When I heard “wine” and “food,” it didn’t take much else to sell me on the opportunity to visit Miami for its annual South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Thousands of people descended on the neighborhood to have the chance to eat food from hundreds of vendors and restaurants around the country, and to drink the wines of producers from all over the world. And to put into context just how big this event is in South Beach, it brought more than 50,000 guests to the area, a number not far from the 60,000 who attended Art Basel in December (may we also add, more than 60,000 attended the SOBEWFF pre-COVID). So this isn’t your local food fair.
Brought to you by the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, this year’s four-day event also drew many famous food and wine lovers and makers, including baker Buddy Valastro of the famous Carlo’s Bakery, Guy Fieri, Marcus Samuelsson, Rachael Ray and celebrities like Pharrell and Dwyane Wade (more on that later!).
ESSENCE was on hand Friday and Saturday for a few different events of many (and by many, we mean more than 80 that required tickets).
I started at the Red Stripe Burger Bash, hosted by Rachael Ray and José Andrés. This event, on actual South Beach, brought out a wealth of restaurants and burger makers who cooked up their juiciest patties and dressed them in ornate condiments alongside tasty sides. I enjoyed a bites of about seven different kinds, with my mouth left watering by the pimento spiced oxtail burger from Chef Troy Tingling. There was also the Txuleburger by Lena at Mercado Little Spain, the Wasa Burger by Burgermeister and the Rude Boy burger by American Social Bar and Kitchen. But one of the most simple in design was perhaps the yummiest, and took home the crown for best burger. It’s also important to mention that it was created by a Black woman.
During the first session, Rita Tennyson’s R Catering and Events was given the trophy from judges for the Very Best Burger for their bacon relish burger, made with a juicy beef patty, caramelized onions, bacon relish, cheddar and homemade aoli. Much deserved.
After waddling back to my hotel to rest for a bit and let my food digest, I made my way to Wine Spectator’s Best of the Best event at the grand Fontainebleau. The place was packed (I kept my mask on) at the showcase, which rounded up more than 50 top chefs and winemakers of more than 60 offerings to pair with the food. Upon entry, you were handed a wine glass that you would use to try whatever caught your eye (or nose rather), sipping it while enjoying some fantastic appetizers.
I was partial to the salmon and avocado sushi, Francis Ford Coppola’s (yes, the director) Archimedes 2018 cabernet sauvignon from Alexander Valley, the Wade Cellars Three by Wade Rosé (by Dwyane Wade), and the Accendo Cellars’ 2017 cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley. But what really got me was the DJ, who spun a flurry of ’90s R&B and hip-hop hits while people, inhibitions gone because of wine, danced the night away. I even made a friend (a fellow sista), who danced with me and ate from the lavish dessert table’s red velvet cupcakes.
Saturday was my last full day, so I had to make the most of it. I started the day at the Williams Family Brunch thrown by Pharrell Williams and his father Pharaoh, a self-taught chef. It took place at the popular Swan restaurant in Miami’s swanky Design District. After cheesing my way through a meeting with the super producer (my jaws still hurt from smiling so hard), I dived into the fare curated by Pharaoh. There was no wine this time, but a couple of options of delicious cocktails. I paired one with a plate that included ribs (just one), blueberry cornbread, sausage with peppers (I had mine atop rice), a piece of fried catfish and collard greens. It wasn’t the usual food I would order at brunch time, but no complaints from me! The food was delicious.
Later in the day I made my way to the new culinary market in town, Citizens Miami, for a Foodventure hosted by Dwyane Wade. As previously mentioned, Wade owns his own wine brand, Wade Cellars, and he poured his offerings for fans and foodies at the event. We had the chance to chat with him about Miami food culture, which he said is filled with “energy” and changing as more and more restaurants open up in the packed food scene.
After speaking with the former NBA champion and Miami hero, we tried samples from a wide variety of vendors, including to-go ramen, crispy rice bowls, salmon on crispy rice, Umami Burger’s chicken tenders and burgers, and tacos. The music blared as people talked and tasted food of all kinds in the chic space.
To end the night, I took the last empty space in my stomach and traveled to Hallandale Beach. There, I attended the Hallandale Beach Food & Groove: A Wine, Food and Art Experience event. Escorted by Dr. Lisa Davis, who works with the SBWFF to address gaps in underrepresentation and helped plan the event, I had the chance to try fare from many Black and brown chefs.
Underneath a massive Pegasus and Dragon statue, I consumed the most distinct foods of all the events I attended. That includes Haitian rice and beans with plantain and fried meat, poke nachos, rice and red chicken curry with fried gyoza, coconut pumkin rum soup and jerk pork belly (both from the charming Chef Irie), ceviche, chicken croquet, coconut shrimp and the Krazy Mon burger from Krazy Vegan, voted the #1 plant-based burger in the world.
Everything I had was fantastic, leaving me in a full, woozy state that only comes from good eating. I also enjoyed the celebration at the event, which offered a lot of wine, light sticks and live music. It was a great time filled with foodies dressed in all white, and it just so happened to be 21 miles from from the rest of the events on South Beach. With that in mind, it was a great way to create a more accessible event (the ticket was only $75) that everyone could be a part of, both cooking for and eating at.
Overall, my short stay in Miami was a joyous one. I met lovely people, including a few stars I look up to, ate well, drank exquisitely, and slept good both nights! It was great to try popular fare that years ago I would have run from (that ceviche lives up to the hype), and to overall, be back in Miami. Make your way down to South Beach for next year’s festivities and food, and perhaps, we’ll share a drink and meal with you.