Special Events

Rodeo Uncorked Best Bites 2022: It's On Again

Brothers Produce wows again with its booth display.
Brothers Produce wows again with its booth display. Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Houston, we have a rodeo. Last night,  NRG Center was packed with cowboy hats, leather boots, turquoise jewelry and the people sporting them. The Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites event was cancelled for 2021 due to the COVID pandemic. This year, Rodeo Houston has returned and even though we are warned that the pandemic is not over, for rodeo goers, the pandemic can kiss their grits.

The 2022 Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites event follows on the heels of the Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition and brings in thousands of foodie folks and wine lovers. The wine competition was held November 12 through November 14, 2021. There were 2,862 entries from 17 countries, according to Texas Wine Lover. Texas itself had 480 wines represented and the featured region this year, Washington State, had 203.

The Best Bites event features many of those wines plus dozens of food booths and trucks from local restaurants. There were plenty of giant belt buckles strained to their limit.
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This cookie was the best Rookie.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
We were fortunate to participate in the judging of the tastiest bites, though each table received different foods to streamline the process. When the winners were announced, our table seemed to have missed out on the best bites but we didn't seem to notice because what we sampled was absolutely delicious. We did however, luck out and receive the R-C Ranch Wagyu Brisket Ice Cream Sandwich from Craft Creamery which other tables missed out on. It was two chocolate chip cookies with brisket ice cream in between. It was salty and beefy and unique. We agreed it was one of the best bites and it won the Rookie Award.
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The hard-working volunteers are what makes the rodeo go 'round.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Our table started out with a deviled egg topped with crispy bacon. I thought it was tasty but my tablemate, Sarah Pepper from Houston radio station Mix 96.5 said it was the best she had ever eaten. We seemed to be receiving appetizers left and right as Jill, our table hostess, delivered and removed plates with alarming speed. It was Jill's first rodeo but she was on the ball.
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We loved the schnitzel.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
A number of our bites seemed to be flavorful morsels on crostini, such as the banh mi carnitas. However, when it came to entree samples, the chicken schnitzel stood out with its pretty presentation and its elote-inspired sauce. It was a blind tasting and this one didn't win any awards but our table loved it. Kudos to the team that created it, wherever you are.

The event was emceed by KPRC 2 news anchor, Owen Conflenti. He was joined by fellow KPRC compatriots and meteorologists Frank Billingsley and Anthony Yanez on stage. Deborah Duncan from KHOU's Great Day Houston was also a judge, so there were plenty of local celebrities. As with any big food event, there were Houston food writers including Greg Morago from the Houston Chronicle, Phaedra Cook from Houston Food Finder and Eric Sandler from CultureMap Houston.
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Owen Conflenti gets the party going for Best Bites 2022.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

After the judging ended, we walked around sampling more bites and trying some of the award winning wines. The Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show was Nice Winery cabernet franc, Paicines 2018. We didn't find that one but we lucked out on its silver medal-winning Nice Winery Malbec 2019 Chukar Vineyards which was a wonderful deep dark purple and went down smoother than the nose on it would suggest. We were also given a pretty big pour from the lovely volunteer so it was a good thing we were taking a rideshare home.
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The banh mi crostini was a flavor bomb.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

The Top Texas wine was Hye Meadow Winery Boooom Red, Texas High Plains, 2017. We didn't stumble upon that one but we did try a Texas Nebbiolo recommended to us by local wine writer, Sandra Crittenden. I am still trying to figure out how to describe that one.

We also ran into chef Cuc Lam and writer Josh Armendariz giving a helping hand to their friend and chef Evelyn Garcia at her booth for Kin HTX. We were rewarded with a soft, warm and fluffy bao filled with sweet pork belly. Other yummy bites included a beef bourguignon topped with a potato foam from Eculent and seafood empanadas from Pier 6. Eculent had a cute ice cream shop set up to go with its bites that were served in little cones and it won first place for Showmanship. 
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It's Rodeo business as usual.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

There were moments when attendees would comment on how the event made life seem normal again. We don't know if we have reached that level, yet, but it was a night of food and drink and fun. The Rodeo is back. Let's hope it's for good.

Here are the 2022 Best Bites Winners:

Trailblazer Appetizer Award

1st: Omni Houston, pork belly skewer, Moroccan bbq, carrot puree, chicharrone
2nd: Songkran Thai Kitchen, Thai steak salad (neu nam tok)
3rd: Revival Market, cauliflower crostini with cauliflower hummus, homemade giardiniera, za'atar, chives

Lone Star Entree Award

1st: Killen's Tex-Mex, brisket suadero taco with black garlic salsa guacamole, queso fresco and charro beans with jalapeno sausage
2nd: Gus' Fried Chicken, fried chicken wing
3rd: 3rd: Russo's Italian Kitchen, Lobster Maestro with lobster essence, bianco, talegio, capelietti, Maine lobster, smoked pecan

Two-Steppin' Dessert Award

1st: Egghaus Gourmet, Texas pecan croissant
2nd: Ragin' Cajun, bread pudding with rum sauce
3rd: Ashley Cakes, carrot cake
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Eculent's booth in the background, its beef bourguignon in front.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Outstanding Showmanship

1st: Eculent
2nd: Texas Harvest

People's Choice Award

1st: Cotton Culinary, Figgy Piggy
2nd: Guard and Grace, oak-grilled Creekstone Farms prime New York strip with loaded baked potato

Tasty Tradition Award

1st:Joyce's Seafood & Steaks, white chocolate pudding
2nd: Taste of Texas Restaurant, certified Angus beef tenderloin and Megan's mac & cheese

Rookie Award

Craft Creamery: R-C Ranch wagyu brisket ice cream sandwich

Trail Boss Food Truck Award

Cruisin Sushi, Cruisin Special Roll
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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.