Old Favorites and a Newcomer Were Big Winners at 2016 Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites

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Grazia Italian Kitchen has much to be proud of after last night’s Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites Competition. Even though it was only the Pearland restaurant's first year to enter, it grabbed not only the Best Bites Rookie award but also the top position in the Lone Star Entrée category.

Grazia's Smoked Short Rib, glazed with cilantro molasses and laid on top of risotto laden with pancetta, was so successful that it landed a third award: second place in the Best Bites Popular Choice category. Perpetual favorite Royers Round Top Café won the top spot. The famous pie shop in Round Top, Texas, has placed in the category five out of the past six years.

Royers wasn’t the only one with repeat honors last night. Joyce’s Seafood & Steaks once again rolled out its lightly sweet White Chocolate Bread Pudding — and once again nailed first place in the Tasty Traditions category. It’s the third time in four years Joyce's has placed in that category.

Last year, Davis Street at Hermann Park was honored with the Trailblazing Appetizer award for its Crispy Thai Shrimp. While a similar take with lobster and shrimp didn't grab a food award, the team still won the Best Showmanship prize.

It took dozens of media and celebrity judges to initially rate more than 100 entries. The highest-ranked bites from the first round of judging were ultimately scored by a “super panel” of judges that included Phaedra Cook of the Houston Press (that's me), Greg Morago of the Houston Chronicle, radio personality and media relations pro Lanny Griffith, author John DeMers (now culinary director of Fischer & Wieser Specialty Foods in Fredericksburg) and KPRC news anchor Andy Cerota.

The categories were structured differently this year, which is helpful since it allowed for more specific awards. The Trailblazing Appetizer and Entrée used to be a single category, and now it’s two different ones. Top honors in the Trailblazing Appetizer category went to Max’s Wine Dive for cornmeal-fried oysters perched on wonton crisps.

While the judges mulled over the textures, appearances and flavors of all the entries, the huge crowd at the sold-out event enjoyed not only the food but more than 450 different wines as well.

Many in the crowd delighted in the rectangular-shaped pops from Trentino Gelato. The shop's cajeta (or caramelized goat milk) version landed first place in the Two-Stepping Dessert Category.

A full list of winners is below.

Trail Blazin’ Appetizer/Cheese/Bread Award
1. Max’s Wine Dive — Fried Oyster over Wonton Crisp
2. Federal Grill — Truffled Beef Carpaccio
3. Sonoma Wine Bar — Meatballs in Sweet Tomato Broth with Mozzarella

Lone Star Entrée Award
1. Grazia Italian Kitchen — Smoked Short Rib with Pancetta Risotto and Cilantro-Molasses Glaze
2. Newk’s Eatery — Pimento & Bacon Mac & Cheese
3. Taste of Texas — Certified Beef Tenderloin with Mac & Cheese

Two Steppin’ Dessert Award
1. Trentino Gelato — Cajeta Pops
2. Joyce’s Seafood & Steak — White Chocolate Bread Pudding
3. Mostly Chocolate & Catering — Truffles

Tasty Tradition Award: Joyce’s Seafood & Steaks — White Chocolate Bread Pudding

Rookie Award: Grazia Italian Kitchen

Popular Choice Award
1. Royers Round Top Café — Assortment of Pies
2. Grazia Italian Kitchen — Smoked Short Rib with Pancetta Risotto and Cilantro-Molasses Glaze

Outstanding Showmanship — Davis Street at Hermann Park

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