This year's Feast with the Beasts benefit for the Houston Zoo was a sold-out event that had people running from animal display to animal display and food tent to food tent to soak up every bit of excitement, even in the rain. This was the 8th annual feast, and the event has become something that people look forward to all year -- and it's easy to see why.
Upon arriving at the zoo, I was greeted by tall, twisted trees wrapped in different colors of bright lights that washed anything in their vicinity in shades of blue, purple, yellow and green -- an early preview of Zoo Lights, which opens to the general public on November 22.
Sixty-four restaurants and catering companies pulled out all the stops to serve up some incredible food. There were lobster rolls from Truluck's, tacos from Chipotle, kale and apple lemonade from Juice Girl, donuts from Shipley, cupcakes from Sprinkles and just about everything else in between. Try as I might to nudge my way around the more than 4,000 guests to taste every single food offering available, I kept finding myself being drawn to the animals.
As they do every year at Feast with the Beasts, the animal trainers and handlers stage show-and-tell presentations that allow guests to get (fairly) up-close and personal with some of the zoo's residents.
One of the highlights of the evening -- for me anyway -- was the cheetah show. Trainers brought a young adult male on stage and gave a brief talk about the cheetahs at the zoo while the majestic creature lounged on a platform, perking up his ears every now and then and setting the trainers on alert. Animal handlers also brought out a leopard tortoise, a great horned owl, an electus parrot, an indigo snake, a cuddly opossum named Oscar, a sweet skunk named Lily and a lazy porcupine named Ernest.
But back to the food. On the menu were half a goat (fur and all), big chunks of raw meat hidden atop makeshift cardboard creatures, and bloody carcasses torn apart as soon as they reached hungry mouths. Oh, I'm sorry, that's what the animals were eating. Because it's called Feast with the Beasts, guests really do get a chance to chow down on barbecue while the lions dine on meat that's slightly ... rarer. Diners also observed a piranha, a cougar and an African wild dog enjoying their dinner. It got messy.
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Elsewhere in the zoo, guests cast their votes for their favorite dishes, with last year's champ, Little Daddy's Gumbo Bar, again winning the most votes for its warm and soothing southern food. I was busy running around taking photos and trying to pet every animal that was available to pet, but I did have the chance to eat several delightful little cookies from Michael's Cookie Jar and the decadent lobster roll from Truluck's, at whose area a long line formed by the time people caught wind of what they were serving. Other big hits of the evening were Eddie V's, Taste of Texas, Torchy's Tacos, Frank's Americana Revival, Cuchara and El Real. Basically, folks were into meat and Tex-Mex, and who could blame them?
Now that I've attended my first Feast with the Beasts, I understand that there's a system to figure out and a strategy to employ to be able to taste the maximum amount of food and commune with the maximum number of animals. Next year, I'll have it down.
If you haven't been to Feast with the Beasts before, I definitely recommend you mark it on your 2014 calendars. If you're a veteran, tell us what you thought. How did it stack up against previous years?
To see more photos from the event check out our Feast with the Beasts 2013 slideshow.