A burger bacchanalia brings FWFWF to a meaty close

Despite our city’s ongoing culinary evolution, we’re still a town that likes a good burger — a point hammered home Saturday night at the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival’s finale, a love letter to what is undoubtedly Fort Worth’s very first culinary crush.

The Burgers, Brews + Blues event drew a sold-out crowd of 1,300 to Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork, where chefs and cooks from a dozen local restaurants held what was basically one big cookout. Using portable flat-top grills, they each prepared hundreds of slider-size burgers, creating billows of smoke that rolled along the grounds like an early morning fog.

Similar to the BBQ Showdown that kicked off the festival on Thursday, BBB was as much a showcase as it was a competition. Judges and festivalgoers voted for their favorite burgers.

Word of greatness spreads quickly at events like this, and in no time, greasy fingers were being pointed in the direction of Rodeo Goat's booth, whose line was bested only by those of the bathrooms.

The West 7th-area gourmet burger spot built a seven-ingredient monster, called the “Bad Hombre,” that featured maple bacon, cream cheese and, among other ingredients, mango salsa. A panel of judges, which included Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price, NBC 5 morning anchor Deborah Ferguson, WBAP/820 AM’s Steve Lamb (who is Ferguson’s husband), DFW food-travel writer Mike Hiller and Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy, awarded it best burger.

Attendees, however, went in a different direction, crowning Pearl Snap Kolaches’ simple burger with the people’s choice award. It was composed of three ingredients: Colby cheese and Angus beef, both locally sourced, between a housemade kolache roll, whose touch of sweetness struck a nerve with voters.

Newcomer Tributary Cafe, a Cajun/Creole-inspired restaurant in the Riverside area, was also a fan favorite. Their offering featured a blackened meatball patty slathered in a rich remoulade sauce. On the side came a bite-size bonus: a tiny sliver of deviled egg.

Veteran restaurants used the event as a springboard to experiment. Fred’s Texas Cafe delivered a flavorful burger, whose green-chorizo patty garnered its frightfully green color from spinach and epazote, a Mexican herb. Reata took an interesting approach to its burger, applying to nicely cooked patties the sun-dried tomato sauce and pecan pesto typically reserved for its signature tamales. Swiss Pastry Shop’s excellent short rib burger was topped with jalapeño pimento cheese and a sport pepper — a one-two punch of spiciness. Grace and its sister restaurant, Little Red Wasp, both known for good, basic burgers, featured a TX Wagyu slider with pork belly ham, poblanos, fontina cheese and caramelized onions.

Organizers of the fourth annual festival were sweating the weather forecast, which for days had been calling for severe thunderstorms to happen at the same time doors to the event were to open. There was barely a sprinkle, however, and the festival came to an end on a cool, breezy note.

Other highlights from last night:

Best (OK, only) side: Big thanks to Swiss Pastry Shop for bringing along the one and only side, kettle chips. Fries would be difficult for restaurants to do outside but how ’bout we get some potato salad or beans or corn or something, anything, next year?

Best nice surprise burger: The Omni Hotel's Cast Iron restaurant offered a terrific burger topped with roasted poblanos and spicy bacon, on a soft jalapeño cheddar roll. Most impressive was the way it was cooked — a perfect medium.

Best alternative to beer: There were more than 20 beer vendors, most with more than one type, making the event a haven for beer-lovers (Fort Worth’s new HopFusion Ale Works won best beer). For wine-lovers, LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards out of California came to the rescue with a handful of nice offerings.

Best excuse for a road trip from Fort Worth: Rock City Burger Co. from Bridgeport, roughly an hour’s drive north from the BBB venue, served a simple cheeseburger on a jalapeño bun (and jalapeño ketchup, which had run out by the time we got to the Rock City station) that earned praise from the type of burger purists who might even think cheese and a jalapeño bun are too fancy. We were told that Rock City gets a lot of business from Fort Worth and Dallas. We’re planning a visit soon.

Best nod to vegetarians dragged along by their burger-loving mates: Aside from some sweet breakfast items at the Rise + Dine brunch event Saturday, vegetarian food was in short supply at this year’s fest. But Deb Cantrell, the personal chef who runs health-conscious Savor Culinary Services, came through with sun-dried tomato mozzarella quinoa sliders with horseradish chipotle aoli with arugula.

The “Extra Napkins” award for messiest burger: We loved the Rodeo Goat “Bad Hombre” (which also gets our vote for best burger name) but the seven ingredients toppings made it a sloppy challenge to eat, especially standing, as you often have to do at Burgers, Blues + Brews (see next items).

Best advice for next year: More seating, please, and more sides.

Best advice for festivalgoers in case organizers ignore the above advice: Bring your own fold-up chair.

Staff writer Robert Philpot contributed to this report.