By Mitchell Nover, Melanie Galarce, Santi Cardona, Monique Gonzalez, and Mahogani Jones
Despite the fact that the South Beach Wine & Food Festival has been held in Miami for 16 years now, it hasn’t always represented the local chefs, restaurants, and flavors that our city has to offer. In recent years, however, we’ve noticed a shift towards the highlighting of more of the best and brightest of the South Florida foodie community. Never has that been more evident than this year’s Festival. Instead of events being all about Food Network stars, most events are now fronted by our local culinarians with the celebrity chefs playing the role of supporting players. And, you know what? It’s a beautiful thing.
Add to that the expansion to more neighborhoods and communities off of South Beach and the growing number of “unofficial” ancillary events, and it seems that SOBEWFF has officially gone local. With so much ground to cover this year, here at MMTM Headquarters we also felt the need to activate part of our own local team of foodies to help us cover multiple aspects of the weekend’s activities. The below is a team-effort recap of our 2017 SOBEWFF experiences. We hope you enjoy our take on the 2017 South Beach Wine & Food Festival!
Barilla’s Italian Bites on the Beach: Food Network stars Valerie Bertinelli and Alex Guarnaschelli joined forces to host more than 30 of the nation’s top chefs, who served up quite the variety of Italian dishes, ranging from antipasto-style salads to grilled pizzas. And pasta – lots of it! Popular ’80s rock band, Little River Band, took the stage and serenaded the crowd with a few of their old school Billboard hits, including “Lady.” A few of the participating restaurants included: Upland (Miami Beach), Salumeria 104 (Miami), Dolce Italian (Miami Beach), Emily (Brooklyn), Fi’lia by Michael Schwartz (Miami), and Little Nonna’s (Philadelphia), among others.
Event highlights: From Prime Italian, Chef Todd Zimmer’s Coccoli with Prociutto di Parma, Stracchino cheese, and house-made truffle honey. From Louie Bossi’s Ristorante Bar & Pizzeria, Chef Louie Bossi’s Strozzapreti Pasta alla Parmigiana Reggiano with wild mushrooms and porchetta. From Dolce Italian, Paolo Dorigato’s Risotto alla Parmigiana with Braised Short Ribs served on bed of wilted spinach and finished with Parmigiano-Reggiano, and au jus.
Monique’s take: Italian Bites on the Beach is a great SOBEWFF option that’ll satisfy the Italian/carb-lover in all of us. Overall, the event was well-organized and not as crowded as some of the other Festival events. It offered plenty of options beyond just pasta, including grain salads and cheeses. A few more wine varieties to choose from (there were only two) would be great for next year!
Tequila Cazadores Presents Tacos After Dark: Whether from a street corner or a white-tablecloth restaurant, tacos remain one of the most sought-after food items out there! Sponsored by the National Pork Board, the Official Pork Sponsor and Preferred Protein of the Festival, Tacos After Dark was one of the hottest events during SOBEWFF. Variations using lechón, carne, pollo, and more left everyone’s taste buds satiated during this late night soirée bringing to life Mexico’s most iconic dish.
Event highlights: Tacos After Dark featured the best booze, beats, and bites to kick-off the SOBEWFF weekend. Host Aarón Sánchez lined up some incredible chefs to feature an array of tacos. To taste all samples in one evening was gluttony at first sight. Nevertheless, my standout dish was the Crispy Louisiana Oyster Taco. Served with chayote and jicama slaw, the crispiness and flavor from this succulent mini taco had me reminiscing of my grandmother’s homemade Louisiana cooking! In fact, I went back for seconds. And when paired with a Tequila Cazadores Spicy Margarita, only two words came to mind: muy bueno!
Mahogani’s take: The party was packed, the DJ was jamming, the drinks were flowing, and the tacos were endless. What more could you ask for on a Thursday night?!
Heineken Light’s Burger Bash: The 11th Annual (!!!) Burger Bash was back for yet another serving of beef, hosted once again by Rachael Ray. This is the event that truly kicks off SOBEWFF weekend, and this year’s iteration saw an esteemed panel of judges that included Ayesha Curry, Emilio Estefan, Jill Martin, Rev Run, and Adam Richman taste almost 30 burger offerings from restaurants from around South Florida and nationwide. Add to that flowing beer and wine, and a selection of sweet treats, and other delights, and its no wonder this event is a perennial Festival favorite.
Event highlights: OK, so the official winners were Little Jack’s Tavern’s Tavern Burger from Charleston, SC (judge’s choice), JR’s Gourmet Burger’s That Guy’s Burger from Miami Springs (people’s choice), and Tucker Duke’s Lunchbox’s Marmaduke from Deerfield Beach (Red Robin’s Best of the Bash). But, if it were up to me, I’d have to say that my favorite burger of the night came from Pubbelly’s Chef Jose Mendin and his Lechón Burger. The roast pork with mojo, pickled onions, and secret sauce topped a simple beef burger on a beautifully toasted bun. It was a true Miami burger, and I couldn’t help but eat the whole thing.
Mitch’s take: Although always one of SOBEWFF’s most talked about events, I haven’t always heard the best reviews of Burger Bash and in years past, I’ve stayed away because of it. So, when walking into this year’s bash, I was a more than a little wary of what I would find. An overcrowded tent? Not enough food? Surprisingly, I found none of that to be true and thoroughly enjoyed my experience. I ate, I saw, I conquered. See you next year, Burger Bash!
Buddhas and Bellinis: This event made for an incredibly entertaining morning at the SOBEWFF host hotel, the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. It was the perfect a.m. combination: a highly sought-after yoga teacher, a live band to guide you though an intense yoga routine, and a bunch of peeps who are totally in the mood to booze. Sounds like a good time, right? That’s because it was.
Event highlights: We had an hour-long yoga session where I sweat so intensely that I felt less guilty about the gluttony of the other Festival-related activities. It was a perfect cloudless day that was sponsored by Lifeway Kefir (tart and tangy cultured dairy beverage that’s 99% lactose free and packed with probiotics) who served up delicious smoothie creations. Bellinis were also abundant and happily consumed thanks to Cavicchioli Spumante.
Mel’s take: This was the perfect event to attend with girlfriends or simply if you’re a health-conscious foodie. I went with my bestie and couldn’t have thought of a better way to start my Saturday morning. Although it was a bit challenging to master downward dog after a few bellinis, this is the type of innovative event that aptly belongs in South Beach.
Bacardi on the Beach: This event was a beach party of epic proportions with cocktails galore, thanks to title sponsor Bacardi, and small bites by some of the best restaurants in our beloved city. It’s a local celebration with notables like Ariete, Nobu, and Barley, among many more, showcasing some of their signature dishes. The event took place under the famous large tent aptly located on the sand, which really makes it feel like you’re South Beaching (can we make that a verb?) at the Festival.
Event highlights: The standout dish for me was the Charred Shrimp Taco from The Social Club. With caramelized pork belly, N’duja hot sauce, miso buttermilk, pickled pineapple slaw, and French corn tortilla, I wish I could have said taco every Tuesday for the rest of my life. Also, it’s a shoo-in that I’ll be making my way to The Social Club rather soon to have a full taste of their menu. An honorable mention goes to Nobu for their absolutely perfect and simple, Chicken Broccoli Quesadilla with spicy aoli. The night ended with a plethora of Bacardi cocktails and a damn stellar throwback performance from Rev Run and DJ Ruckus, who quite frankly made every human born in the ’80s that night a very happy kid. Playing tunes from the early ’90s, it was a blast from the past that had the entire place jumping without inhabitation and dancing their way back to their teenage years.
Mel’s take: Typically, the SOBEWFF beach parties are good events with decent food, but mostly they sort of get lost in the mayhem of other Festival festivities. However, I’d like to think that all changed this year thanks to the new take brought on by new sponsor Bacardi. Echoing off our opening statements, I really love that the focus was on local restaurants and, most notably, I think the game-changer was the set by Rev Run and DJ Ruckus. They really took the night to the next level. I felt like I was at a high school dance only this time enjoying it with my husband.
Croquetas & Champagne: Croquetas and Champagne… Could there be a SOBEWFF event that is more Miami than this one? While officially “hosted” by acclaimed French superchef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, this celebration of all things croqueta is as local as it gets thanks to the 305’s own Burger Beast’s curation of some of the Magic City’s best (and most under-recognized) chefs and restaurants to showcase their tastiest croqueta variations. And what did we drink to wash down all of these croquetas, you ask? The beautiful bubbles of Champagne Henriot, of course. Que fino!
Event highlights: There was not one bad croqueta in the bunch, not that that’s hard to believe. But, for me, there were three that really stood out as highlights. First, the Bacon Croquette from Miami Smokers. Featuring house made bacon from Andres Barrientos and James Bowers themselves, this croqueta variation was relatively simple, but the creaminess of the smokey filling paired with the sweet and acidic guava gastrique and lime was a true flavor revelation.
Not surprisingly, my other faves came from Miami’s reigning croqueta dynasty at Islas Canarias and FINKA. What was surprising, however, was how creative and non-traditional they went in their offerings this year, serving up a dynamic duo of Kimchee Mojo Pork (right) and Crab Mac ‘n Cheese (left) croquetas. Way outside the box, and way awesome.
Mitch’s take: This is what the weekend is all about for me. Taking a local culinary staple (croquetas) and elevating it with accompaniments (Champagne) and ambiance (Palm Court in the Design District), while inspiring the local chefs who cook them on a regular basis to experiment and show off their creativity for at least one night.
Goya Foods’ Swine & Wine: Reigning People’s Choice award-winner for best whole roasted pig, Cindy Hutson returned to the rounds up some of her fellow colleagues to take Swine & Wine 2017 to a whole new level. With some restaurants serving up pig-centric tapas inside the Biltmore Hotel Club Ballroom and others slow roasting whole pigs on the Courtyard outside, it was a truly pork-tastic evening. There was also a “Sweet Zone” showcasing the creations of experienced Biltmore pastry chefs and ice cream from Walls Old Fashioned Ice Cream. Bringing the wine to Swine & Wine, all these amazing sweet and savory samplings were accompanied by wines from Folonari, La Linda, and Luigi Bosca, as well as cocktails from Pig’s Nose Scotch Whisky, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and Zafra Rum. Up-beat tunes and live entertainment by El Tucán Cabaret & Modern Day Lounge capped off this celebration of swine and our SOBEWFF weekend.
Event highlights: Swine & Wine 2015 was the event that first introduced me to the magic of Chef Jorgie Ramos and Barley. His offering that year was one of my best bites of the whole year, and, once again, his Swine & Wine sampling this year proved no different. The event crowd took notice (finally!!) of what I’ve been tasting these past two years and awarded his French Onion Soup inspired Pan con Lechón the People’s Choice award.
Another highlight from the night was Kiko Suarez’s Pan con Lechón. As the only non-chef participating in the event and competition (he’s usually on the other side of the table as the host of the popular Telemundo restaurant segment Que Rico con Kiko), his old-school, classic take on the favorite Cuban sandwich was a nice change of pace from all the fancy, chefy offerings being served up by everyone else. And that guava sauce was fire.
Mitch’s take: After missing this event last year, I’m so glad I made it back. It’s one of my favorites from the Festival and a great way to close out a food-filled weekend with friends. There’s something about the crowd and the caja chinas that makes you feel like you’re at a family member’s or friend’s house in Westchester or Hialeah as opposed to the Biltmore Courtyard. It’s another very Miami event, and I’m here for it.
Tacos After Dark Preview: Tabasco teamed up with Chef Richard Ampudia from Lolo’s Surf Cantina for an unofficial event to preview of the dishes he created exclusively for the the official SOBEWFF Tacos After Dark event. In addition to the sneak peek, the event also featured Tabasco tastings, Tabasco-infused Margaritas and Palomas, and other bright and bold Tabasco-inspired fare.
Event highlights: The Smoked Mushroom Tacos with cauliflower and Tabasco chipotle sauce was a bold choice for Chef Ampudia’s official entry into Tacos After Dark, but it paid off. Despite the presence of other meat-forward dishes, the mushrooms still gave a meaty bite and was complemented nicely by the crunch of the cauliflower and tangy heat from the chipotle-Tabasco sauce. The Tabasco tasting was also a nice (and super spicy) touch, and luckily my tastebuds were back to normal before my next event.
Mitch’s take: As my first event of the weekend (on Wednesday night, no less), this was the perfect ease-in to my SOBEWFF 2017 experience. The event itself was cohesive, calm, not overly crowded, and had plenty of food and drink to go around.
Concrete Beach Brewery Beer & Food Pairing: This was a night out on the cusp (Thursday) of the SOBEWFF weekend for a beer and food pairing. Could it get any better? Hosted by Concrete Beach Brewery, a few foodies gathered in an intimate setting to learn about the beer-making process that was followed by a special beer and food pairing. It was a fun, informative, and tasty evening where we enjoyed some superb beer that we highly recommend (Miami Gras, Tangerica, Mas Hops and The Dome, and The Dummy and The Dutch).
Event highlights: The Miami Gras beer was recently crafted for the Mardi Gras festivities taking place in Miami and is a concoction of French Saison, juniper berries, and orange honey blossom. I highly recommend you make your way to Concrete Beach Brewery to indulge in this citrus perfection. The food was provided by Yardbird (another favorite of mine) and had some of their signature Chicken Sandwiches as well as grits and some delicious cole slaw and salad to bring the experience full circle.
Mel’s take: This was the prefect event to help kick-off SOBEWFF week. Away from the craziness of South Beach and tucked away in Wynwood, it was a taste of the debauchery that eventually made me gain what felt like 10lbs in one weekend. Also, I’m a big fan of the crew at Concrete Beach Brewery and the awesome, innovative craft beers that they continue to make and share with our growing beer-loving community.
Made in Dade: The 1st Annual Made In Dade Chef’s Cookout took place on Thursday night, featuring Miami’s very own Michael Beltran (Ariete), Rene Reyes & John Gallo (Pinch Kitchen), Niven Patel (Ghee Indian Kitchen), and Cesar Zapata (Phuc Yea). The casual backyard BBQ at Phuc Yea’s Lantern Garden, served up a crawfish boil, craft cocktails, a shucks and suds station with Blue Island Oysters, and a selection of other amazing eats.
Event highlights: Chef Beltran’s House Made Bao Cuban Sandwich was a definite winner, and not just because it was the only food available for a long stretch of time.
Special shout-out to the Zacapa Rum Love Me Luong Time cocktail because I drank about six of them while waiting for the food. They were delicious and shockingly didn’t put me completely on my ass. That’s also where the Cuban Sandwich Bao came in handy.
Mitch’s take: Like a lot of things “made in Dade,” this event was a bit of a mess. I kid, I kid. It actually was a lot of fun, it’s just that the food took FOREVER. And once it came out, it was an all-out physical challenge to get a plate, leaving many unable to fully experience all of greatness that the chefs worked so hard to cook for them. I’ll chalk it up to the “1st Annual” learning curve.
Kick Off After Party: Will Rivas, Beverage Director of The Pubbelly Group, hosted nationally-renowned bartender, Yael Vengroff of LA’s The Spare Room at Pawn Broker, for a rooftop after-party sponsored by Avion Tequila.
Event highlights: The evening featured music, cocktails, and a “best in bar” collaboration from the West Coast and Sunshine State. LA meets Miami for a stellar kick-off event.
Santi’s take: The absolutely breathtaking venue made for the perfect atmosphere to enjoy these West Coast cocktails. The music was on-point (think old school ’80s and hip-hop spun on vinyl) and the crowd was quite pumped to kick off the SOBEWFF festivities. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more events held at Pawn Broker for next year.
Late Night Ramen: Chefs Jose Mendin and Richie Nakano, formerly of Hapa Ramen in San Francisco, teamed up for an after midnight cooking jam session to create two ramen bowls. Also, making a special musical appearance was DJ Terry Cloth, who was decked out in a literal terrycloth robe.
Event highlights: Incredible Puerto Rican-inspired Ramen made for extremely intriguing (yet delicious) bites.
Santi’s take: Easily the most celebrity-attracting after party of the weekend. Pubbelly has become a celebrity-favorite for the right reasons, and, in this case, the Ramen (especially the roasted chicken and mofongo one) was out of bounds. If they kept this on the menu consistently, I’m sure it would become a Pubbelly Sushi classic.
Oh Baby I Like it Raw: Izzy’s Fish & Oyster’s raw bar once again played host to the “Oh Baby I Like It Raw” guest chef series. Two guest chefs on deck – Boston favorites, Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer of The Little Donkey – who came to join Chef Jamie DeRosa in this guest series’ second edition. Light bites were centered around the ide of “raw” seafood served around the raw bar.
Event highlights: The Bostonians put their spin on Scallop Crudo and Tuna Tataki, while Chef Jamie DeRosa kept it tropical with his Florida Citrus and White Soy Ponzu-inspired Dressed Oyster.
Santi’s take: Jamie DeRosa definitely knows how to handle a crowd. He made his way around the raw bar and made sure everyone chugged some Champagne as they enjoyed his light bites of the evening. He wasn’t shy about making sure everyone left absolutely stuffed, especially with those incredible “Knuckle Sandwiches.” A close second were the raw oysters served with the impeccable mignonette.
For more from our food-filled weekend, check out the photo gallery below.