Imagine a magical land where the best Valley restaurants are crammed into one courtyard serving flavor-packed samples to grab your attention and win you over. That magical land happened Sunday at Devoured, where Phoenix's top spots, including Crudo, Virtu, and FnB, set up shop at the Phoenix Art Museum for the afternoon. While last year's Devoured suffered from a cramped, hard-to-navigate layout, this year's event was spread out and easier to get around. After a couple of years of hitting up the popular food festival, we have learned a lot about how to survive a day of devouring Devoured.
1) Prepare to feel like the foie gras goose. Don't bother eating breakfast the day of -- or even dinner the night before. Save precious stomach space for the bounty of classy bites you'll be downing. This year, pretty much every possible cut of pork was en vogue, from butt to tail and, of course, lots of belly.
2) Speaking of foie gras, it was still the "it" ingredient this year and probably will be again next year. While bone marrow seems to have fallen out of style since last year's event, foie gras made a strong showing with Petite Maison's foie mousse, Relish's foie gras-topped burger, Crudo's fegatelli, Kai's deconstructed foie gras based soup, and probably about 10 other things that don't immediately come to mind. Point is -- if you like foie gras, you'll be in luck. If if you don't, you're less likely to gain those 10 extra Devoured pounds.
3) Don't be shy and don't judge before you try. To be honest, we looked at The Gladly's pickled pork butt with apple and whole grain mustard seed and felt like passing. However, the dish actually ended up being a favorite, once we got over the whole cold meat thing.
4) Junk food is so last year, thankfully. There were a few cheesy puff and Frito-covered dishes last year that left us unimpressed. While Tuck Shop gets points for creative, easily portable plating by using their snack bags as the bowl, their flaming hot Cheeto buffalo wings just didn't do it for us.
5) Get those liquor licenses on lock. Last year, we recall, we had some fantastic cocktails to pair with food samples. This year, we were met with a mostly dry spirit showing, which we didn't expect because two Arizona-based distilleries were on the exhibitors list. Apparently, the event's outdoor spaces had only a beer and wine permit. Hopefully, we'll get our cocktails back next year.
6) Hit up every nook and cranny. Sweet Republic's Chartreuse push pop was inside the museum, Scott and Co.'s gin and rosemary cocktail was upstairs in the VIP lounge, The Farm at South Mountain was set up inside Palette.
7) Take in a few demos between gorging. You're going to need a break between rounds, so stopping in to check out a demo can be a fun, informative way to keep the food and drink love going while your stomach sits one out. Plus, with demonstrations from Travis Nass, AZ Bitters Lab, and Bootleggers, demos were one of the few ways to snag a cocktail this year.
8) The more interesting the ingredient list, the more confusing the dish might be for you. Case in point: Posh's uni panna cotta, a dish so intensely unique that we're still not sure whether we liked it. With bursting flavorful roe, the smoothest panna cotta imaginable, and a heavy hand with soy sauce, it was one of those dishes that you had to try to say you tried it. Whether you liked it might have been another story entirely.
9) Two bites -- tops. Though we appreciate the generosity of some appetizer-size offerings, no one needs or wants that much of anything when there are a million more things to try. If you can't get your point across in a couple of bites, you aren't doing it right.
10) Get what looks fanciest (a.k.a. Treat yo'self.). This is culinary Christmas, and if you are lucky enough to be there, take advantage by sampling the restaurants you normally might not be able to afford to visit. Anyone who shows up with meatloaf is likely to be overshadowed. Sorry, but this is the big leagues.
11) All Anthony Bourdain rules apply. Sorry, desserts. That means we might get to you on a final go around, but you're going to be taking a back seat to real food. Yeah, we said it. It's important to save room for the main event, and if a macaron is standing between us and Virtu's grilled octopus salad, the macaron is getting tossed.
12) Vegetarians need not apply. Never have we eaten so much meat. Though there were some veggie dishes, and all the desserts were, for the most part, meat-free, Green was the only spot specializing in vegetarian food. Plus you never know when one of these dishes has secret meat in it.
13) That being said, get salads any chance you get. Anyone who's offering a salad at Devoured is doing a public service. All the rich, fatty food is liable to make you sick if you don't break it up with some veggies.
14) Keep a list of your favorite dishes and give those restaurants your money every other day of the year. So you nearly died over Crudo's pig tail and foie gras sausage and House of Tricks' pork belly. Why not stop into the restaurant and taste the rest of the menu? Devoured is all about discovering the Valley's best in the food scene and finding new go-to dining spots is part of that. Some Quick Tips for Next Year:
15) Double-team samples with a friend. Since not everyone follows the two-bite path, bringing a friend along to split dishes is a great way to try a little of everything without being grossly wasteful.
16) Make several rounds to be sure you didn't miss anything. There's a lot to take in at Devoured, and it can be overwhelming the first couple times around the exhibitor area. Plus, sometimes restaurants briefly will run out of one item but will replenish by the time you get back around to it.
17) Skip the sandwiches. Some people are sandwich crazy. We get it. But all that bread is a waste of stomach space. Open-faced or bust.
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18) Hit hot spots early. Petite Maison ran out of its dish by 2 p.m. and had to go to plan B. Don't let yourself eat a backup plan. If you know a restaurant is likely to be popular, swoop in as quickly as possible.
19) Wear something flowy. You're going to be mingling a lot. There's also an inordinate amount of attractive people who go to Devoured. You don't have to let them see your steadily growing food baby if you get all blouse-y and billowing with your wardrobe. What happens between you and your tummy on Devoured day shouldn't be anyone else's business.
20) Nap zone. We said it last year, we'll say it again. Having somewhere we can all take a nap to recharge would be to everyone's benefit. We know it won't happen, but maybe set up a hammock in the VIP area or something at least.