Special Events

Rodeo Uncorked Best Bites 2020: Scenes and Winners

Sambuca's stuffed artichoke with goat cheese.
Sambuca's stuffed artichoke with goat cheese. Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
And thus, it begins. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo 2020 got kicked off last evening with the Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites Competition which featured 113 Houston restaurants serving delicious bites along with pours of 450 wines from the 2020 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition to accompany them.

Officially Rodeo Houston begins February 25 with the Rodeo Round Up and Go Texan Day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at City Hall in Hermann Square. But, the plethora of fringe and fancy boots last night shows that rodeo fever is already underway.

click to enlarge We are ready to pop the corks! - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
We are ready to pop the corks!
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Some 2020 rodeo events began last year. The Rodeo Uncorked! International Competition was held at NRG Center November 21, 2019. France's Piper Heidsieck Brut Champagne NV took home the honors for Grand Champion Best of Show while Reserve Grand Champion went to Cavliere d'Oro Bellezza Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2015. Becker Vineyards won Top Texas Winery and Bingham Family Vineyards was voted Top Texas Wine for its Dugout Red Texas High Plains 2017.

click to enlarge There was an abundance of wines to pair with the tasty bites. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
There was an abundance of wines to pair with the tasty bites.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
The highlighted region this year was Mendoza, Argentina and there were plenty of Malbecs to stand up to the meat-centric cuisines being offered by many of the Houston restaurants. The Top Region Wine for Rodeo Uncorked! 2020 was the Mi Terruno Mayacaba Malbec, Mendoza 2015.

click to enlarge The pink-blazered spokesman having fun at the JW Marriott  Downtown booth. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
The pink-blazered spokesman having fun at the JW Marriott Downtown booth.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
The Houston Press was fortunate to judge some of the best bites of the evening while the emcee went from table to table with a play by play report on the judging itself. The cast of characters included local Houston news anchors and reporters, food writers, local radio personalities and television hosts. KHOU's Len Cannon can rock a cowboy hat.

click to enlarge The amazing Kimberly. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
The amazing Kimberly.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
The food was delivered with superb efficiency and whisked away just as quickly. The Houston Rodeo staff are mainly volunteers and it is an understatement to say they do a great job. They are, quite simply, amazing. Our attendant, Kimberly, called each of us by name and never seemed to stop smiling. These people are volunteering their hard work for free, so make sure you tell them how much we appreciate their services to the Rodeo's cause.

click to enlarge John Suh and Christine Ha get photo-bombed. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
John Suh and Christine Ha get photo-bombed.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
After the judging, we made our way around the multitude of booths spotting familiar faces from local restaurants and producers. We stopped by The Blind Goat's table where Christine Ha, the Master Chef Season 3 winner who is known also as The Blind Cook, and her business partner John Su, were serving Goat Curry. Not being a fan of goat meat, we were hesitant but it was tender and sweet from the beautiful coconut broth. The pickled mustard greens were a surprising flavor bomb.

click to enlarge The Blind Goat's curry was spectacular. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
The Blind Goat's curry was spectacular.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Safina Mediterranean was serving a Short Rib Succotash and we loved the addition of the potato cubes, which were slightly crispy on the outside. Its Persian Love Cake was a pink, airy confection topped with pistachios and edible glitter. Chef Mark Holley of Davis Street at Hermann Park was dishing out a crispy pork belly served with sweet corn grits that we swear had a hint of cinnamon. Ragin' Cajun's Shimp and Grits had creamier grits but Chef Holley's were more complex and unique.

click to enlarge Safina had a glittery dessert. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Safina had a glittery dessert.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Hotel Derek's booth had a Seafood Campechana with an intense tomato-ey broth and Pinstripes, the bowling alley-restaurant-bocce court-bar had Short Ribs with Parmesan Polenta that was an unexpected delight, winning them third place in the Lone Star Entrees category.

click to enlarge The seafood campechana at Hotel Derek's booth. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
The seafood campechana at Hotel Derek's booth.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Blue Epiphany, a winery out of Conroe, Texas, was offering what we believed from a distance to be a rose but in actuality was its 18 Days Sweet White Blend along with its reds. While it was a tad sweet, it wasn't overwhelmingly so and was very drinkable. It won a silver medal at the Rodeo Uncorked 2020 and Class Champion. The winery is law enforcement and veteran owned including former officers with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office.

On the high end, we sampled the Robert Mondavi Winery The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2015 which won a Double Gold. It soon ran out, so no seconds for us.

click to enlarge Everyone was two-stepping in the aisles. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Everyone was two-stepping in the aisles.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Besides the bounty of food and wine, there was plenty of fun with improvisational two-stepping in the aisles and cowpokes of every shape, size and color sporting their rodeo duds. Some were classic, some were over-the-top spangly but where else are you going to wear your giant turquoise necklace and thigh-high pink cowgirl boots?

click to enlarge Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites is done. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites is done.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Here is the list of Rodeo Uncorked Best Bites 2020 winners. Congratulations to all. Let's rodeo!

People's Choice Award:
Grazia Italian Kitchen & The Caboose - Grand Champion
Smoked and soaked wagyu chuck, corn pudding, date gastrique, cabernet reduction, tallow fried crumble, micro arugula and amaranth
Cotton Culinary: The Art of Catering - Reserve Grand Champion
Duck carnitas

Outstanding Showmanship:
Brother's Produce - Grand Champion
JW Marriott Downtown -Reserve Grand Champion

2020 Rookie:
Killen's in the Heights
Smoked brisket enchiladas

Tasty Tradition:
Maggiano's Little Italy - Grand Champion
Lasagna with marinara sauce
Revival Market - Reserve Grand Champion
Miso mushroom toast, whipped Texas goat cheese, Houston Urban Honey

Two-Stepping Dessert:
Ooh La La Sweets - Grand Champion
Praline bread pudding with bourbon caramel sauce
Grimaldi's Coal Brick Oven Pizzeria - Reserve Grand Champion
Mini cannoli
Joyce's Seafood & Steaks - Third Place
White chocolate bread pudding

Lone Star Entree:
NOBU - Grand Champion
Black cod misoon lettuce cup topped with crispy khataifi
Phat Eatery - Reserve Grand Champion
Beef rendang
Pinstripes - Third Place
Short ribs with parmesan polenta & peppercorn cream

Trailblazer Appetizer:
Brennan's of Houston - Grand Champion
Hot hot oyster with Crystal Hot Sauce butter, pepper jelly glaze, and pickled okra chow-chow
Smokey Cheeks - Reserve Grand Champion
Smokey cheeks taco with coleslaw, pickled onions and cilantro, finished with a blueberry ghost pepper hollandaise sauce
The Capital Grill - Third Place
Porcini-rubbed smoked bacon with sweet corn risotto finished with tomato jam

Trail Boss/Food Truck:
Eaker Barbecue - Grand Champion
Smoked pulled pork atop creamed corn with green onion garnish
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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.