Every year, the Devoured Phoenix Culinary Classic at Phoenix Art Museum brings together dozens of metro Phoenix's best restaurants, bars, and wineries for two days of eating, drinking, and celebrating all that the Valley has to offer. The event, organized by Local First Arizona, has earned a reputation as one of the year's biggest and best culinary festivals — and this year was no exception.
We loved the updated layout of the event, which included the addition of the Local Foods Experience (a market-style space featuring local products and food producers) and a dessert-focused selection of vendors in the Great Hall. Best of all, the chefs and restauranteurs present on both days of the event rose to the occasion to offer attendees a barrage of excellent bites.
Here are some of our favorite dishes from each day of the 2016 Devoured Culinary Classic.
20. Polenta johnnycakes with local pork and a fennel and pink peppercorn jam from Lon's at the Hermosa
The first day of this year's Devoured offered lots of short ribs and pork belly, but the pork belly and polenta johnnycakes at Lon's at the Hermosa really stood out. The focus of the dish was the pork, which was smokey, but not overpoweringly rich. The johnnycake had a hint of sweetness from the polenta base, while the fennel and peppercorn jam cut through the other flavors and gave some excellent depth to the dish's flavor.
19. Smoked rabbit chili with avocado sour cream, watermelon radish, local veggies, and queso fresco from Loews Ventana Canyon Resort
It's hard to make a perfectly balanced chili, especially with a slightly gamey meat like rabbit, but the combination of the smokey, sour, and cool flavors in this dish created excellent balance.
18. Frisée salad with duck confit and fresh strawberries from Tavern Americana
Making duck confit is a long process, but you wouldn't guess it from this dish, which was beautifully simple and made with just four ingredients — duck, frisée, balsamic vinegar, and strawberries. The duck was rich and a little sweet, and played excellently with the fruit. Overall, the cool, fresh flavors contrasted nicely with the heavier options at the event.
17. Fresh mozzarella with candy stripe beets, salsa verde, pistachio, and basil from Postino
This dish also served as a nice reprieve from the onslaught of slow-roasted meat and heavy sauces. The mozzarella was fresh but stood up well to the toppings of beets, salsa, and basil. And the pistachio finished things off with some texture. This dish had some of the most surprisingly powerful and complex flavors of the day.
16. Thai green mango and papaya salad with charred octopus and peanuts from SquidInk Sushi
SquidInk didn't have the only octopus dish at Devoured on Saturday, but it did have the best one. The sweet-and-sour balance of the Thai-style papaya salad, was a great complement, especially with the addition of the green mango and peanuts. Plus the charred octopus was incredible.
15. Hamachi crudo with celery root, apple-fennel-radish slaw, and lava salt from Corduroy
There were a handful of raw options on Saturday, and this Midtown Phoenix tapas bar had one of the best. The hamachi wasn't fishy in the slightest, and the celery root and slaw added some sour and earthy flavors, as well as a bit of crunch that really made the dish complete.
14. Cola-braised pork empanadas with crema mousse and cola pop rocks from Joyride Taco House
The base of this dish was an Argentinian-style pastry crust, which surrounded some excellent cola-braised pork. The pork was sweet and tender, and the cola taste was undeniable. The highlight, however, was the cola pop rocks. They added some crunch, actually tasted quite good in concert with the other items, and the popping made each bite dramatic and fun.
13. Mushroom soup with a truffle foam from Bink's Midtown
Chef Kevin Binkley excels at creating complex flavors with simple but quality ingredients, and the chef's offering on Saturday didn't deviate from this trend. The base of the dish was a simple mushroom soup. It was warm, rich, and deeply flavorful. Best of all: You couldn't get to the soup without cutting through about an inch-thick layer of truffle-infused foam, which was the real star of the show.
12. Spring hummus with lamb belly, edamame, pistachio, and radish from The Henry
Everything about this dish was near perfection. From a presentation standpoint, the stark green of the spring hummus (the color comes from peas) and edamame looked beautiful against the black plate. And the flavors were incredible. Pieces of lamb belly were interspersed throughout the hummus, while edamame and pistachio added some nuttiness and texture. Radishes lining the sides of the plate not only looked incredible, but their bitterness and crunch made an excellent contrast.
11. Fluke crudo with Arkansas caviar, uni, and cucumber flower from Crudo
There really was no contest in naming this dish Saturday's best. Those lucky enough to make it into the VIP section were treated to a few astonishing dishes from Crudo chef Cullen Campbell and the best among those was the fluke crudo. The fluke, a type of flounder, was light and delicate, and even served raw, it was not at all fishy. It had some natural smokiness, which paired nicely with the Arkansas caviar — caviar harvested from freshwater fish in the rivers of Arkansas. The caviar was salty, with a little crunch and strong fishy aftertastes. And, to top it off: uni, or sea urchin, roe. It was indescribably savory and salty, and the cucumber flower was not only beautiful, but also added some light sweetness and floral flavors.
10. Local vegetable and wheat berry salad from Phoenix Public Market Cafe
Chef Aaron Chamberlin's Phoenix Public Market Cafe is a popular destination for vegetable lovers, so it didn't come as much of a surprise that the chef's offering on Sunday featured a medley of fresh, local vegetables. The striking, colorful salad came on a base of local wheat berries topped with radishes, butter lettuce, carrots, and Romanesco. The simple dish was a perfect snapshot of the Valley's bounty right now.
9. Campfire S'mores Bites from Zak's Chocolate
We found the Zak's Chocolate booth in the Great Hall, and though the artisan chocolate maker offered two types of confections, we were particularly wowed by the Campfire S'mores Bites. These small chocolates perfectly captured the essence of the classic treat, right down to the smokey-from-an-open-fire flavor. Best of all, the bite-sized chocolates delivered the s'more experience with none of the mess.
8. Strawberry popsicle from District American Kitchen and Wine Bar
Like many of the restaurant's at Devoured on Sunday, District American Kitchen and Wine Bar offered several different dishes, including sweet and savory options. The restaurant's dessert was one of the most talked about dishes at the event, in large part due to its flashy presentation. The lime and strawberry popsicles were frozen right before attendees' eyes in dry ice before being dipped in a strawberry chocolate that quickly dried into a delicate outer shell.
7. Mule's Mistake from Page Spring Cellars
The wine offerings at Devoured can be overwhelming, but of the samples we tried, we were most impressed with the Mule's Mistake from Page Spring Cellars. For less than $20 a bottle, this Arizona wine is perfect for summer — if you're a red drinker who has a hard time transitioning to something lighter. With fruity flavors and a bit of spice, this wine is best served chilled, so it drinks somewhat like a rosé.
6. Spoon bread with pulled pork, mop sauce, and lardo hollandaise from Okra
Chef Cullen Campbell's Southern-inspired restaurant, Okra, serves fare unlike anything else in town. And the restaurant's offering on Sunday was no exception. Sweet, corn-based spoon bread came smothered in succulent pulled pork, mop sauce, and a rich lardo hollandaise that added just the right amount of decadence to the dish.
5. "Flamin Hot" wontons from Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
There weren't many spicy dishes on the menu at Devoured on Sunday, but the one we did find offered more than enough spice for us. Chef Bob Tam — known for giving metro Phoenix creations like the ramen burger and dumpling burger — spooned out individual wontons stuffed with cumin beef and topped with a Sichuan chili sauce and sprinkled with Flamin' Hot Cheetos. With a nod to tradition and an unexpected twist, this made for one of the more memorable bites of the day.
4. BLT panna cotta with tomato jam, fried kale, and bacon dashi from Elements
Take one look at this dish from chef Beau MacMillan's Elements restaurant, and you'd swear you were looking at a classic Italian dessert. But with one bite, you'd know you were wrong. This savory panna cotta was bursting with the sweet, nutty flavor of roasted cauliflower and topped with crispy fried kale and tart tomato jam. Our only slight complaint was the texture, which seemed slightly curdled, but in terms of flavor and creativity this was easily one of our favorite dishes.
3. Smoked ocean trout rilllette with agave lime nectar and green garlic emulsion on a native seed cracker from Kai
From presentation to simple number of offerings, Kai exceeded expectations for a food festival. The AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five-Star award-winning restaurant served several savory courses and a dessert, the best of which was the smoked ocean trout rillette. The fish reminded us of a delicate salmon and paired nicely with deep, sweet agave and spicy green garlic. Served on a cracker studded with native Arizona seeds, each bite offered a refined taste of the Sonoran desert.
2. Porchetta, arugula, and Parmesean on flatbread from Virtu
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Though Virtu is known as a fine dining restaurant, chef Gio Osso proved he knows how to dress down Italian fare with his offering at Devoured on Sunday. Osso served an Italian street food that reminded us of a sopapilla — except thinner, crispier, and also doughier on the inside. Throughout the day, the chef topped the fried dough with various meats, but our favorite combo was thinly sliced porchetta with peppery arugula and shaved Parmesean cheese.
1. Onsen tamago, or soft boiled egg with cold dashi, from Hana Japanese Eatery
With fourteen people serving up six different dishes including a dessert and a drink, Hana Japanese Eatery easily created the most buzz on Sunday at Devoured. Each of the restaurant's courses was worth a try — including a Kurobuta sausage slider topped with pickled vegetables, Kewpie, and more, and walu nanbanzuka, or perfectly cooked butterfish with pickled vegetables — but the most impressive dish was the onsen tamago. Made with a pullet egg from Two Wash Ranch chickens, the dish featured a soft-boiled egg that spilled a rich, golden yolk into a savory, umami-rich dashi broth.