EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY, Y’ALL
It has been nearly two years since the announcement that Fort Worth would have its first food and wine festival, and now local chefs are preparing to put their best dishes forward as festivities kick off at the end of this month.
The purpose of the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival, organizers say, is to bring national and regional attention to the local food scene, to raise funds for grant programs and scholarships, and to elevate participants’ culinary knowledge.
Among the various tastings, strolls and soirees for food-lovers and savvy sippers to put on their plates is the decadent Tastes of the World lunch event happening March 29 at Bass Hall. A limited number of lucky patrons will dine on stage and experience four courses paired with live performances, including appearances from artists of the Fort Worth Opera, Texas Ballet Theater, the Texas Boys Choir and a former Cliburn competition pianist.
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Dallas chef Stephan Pyles and Fort Worth chef Jon Bonnell will team up to take guests through a gastronomical journey across the United States, sharing dishes that represent Creole, Pacific Northwest, New England and the low country cooking of the Deep South. Lunch will be served in high style with synchronized service from the banquet team at Ashton Depot; local historian Quentin McGown will act as master of ceremonies and food tour guide, sharing historical details highlighting the world’s influence on U.S. cuisine with each course.
Guy Stout, master sommelier (one of only three in Texas) and president of the Society of Wine Educators, will be on hand to select rare, fine wines well matched to the menu. Stout owns Stout Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country and is an active wine judge for several national competitions. He’ll pick pours to pair with, among other dishes, Bonnell’s seared rabbit and grilled andouille jambalaya.
Patrons will also be wined and dined with champagne and caviar, and will view prized images from local museums on display.
The event takes place 11 a.m.-2 p.m. March 29 at Bass Hall, Fourth and Calhoun streets, Fort Worth. Tickets, $500 per person, can be ordered through www.fort
Jon Bonnell learned how to clean a trout by age 6, and he’s been catching and cooking seafood ever since. In his just-released cookbook, Waters: Fine Coastal Cuisine, ($35, www.bonnellstexas.com, Amazon.com), named for his newest restaurant, he talks about his love for fishing and seafood sustainability, and he shares recipes for more than 35 varieties of fish and seafood. We appreciate the full-page photos that accompany each entree, leaving the guesswork out of how the end product should appear, and that the recipe for Waters’ decadent lobster mac and cheese is included. Content categories offer chilled and raw items, poached and steamed, crispy fried, “on the grill” and more. Here, Bonnell shares his recipe for whole artichokes (which are just coming into season) stuffed with shrimp salad. “This shrimp salad is fantastic on its own or sandwiched between slices of toasted bread with crisp lettuce or arugula,” he writes in the book. “I like to pair this dish with a light riesling or pilsner-type beer.”
SPICING UP THE SOUTH SIDE
“I had some customers say, ‘We live near Magnolia Avenue, in the south side,’ ” says Amy Thanpaisarnsamut, part-owner of Fort Worth restaurants Thailicious, Thai Select and Thai Rice ’N’ Noodle. “ ‘You should try to get a space there. It’s really growing right now.’ ” That suggestion, and the fact that many of her favorite restaurants already are in the area, led her and her chef sister-in-law Jang Comvieng to open Spice, which brings Thai back to West Magnolia Avenue after Junsuree Thai House closed in 2011. The small eatery focuses on Northern Thailand cuisine, including one of the owner’s favorite dishes, khao soi, a noodle soup with Burmese roots she says is not found in every Thai restaurant. Thanpaisarnsamut also loves pad gra pow, a ground meat stir-fry dish with basil sauce. “It’s my all-time favorite,” she says. Spice is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, which is noteworthy, as many of the area’s restaurants go dark Sunday evenings. 411 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 817-984-1800.
BIG BITES, SMALL BITES
It’s Round 4 for the corner space in Montgomery Plaza that has seen four restaurants shutter since mid-2011. But this time, a James Beard-featured chef is involved. Eddy Thretipthuangsin left a brief gig at a Thai restaurant in Dallas to open Bite City Grill this month. He promises Modern American cuisine with global influence, to include an ample selection of both small and big plates. The small bites will include lamb meatballs and wild mushroom flatbread, and big bites will boast lobster ravioli, Colorado rack of lamb and seared duck breast. The owner’s brother, Chris, will head the bar, where patrons will find a signature cocktail list, wines by the glass and regional craft beers. 2600 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth, 817-877-3888, www.bitecitygrill.com.
A NEW VIETNAMESE VENTURE
Kenzo Tran opened Piranha Killer Sushi in a nondescript Arlington strip center in 2001, where his prettily presented rolls, chic martinis and a snazzy vibe helped modernize Tarrant County’s sushi scene. Now he’s aiming to do the same for Vietnamese cuisine with his new concept, Pho District Vietnamese Street Food, set to take over the former Bayou Jack’s Cajun Grill location in the So7 development on West Seventh Street by summer.
“Vietnamese food is my heritage,” says Tran, who was born in Vietnam and learned to cook from his grandfather. “I believe Vietnamese is still underserved here. In mainstream America, you see Chinese and sushi restaurants on every corner, but to get Vietnamese food, you have to go into the Asian community. Fort Worth is a grown-up city now, and I think customers are ready for this. I think they will appreciate something different, unique and new.”
The restaurant will offer small and large plates for both lunch and dinner and will feature unfamiliar items such as goi ca, a sweet and spicy salmon salad that resembles ceviche, and pan-fried rice patties topped with pork or chicken floss — a term used to describe dried caramelized meat that has been ground and made to resemble cotton.
“My grandfather would make that for my lunch,” Tran says.
His pork belly buns, caramelized pork belly stuffed between sweet rice buns that mimic small tacos in size and shape, were a big hit at a recent menu tasting, as were pork banh mi sandwiches topped with quail eggs. Tran is also excited to bring his family recipe for pho to Fort Worth, as his dad owns a pho restaurant just outside of Saigon.
Renderings show Pho District’s interiors to be a bright mix of orange and wood grain, offering patio seating, cocktail tables and a bar. The restaurant’s logo shows a cone hat-wearing motorist riding a Vespa — a sight he says covers every corner of Saigon.
“I’m excited about this opportunity because we get to introduce our culture and our cuisine,” he says. “Piranha has been a blessing for me. It’s gone through so many growth stages; from a very modest hole-in-the-wall to having locations all over Texas. It will always be my first baby. But as a chef, I’m driven, and I want to do something to satisfy my appetite for creativity.”
THE TOAST OF MANSFIELD
Former Fort Worth wedding planner April Ragsdale has partnered with culinary arts graduate Carroll Burney to open Poured, a new wine bar in Mansfield’s Shoppes di Lucca. The two have studied to become level one sommeliers, “which means we have to keep learning,” April is happy to admit. “We want to make wine accessible because that’s how you learn. The more we learn, the more we can help customers enjoy it.” Poured has paired with Magnolia Cheese Company and Black Rooster Bakery in Fort Worth for cheese and baguette boards (which come in two choices: “red wine” and “white wine”) and charcuterie plates. Ask for April’s French rosé recommendation, as it’s her favorite selection to sip for spring. 1601 E. Debbie Lane, Suite 1105, Mansfield, 817-453-7919, www.pouredtx.com.
AUSUM FUDGE FOR DIABETICS
Fort Worth fudge makers Aubra Wilson and Sumer Searcy, gal pals who partnered to launch AuSum Fudge last year, have introduced a sucrose-free variety that’s sweetened with concentrated fruit juice and is suitable for diabetics. “Customers have asked for it,” says Wilson, who adds that the new version is slightly stickier than her traditional fudge but is just as decadent. Look for the new fudge, which only comes in plain chocolate right now, along with other AuSum varieties such as chocolate peanut butter, almond coconut, Oreo cookie and penuchi, made with brown sugar, to have a presence at the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival Sip and Savor event March 29. The sweets also are sold at the Historic Camp Bowie Mercantile. 7200 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-733-7787, www.ausumfudge.com.
TAKING TEX-MEX TO COLLEYVILLE
Colleyville isn’t known as a Tex-Mex dining destination, but that will change when Matt’s Tex-Mex opens a location there this month. The family-owned company, which has four outlets in Dallas, is buzz-worthy for its legendary beginnings in Austin in 1925, when Delfino Martinez opened El Original on Congress Street after selling tamales by pushcart. His son, Matt Martinez, opened Matt’s El Rancho in Austin in 1952 and it still draws crowds. It was Matt Martinez Jr. who brought the brand to Dallas in 1985 and now his son, Matt Martinez III, leads the helm of the family operation. Regulars know that the Bob Armstrong dip, a souplike chile con queso concoction, is a must-order along with enchiladas and a margarita, but venture out to try the pan-seared frog legs or the chicken-fried steak offered four ways. A Roanoke location will open on North Oak Street this summer.
4843 Colleyville Blvd., Colleyville, www.mattstexmex.com.
DISTILLING DREAMS COME TRUE
Black-eyed peas tend to take a back seat to corn on the cob as far as crops go, says West Texas farmer Deborah Nickels. But her son, Trey, discovered how to use the lucky legume in a way that will put not only the Nickels, but Fort Worth, on the spirits map. The mother-and-son duo will launch the world’s first black-eyed pea vodka, and they’ve chosen a historic firehouse in south Fort Worth, not far from Rahr & Sons Brewing Company and Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., as their distillery home. “We know black-eyed peas inside and out, but we had to educate ourselves on the validation of vodka,” Deborah Nickels says. So the two visited distilling schools, studied equipment in Kentucky and worked with a master distiller who has consulted for national names like Jim Bean and Makers Mark. The mother says she and Trey knew they were meant to make vodka after finding welcoming support from the Near Southside community. Production is anticipated to begin this month, and bottles will hit local liquor store shelves soon after. 503 Bryan Ave., Fort Worth, www.unhingedproductionsllc.com.
HERE’S THE BEEF
Wendy and Jon Taggart have sold their cuts of grass-fed beef to local restaurants and nutrition-minded customers since they began their operation in 1999. This month, the Grandview ranchers are expanding their business to Fort Worth with a storefront opening on West Seventh Street. “We had to make our products more accessible and convenient to our customers,” Wendy Taggart says. “And that meant moving to their neighborhood.” The retail outlet will cater to the home cook — engine starters for what she calls a food revolution going on right now — and will offer ground beef and dry-aged steaks along with other products like antibiotic-free chicken, free-range eggs and weekend hamburgers. “Fort Worth was once truly Cowtown, and that was a free-ranging type of beef,” she says. “To me, we’re bringing back the beef.” 3326 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth, www.burgundypasturebeef.com.
LUCKY NUMBER 24?
“This is indeed my first restaurant gig, but I have been a foodie for years,” says Joel Kleven, former chiropractor and occasional caterer-turned-restaurateur, who owns 24 Plates, set to open this spring on West Magnolia Avenue. Kleven decided to follow his fervor for food when the opportunity arose to sell his Weatherford-based practice. Now he’s working with executive chef Beau Johnson, who comes from Waldron Lodge in Dallas, to share a menu of globally inspired tapas that will, in fact, number 24. “As we were brainstorming menu ideas, we were always at or near 24 dishes,” Kleven says of the name’s origin. Two of two dozen items on the list will be short rib tacos and queso flameado — blended Mexican cheeses with roasted poblanos, red peppers and chorizo served flaming table-side with tortilla chips. “Our focus will be small, shareable plates,” Kleven says, adding that the menu will change seasonally, based on products and produce that the chef can find locally. Look for live music and local art also to be on the bill of fare. 407 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 817-840-7670, www.24platesfw.com.
Fort Worth and Southlake Central Market stores will source specialty Irish cheeses from small, family-run farms in Ireland just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. Look for Coolea (similar to gouda; the silky Gubbeen; and the white wheels from Cooleeney Farm. For Irish cheeses well-suited for beer pairing, pick up blocks of Wexford Creamery’s green wax cheddar or the pungent Irish Erin gold. 4651 West Freeway, Fort Worth, 817-989-4700; 1425 E. Southlake Blvd., Southlake, 817-310-5600, www.centralmarket.com.
Taco Diner is the newest of the designer taco eateries to hit Fort Worth. It comes from the Dallas-based M Crowd Restaurant Group, owner of Mi Cocina. Opening late March in the Sundance Square Plaza, the location will feature plentiful patio seating and will be ready in time for ESPN’s Final Four live broadcasts April 2-7. The menu features 20 taco varieties including sauteed shrimp in cream sauce, fried avocado and braised pork, as well as chicken pozole soup and Mexican “hamburguesas.” Breakfast, which offers chorizo cream gravy-topped tamales next to scrambled eggs, will be served all day. Plan to visit Saturdays and Sundays for brunch. 156 W. Fourth St., Fort Worth, www.tacodinerrestaurants.com.
Chadra Mezza and Grill owners Christina and Nehme Elbitar plan to open West Fork Grill in the former Summit Deli space this month. Christina Elbitar says menu items will feature Mediterranean influences, and boxed lunches and platters will be available for catering. 1200 Summit Ave., Fort Worth, www.chadramezza.com.
Casablanca Greek Mediterranean Cuisine has taken over the former Two Brothers Bistro in north Fort Worth, and is generating praise for its lamb kebabs, mixed grill dishes and mezze platters. The BYOB restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. 7355 N. Beach St., Fort Worth, 817-232-1155.
Ellerbe Fine Foods executive chef Molly McCook has been invited to cook June 9 at the prestigious James Beard House in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. The public is invited to the multicourse dinner event, and we’re told McCook would love to see Fort Worth faces in attendance. Ticket details are forthcoming. www.ellerbefinefoods.com, www.jamesbeard.org.
Queenie’s Steakhouse, Tim Love’s Denton venture, has launched Sunday brunch. For a very reasonable $19.50, diners can choose from several main dishes, including chicken-fried quail and waffles, Jamon Iberico eggs Benedict and pheasant confit hash, and also have access to a buffet of breakfast breads and pastries along with roasted salmon topped with caviar. A complimentary mimosa is included. 115 E. Hickory St., 940-442-6834, www.queeniessteakhouse.com.