Last night's Dallas Observer Iron Fork at Fair Park was the best one yet – lines were short, food was stellar and 2,500 people ate and drank their fill. With ample supply and short waits, pretty much everyone got to try bites from the dozens of restaurants and booze-slingers in attendance, which is all you can really ask for from a Dallas food event.
In the live Iron Fork Chef Competition, moderated by Knife's John Tesar, Aaron Staudenmaier of Lovers Seafood & Market faced off against Eric Dryer of Fearing's in a nail-biter of a competition judged by Observer food critic Brian Reinhart, Dallas chef Misti Norris and representatives from Whole Foods. In the end, Staudenmaier won the throwdown with a red snapper dish that wowed the judges. At sampling tables, attendees voted for their favorite dishes, and Y.O. Steakhouse won best restaurant with their bacon-wrapped venison bites.
Having tried everything in the room, we found a few bites that stood out. Here were our favorite dishes from this year's Iron Fork.
Oddfellows' chicken thigh with farro risotto
The chicken thigh is, in our humble opinion, the most underrated part of the chicken. They're juicy, fatty and flavorful, and Oddfellows chef Anastacia Quinones fried the chicken thighs and served them over a rich, creamy farro risotto with roasted maiitake mushrooms, Pachi Pachi queso cafetero and micro amaranth. The beautifully balanced dish struck all the right notes: bright, crispy, salty and creamy.
Kabuki Japanese Kitchen's hand rolls
One of the coolest offerings of the night came from the Galleria's Kabuki Japanese Kitchen, which offered up shrimp or California hand rolls made fresh upon ordering. The veggies were crisp, the seafood was fresh and the resulting handroll was the perfect on-the-go snack for people attempting the oh-so precarious food event dance of balancing food and drinks in hand at the same time.
Pudding On Smiles' pudding
Dallas pudding-in-a-jar company Pudding on Smiles had the perfect on-the-go food for an event like Iron Fork. With ample samples pre-made, diners could try multiple flavors, and we quickly learned that this is no regular pudding cup. The velvety desserts, which came in flavors like red velvet, banana and an indulgent, addictive chocolate, were a cool, tasty antidote to heavier dishes, and we went back more than once to try multiple flavors. Pudding has definitely grown up.
Back Home BBQ's pulled pork
Back Home BBQ pulled out all the stops last night, serving up smoked brisket, turkey, sausage, bacon-cheddar mashed potatoes and brisket meatball sliders with bacon. By the end of the night, diners had decimated much of their offerings, but we got our hands on a no-muss, no-fuss mound of smoked pulled pork topped with a sweet, tangy house-made barbecue sauce. The pork, smoked for 16 hours, was rich, juicy and just fatty enough, and the sweet pop of the sauce on top made it a delectable bite, even without all the accouterments.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.