The event was billed as a “BBQ Showdown,” but it was more gentle than that, even if the dirt that lined the floor of the W.R. Watt Arena clung very aggressively to my wedge shoes.
The food and drink at Thursday night’s kickoff event of the Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival pitted some 14 vendors against one another, vying for barbecue accolades from some of the region’s noted food writers, including Texas Monthly’s meat king Daniel Vaughn and food critic Pat Sharpe, and Alice Laussade, the “Cheap Bastard” from the Dallas Observer.
Another name for the event could have been “Who Wants to Eat Fatty Brisket?” because many of the participants offered the increasingly trendy barbecue item, which tastes like pure butter on the tongue.
In the spirit of the event, and to make myself feel better about not being asked to judge it, here are my own awards:
Best BBQ Garnish: Lockhart Smokehouse offered a habanero salsa-sauce, chunky with diced veggies and peppers, to go along with a hunk of fatty brisket, a portion of a tomahawk beef rib and sausage. To say the sauce was over-the-top-spicy is putting it mildly; it nearly fogged up my glasses, but was completely ideal when paired with the rich meat.
Best Use of a Carb: Black’s Barbecue offered a serving of brisket—your choice of fatty or lean; whaddya think I chose?—plus a riff on chicken and waffles. The shredded chicken, nicely smoked, was nearly left in the dust by its accompaniment, a sliver of Belgian waffle that tasted more biscotti than puffed pastry: sweet, and with a hint of cinnamon. It was worth the 15 minutes I waited in line—the longest for any vendor at the event.
Best Shortcut: Speaking of, you know how hometown favorite Heim Barbecue is known for its lengthy lines? I sidled right up to the table (as did everyone else throughout the night) and had my first taste of their infamous burnt bacon ends. I dispatched the pork belly-esque nuggets, which are swathed in a sweet, jam-my sauce, so quickly I daresay I set a record within Fort Worth city limits.
Best Composed Plate: At least two restaurants offered mini-plates, for which they should be awarded Best Value, if nothing else. I enjoyed the effort from relative newcomer-to-Dallas, 18th & Vine, who proffered their Kansas City-style pulled pork, braised collard greens, pickled cabbage and, well, pickle, on top of a grainy, spicy sauce. It was a lot of food.
Best Fatty Brisket: Let’s hear it for the local boys from BBQ on the Brazos (in nearby Cresson), whose thick, plank o’ beef virtually disappeared from my plate. I’m not going to say I inhaled it. Let’s just say someone’s wearing their Fat Pants today and leave it at that.