any way but all the way.
Yet the Akaushi patties on Muller's green chile pimento burger came out brandishing nice pink interiors, along with a crisp and smoky sear. Every other burger we sampled featured patties cooked well done, sapping some of the beef's juices and flavor.
We would have liked Swiss' entry anyway, we bet: The firm white buns were freshly baked, and the pimento cheese (Muller's own recipe) and green chiles gave the burger a satisfying bite that made a lasting impression. Muller says it'll be featured at Swiss as a Burger of the Week soon and if it takes off, it'll land a permanent spot on the restaurant's burger menu.
Love Shack stood out for offering a vastly different kind of burger — a chicken-fried burger. This was, in fact, an actual chicken-fried burger — the meat was not a cutlet, it was a ground meat patty sheathed in a crunchy batter.
We loved the crunch and saltiness of the batter and the tenderness of the beef. Better yet was a cream gravy, made with Muenster cheese, that was so delectably rich, it made this burger one of our absolute faves.
Former DFW.com Burger Battle champ Rodeo Goat served three burgers, but the standout was Smokey the Goat, a spicy little number created just for the festival. A juicy slider-sized patty was topped with creamy, melted pepperjack, fire-roasted tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, a cucumber slice and chipotle mayo. The result was a smoky and bright bite with some serious kick.
One place that always seems to shine at Burgers, Brews and Blues is Far Out Burger, which doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location but isn’t exactly a food-truck-park type of burger spot, either, leaning toward serving at events and community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms.
We first encountered Far Out at the inaugural Burgers, Brews and Blues two years ago, and it has yet to disappoint: Its “Dude, Where’s My Ranch?” burger consisted of Far Out’s housemade patty, pimention cheese, bacon, beer onions, pickles, beer-pickled jalapeños watercress and buttermilk ranch dressing. Ambitious, yet effective. Judging from their Facebook page and their website, Far Out has been quiet for a few months, but it definitely made its voice heard herre.
There's always an underdog at triple B, and this year it may have been Grapevine's Mac's on Main, which, over a set of hot rocks, offered two burgers: a ghost pepper and guacamole burger from the restaurant's regular menu, and the off-the-menu bulgogi burger, topped with housemade kimchee.
Burgers topped with kimchee, or fermented cabbage, are nothing new. What we liked about this burger was the patty, which was made from rib eye and ground meat, giving it a certain vividness that made it stand out from others. The spiciness of the kimchee could have been turned up a notch or two but we'd order this if Mac's put it on their menu.
The festival concludes Sunday with the Family Sunday Funday – Picnic at Panther Island, which runs from 2 to p.m. Sunday at the Shack at Panther Island.
DFW.com staff writer Rick Press contributed to this report.