Foodie Events / Restaurants

The Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival Celebrates Its First 10 Years — Who Was Seen and What Was Served

And How This Local Food Fest Gives Back

BY // 04.08.24

The 10th annual Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival was held over the weekend. All five signature events took place at the Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork. Foodies rubbed shoulders with celebrity chefs and up-and-coming food truck operators ― nibbling and sipping with abandon. The annual festival showcases over 1,100 food and beverage participants and introduces the hungry crowd to something new year after year.

The 2024 installment of the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival (FWFWF) celebrated its growth and accomplishments during its first decade. Hat’s off to its founders, Russell Kirkpatrick and Mike Micallef, the festival’s executive director Julie Eastman, director of operations Kayla Davis, board and committee members, generous sponsors, and most importantly the sea of volunteers that make these events possible each year.

“Each participant adds their own special touch to the festival, creating an unforgettable experience for food and wine lovers,” says festival director,  Julie Eastman. “We’re excited to bring our supporters a delicious gathering at the FWFWF.”

Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival
Chef Jett Mora’s vegetarian taco is filled with roasted mushrooms and baby greens. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)

Tacos + Tequila

On Thursday at the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival, Grapevine’s Mi Dia From Scratch turned out a tender duck carnitas taco. Taco Heads kept it sweet, with its smoked jalapeño pork belly taco topped with a bit of jalapeño jelly. While Paco’s went for pork carnitas with chile arbol sauce.

The traditional taco theme took a novel turn when Hao’s Grocery dreamed up their Korean short rib bao bun, and chef Jett Mora of Café Modern served up his vegetarian mushroom taco ― possibly the prettiest presentation of the evening.

For dessert, Tareka Lofton of Loft 22 put a new spin on her famous banana pudding — this year she presented a creamy cookie butter version. Funky Town Donuts brought two options, a pomegranate margarita donut and a refreshing corn cake with lime tequila glaze. And, Sweetie’s Cheesecakes created a blood orange cheesecake bite atop a chocolate cookie crust.  

Introducing Pêche

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Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival
Antonio Votta’s tuna tartare atop crispy nori crackers. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)

The Main Event

Chef Stephen Pyles was on hand on Friday, dishing up a taste of his next restaurant, The Seeker. The famous Texas chef is consulting on menus along with Mod Motels’ Stephenville opening of the Interstate Inn. It was a hearty Ecuadorian potato cake with an elotes crab salad.

Chef Preston Paine of Emelia’s also served fluffy crab-filled arancini, while Antonio Votta of Bricks and Horses created a tuna tartare atop crispy nori crackers. It was the first appearance at the festival for both of the chefs.

Farm-to-table phenom Molly McCook went deep into her Louisiana roots with a Duroc pork rind salad ― you heard me right. Malai Kitchen tossed a green papaya salad with Vietnamese pork ribs. Graham Elliot of FAR Out Hospitality delivered eye-popping beet-hued deviled eggs, and Michael Thompson of Michael’s Cuisine served his famous chipotle meatballs.

Chef Stefon Rishel, who is launching his new Mohawk Consulting dazzled with a creamy potachu-based gnocchi. He described the sauce as brown butter, grated pecorino, and more butter ― that explains why it was so darn good. And, Teddy Wongs brought a brilliant sampler of their handmade dumplings.

Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival
Chef Jon Bonnell served a crab and shrimp salad to Water’s fans. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)

Rise + Dine

Kicking off the weekend, Jon Bonnell brought a light and lovely crab and shrimp salad from his Water’s Restaurant. Carpenter’s Café tempted with a scoop of their smoked chicken salad, and Lil’Boy Blue BBQ (the private chefs you can take with you on any trip) served up Grandma’s hotcakes to the brunch crowd.

Brewed delivered rows of vanilla cinnamon rum buns. Lettuce Cook served up roasted pulled pork on buttery biscuits. Leaves Bakery and Books (the new rebrand of Stir Crazy Bakery) kept the mocktails flowing. Wineries, distillers, and brewers sampled their wares as well.  

The longest line (three years in a row at Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival) was to sample the creation by chef Jenny Castor of Luckybee Kitchen. This year it was a lighter-than-air, Bloody Mary Pani Puri ― a crispy rice sphere decorated with tomato and honey caramel, a bit of smoked bacon salt, and wasabi sesame seeds.

Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival Rodeo Goat
Rodeo Goat’s burger was called El Cortez on a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos bun. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)

Burgers, Brews + Blues

The only event at the festival that allows the crowd to weigh in on its favorites, these burgers were clearly competing for street cred on Saturday.

The judges chose Kincaid’s burger ― called Rosemary’s Baby, with rosemary, orange and black pepper cream cheese, and a grape jelly chili sauce. The fan-favorite burger was by JD’s, an ode to the soon-to-reopen Margie’s Italian Garden, the Margie’s slider was topped with a mozzarella crisp, fried basil, and marinara sauce. Fort Brewery’s beer selections were honored as well.

Other notable burgers included Big Kat’s The Brute burger ― dressed with bacon jam-infused cream cheese, and jalapeño cilantro buttermilk ranch. Del Norte Burgers (yes, Del Norte Tacos serves burgers too) served up a pork patty with smoked pork belly. Onmi Hotel brought a bulgogi beef burger, and Kelly’s Onion Burger presented their classic smash burger with caramelized onions. The most stunning was the El Cortez by Rodeo Goat, filled with al pastor and a beef patty, inside a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto-crusted brioche bun.

Finally, Emporium Pies offered guests a pie-tasting trio of some of their famous Lord of the Pies apple crumble, an almond poppy seed chess, and their bourbon pecan pie.

Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival
Don Artemio’s roast cabrito tacos are a house specialty. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)

Ring of Fire

A day ahead of the big show ― the total eclipse of the sun and its ring of fire passing over Fort Worth — was the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival’s long-running live fire event of the same name.

Don Artemio brought its roast cabrito which is a notable house specialty. Dayne’s Craft Barbecue teased a new brunch menu item ― their tender and crispy smoked barbacoa flautas. And, Tokyo Café smoked some sriracha wings dressed in fried shallots and sesame seeds.

The Panther City BBQ pitmasters (who recently purchased Bailey’s Barbecue and relaunched it as Fort Worth Barbecue in downtown) sliced smoked ribeye draped in chimichurri. Newcomer, Tailgater’s BBQ dished up smoked Parker County peach cobbler alongside their honey peach pork belly burnt ends. And, Brix Barbecue sliced their specialty item ― Texas Porchetta “stuffed with sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.”

But, the star of the show was chef Richard Sandoval, whose worldwide restaurant offerings include his Toro Toro located in downtown Fort Worth. He was manning the grill himself and serving up tender grilled octopus. You never know who you might run into at the fest.

Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival
A taste of Teddy Wong’s tender dumplings. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)

Munching With A Mission

While the annual Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival is a foodie wonderland, and a must-attend event each spring ― it has a deeper mission. The funds raised go back into growing and training future culinary talent. To date, the Foundation has awarded $325,000 in scholarship and classroom grants ― supporting deserving culinary students, and training programs across Fort Worth.

Festival goers, sponsors, and supporters of the festival are making those culinary dreams a reality, and supporting the local restaurant industry at the same time, providing it with even more trained professionals.

Philanthropy never tasted so good ― here’s to the next decade.

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