Last night's Dallas Observer Iron Fork was the best one yet. There was a ton of creativity in the room, from Norma's chicken-fried steak shooters to Hash House a Go Go's meatloaf sliders to Fresh Art Foodie's crazy sticky rice doughnuts with blood orange-pineapple chicken. Brisket seemed to be the ingredient of the night this year, with dishes ranging from brisket sliders to arepas to just straight-up smoked brisket served on a plate with an optional side of barbecue sauce.
And while we ate ourselves stupid, a lot was happening on the stage, too. For the first time ever, two female chefs faced off in the Iron Fork Chef Challenge: Cedars Social's Anastacia Quinones and Gabriela McCormick of Fearing's.
As is the case every year, ingredients were supplied by Whole Foods, and there was a secret superstar ingredient not unveiled until the competition began. This year, it was mushrooms, and the resulting dishes were stunners.
Quinones brought the heat with a dish of sliced mushrooms, an 82-day mole vinaigrette, spicy Fresno chiles, arugula and celery leaves. She also made a tortilla pressed from fresh masa with chunks of mushrooms in a crunchy beer batter made from Alaskan Brewing Co.'s White whitbier. McCormick made gnocchi from scratch and integrated her own smoked butter sabayon that wowed everyone at the judge's table.
In the end, Quinones took home the Iron Fork, earning almost a perfect score from each judge. But that wasn't the only good food on the menu last night. Here are a few of our favorite dishes this year:
Sandwich Hag's chicken curry
We all know Sandwich Hag makes a mean banh mi, but we had yet to try their flavorful Vietnamese chicken curry. This tiny cup of bright, flavorful curry with a fresh baguette was like getting punched in the face by spicy, creamy magic.
Luck's smoked brisket slider
With house-made pickles atop tender, smoky brisket, Luck's sliders had the right balance of acid, fat and heat. Can we get a jar of those pickles to go?
Arepa TX's brisket and chimichurri arepa bites
It's no secret that we love Dallas dining newcomer Arepa TX, and we especially loved their stellar arepa bites. Fresh, fluffy masa was topped with brisket, bright chimichurri and plantain, packing an incredible amount of flavor into one little bite.
Hutchins BBQ's brisket and jalapeño-cheese sausage
Throughout the night, diners had the opportunity to vote for their favorite dish, and not surprisingly Hutchins BBQ won this year with their smoked brisket and jalapeño-cheese sausage. That brisket was perfect: fatty, tender, melt-in-your-mouth, make-you-say-your-bedtime-prayers good. The jalapeño-cheese sausage was hardly an afterthought, either. This outrageously juicy, cheesy sausage was so good, we might make the drive to McKinney this weekend just for a couple pounds.
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Chennai Cafe's ... everything
Of all the participants this year, no one went harder than Chennai Cafe. They didn't just serve a dish; they had a menu of offerings, from chicken tikka masala to saag paneer to chicken dum biryani and madurai chili chicken. We may have gone back a few more times just to sample it all. Worth it.
Wholesome Grub's vegan street tacos
This healthy drive-thru — serving paleo-, vegan-, vegetarian- and gluten-free-friendly eats — cooked up bountiful vegan street tacos stuffed with a colorful array of squash, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, cilantro, hummus and ranchero sauce, along with almond milk horchata. If there's one thing we can get behind, it's a taco diet, and this was by far the best healthy taco we've had yet.