‘Rise + Dine’: a bunch of brunch to munch

Pan dulce and empanadas from Esperanza’s Restaurant and Bakery at the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival’s 2017 “Rise + Dine” brunch event
Pan dulce and empanadas from Esperanza’s Restaurant and Bakery at the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival’s 2017 “Rise + Dine” brunch event Star-Telegram

Rise + Dine, the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival’s “next-level brunching” event, can remind you just how much “lunch” is part of brunch. Egg dishes were in the minority at this year’s event, held Saturday morning/early afternoon at the Pier 1 Building; if waffles, pancakes or french toast were present — and admittedly, they don’t all lend themselves well to festival-style serving stations — I didn’t see them.

There were dishes that leaned toward the lunch side, like the meatballs from Aventino’s Italian Restaurant or the country-style pate with jalapeño jelly from chef Jon Bonnell (Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, the soon-to-reopen Waters) or the kabob skewer from Terra Mediterranean Grill (I think that’s what it was — the line’s tended to be so long for it that I never got close).

But who’s to say that none of that is from the “breakfast” side of brunch? The first thing I had was the gumbo from Buttons, and that’s a good way to start any day. Here are some other ways the day started.

Best sweet bite: For me, it was no contest: the “blueberry muffin” macarons from Black Rooster Bakery, which were rich and fruity and sugar-rush-inducing, but also had the perfect crunchy-soft macaron texture to go along with the sweet ganache. Black Rooster had other pastries available, which was good, because from all appearances the macarons vanished first.

Best sweet-savory hybrid: The ghost-pepper chocolate mint doughnut from Funky Town Donuts sounded scary, but something tempered the ghost-pepper heat — although it was there, lingering long after the chocolate and dough tastes. Only the mint underperformed.

Best dish I couldn’t finish: The menudo from Revolver Taco Lounge had a beautiful red broth and sprigs of cooling mint — and some jalapeños on steroids, which outnumbered the mint sprigs. I have a pretty high tolerance for spicy food, but after several spoonfuls, the tear-inducing heat in this one made me stop and move on.

Best presentation: The coconut-chia seed pudding with mixed berries from Righteous Foods was served in a jar festooned with a Righteous Foods label, along with a wooden spoon — and while the individual presentation was cool enough, the display at the serving station, with those spoons performing a balancing act atop the jars, was pretty impressive (the pudding was also a good antidote to the heat from the menudo). Runners-up: the colorful pan dulce spread from Esperanza’s Restaurant and Bakery, and the doughnut array from Funky Town Donuts.

Best of both beverage worlds: Having passed up several alcoholic-beverage stations in search of good coffee, I found my patience rewarded by Austin’s Caffe del Fuego premium coffee liqueur — coffee and alcohol all at once, one of my favorite combinations. I was going to have it on the rocks till I heard them call their White Russian a “Caffe Lebowski.” This is in some North Texas liquor stores; if you’re a Kahlua fan, give Caffe del Fuego a spin instead. (And I did find good non-alcholic coffee, in the form of Avoca’s iced coffee, mildly sweetened with vanilla syrup).

The “Extra Napkins Award” for most beautiful mess: I thought that the chilaquiles from Max’s Wine Dive Fort Worth would clinch this, with tortilla chips and pork topped with a fried egg that managed to be hard-cooked on the edges and runny at the yolk. It proved to be a little difficult to eat with a fork, even at a table, and I found myself turning away to wipe my face as some other diners joined me at the table.

But at least it had a fork: The torta ahogada —described as a “Guadalajara style smothered sandwich — from Cafe Modern consisted of Rosewood Ranch Wagyu beef short rib, tomato guajillo salsa, crema and pico de gallo between pieces of baguette, which had sauce on all sides, making it a little difficult to eat sandwich-style. It was good, but where’s a towelette when you need one?