The weekend’s rain deluge stopped before the final day of the 2020 Devour Culinary Classic. This was good in that people and food alike were able to stay dry, but bad in that, honestly, the rain made things a blast. Still, the hypnotic grill smells and shouting and thrumming of sparkling wine corks filtered over the Desert Botanical Garden, where a grade-A feeding frenzy unspooled.
There were offal pastrami remixes and regional pizzas, Sonoran ingredients and sake kasu, noodles stuffed with rabbit and tortillas heavy with lamb, wonky doughnuts and macarons and pies. Today, too, the hurricane cocktail came with an extra: a tweezed shard of dry ice leaking freezing vapors, making tropical sips even better.
On day two, the food vendors were a little top-heavier than expected. But eye-widening plates were common, and these were my five favorites (in no special order) from the festival's last day.
Southern Amatriciana, The Gladly/Citizen Public House
In a weekend of more than 70 bites of food, this was the only one I returned to for seconds. Donald Hawk of The Gladly and Brent Kille of Sonoran Pasta Co. in a way reprised KoSo, their old pop-up, with an East-meets-South pasta. This dish rolled the dice and messed with a classic. That classic is amatriciana, a central Italian sauce of tomato, cured pork (guanciale or pancetta), onions, and long-strand noodles.
The Hawk-Kille update cast a spotlight on long twists of casarecce, shaped by Kille from bluebeard durum. “Southern amatriciana” has a spellbinding nuance from use of country ham and Asian ingredients like fish sauce and a miso-based hot sauce. Snowed with milky curls of shaved cheese, this Amatriciana riff was a truly elite pasta, cooked to leave just enough chew, the sauce in zen-like harmony with the casarecce. This pasta deserves a permanent home on the menu.
Apricot Vinegar Pie and Root Cellar Soup, Cotton & Copper
In the past, we’ve called Tamara Stanger a pie mage. Today, she lived up to her reputation as a craftswoman of pies so stellar they seem to defy logic and the basic properties of ingredients. A square of apricot pie came with vermouth cream and wild creosote honey. One bite and the concentrated flavor just kind of wrenched your head sideways, as if slapped. Next? A smile curling to your ears.
Stanger’s root cellar chowder was another dish completely unlike any other served at the two-day festival. For it, she united root vegetables often preserved for the winter, like carrots, turnips, and I’itoi onions, with a trio of heat-kindling ingredients: smoked oyster n’duja, Fresno chiles, and soppressata. Dehydrated touches found a home on top, including nopales. Slurps were deeply soulful, with a layered chile heat.
Lamb Barbacoa and Poblano Grits, Watermelon Paleta, Joyride Taco House
On a day where too many stands made food needlessly complex, Joyride Taco House mashed the pedal nice and hard without overdoing things. The grits? Piping hot and nicely cooked, suffused with the rugged soul of poblanos. The barbacoa? Falling apart and jammed with flavor, the meat on a separate and complementary plane of softness relative to the grits below. Though it was hard to finish the paleta given its size, frozenness, and the calling of the many stands to come, licks brought a clean fruitiness and were a nice break and flavor eraser after heady spoonfuls of melting corn and lamb.
Chicken Piccata Ravioli, The Parlor Pizzeria
Sometimes, a classic is needed. In this case, The Parlor took the classic plate of chicken in lemon juice, capers, and white wine and jumbled its equation by introducing a giant pillow of herb-flecked ravioli. This soft ravioli’s velvety sauce called to mind the floods of Saturday. The single raviolo on each lipped plate was just swimming. After one bite, the creamy sauce rushed in through the tear to soak the pasta’s filling. I bet some people skipped The Parlor’s stand, given the simplicity of its three-ingredient sign, “Chicken Piccata Ravioli,” relative to other stands' ornate descriptions. Big mistake.
Jambalaya from Southern Rail/Beckett’s Table and Seafood Etouffee from the Larder + the Delta
Both days, Justin Beckett served jambalaya in the VIP lounge, a simple rice dish with no decorations. And both days, it was one of the best things on the whole Devour circuit. Even the second day, after already having tasted it the first, I was astonished with each bite — just casually vexed imagining how he managed to cram so much smoky, meaty intensity into such tiny grains of rice. His beignets rained with powdered sugar and served in paper cones also hit the mind just right.
Stephen Jones of the Larder + the Delta also went the rice route on Sunday, opting for a preparation a leap or two further evolved from tradition. Jones could be found on one side of the VIP room, ladling from a cauldron of whole-roasted-pig etouffee. Perfumed with 14-month aged Benton’s ham, his tomato-rich broth had an elegance and subtlety to go with its refined porky flavor. It got sluiced over rice and finished with tomato oil and a micro green salad. The day's longest plate was another relatively simple dish calibrated just right, one that hit the bourbon-lifted, wine-soothed heart just as nicely as the stomach.