Rodeo Houston returns with 2022 Rodeo Uncorked! Best bites

Houston, we have a rodeo. Last night, the NRG Center was filled with cowboy hats, leather boots, turquoise jewelry and people wearing them. The rodeo unleashed! The Best Bites event has been canceled for 2021 due to the COVID pandemic. This year Rodeo Houston is back and while we’re warned the pandemic isn’t over, for rodeo-goers the pandemic may embrace their courage.

The 2022 Rodeo Uncorked! The Best Bites event follows on from Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition and attracts thousands of foodies and wine lovers. The wine competition was held from November 12-14, 2021. There were 2,862 entries from 17 countries, according to Texas Wine Lover. Texas itself had 480 wines represented and this year’s featured region, Washington State, had 203.

The Best Bites event showcases many of these wines along with dozens of local food kiosks and restaurant trucks. There were a lot of giant belt buckles stretched to their limit.

Click to enlarge

This cookie was the best Rookie.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

We were lucky enough to participate in judging the tastiest bites, although each table was given different foods to streamline the process. When the winners were announced our table seemed to have missed the best bites but we didn’t seem to notice as what we tasted was absolutely delicious. However, we lucked out and got the RC Ranch Wagyu Brisket Ice Cream Sandwich from Craft Creamery which other tables missed. It was two chocolate chip cookies with brisket ice cream in between. It was salty and beefy and unique. We agreed it was one of the best bites and won the Rookie Award.

Click to enlarge Hard-working volunteers are what keep the rodeo going.  - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO

Hard-working volunteers are what keep the rodeo going.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Our table started with a deviled egg topped with crispy bacon. I thought it was good but my girlfriend, Sarah Pepper from Houston radio station Mix 96.5 said it was the best she had ever had. We seemed to be getting nibbles left and right as Jill, our table hostess, delivered and removed plates with alarming speed. It was Jill’s first rodeo but she was on the ball.

Click to enlarge We loved the schnitzel.  - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO

We loved the schnitzel.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

A number of our bites seemed like savory morsels on crostini, like the banh mi carnitas. However, on the starter side, the chicken cutlet stands out for its pretty presentation and its Elote-inspired sauce. It was a blind tasting and this one didn’t win any awards but our table loved it. Kudos to the team that made it, wherever you are.

The event was moderated by KPRC 2 news anchor Owen Conflenti. He was joined by fellow compatriots and KPRC meteorologists Frank Billingsley and Anthony Yanez on stage. Deborah Duncan of KHOU’s Great day in Houston was also a judge, so there were a lot of local celebrities. As with any major food event, there were food writers from Houston, including Greg Morago of the Houston ChroniclePhaedra Cook Houston Food Locator and Eric Sandler of CultureMap Houston.

Click to enlarge Owen Conflenti celebrates for Best Bites 2022. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO

Owen Conflenti opens the party for Best Bites 2022.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

After the judging was over, we wandered around tasting more bites and trying some of the award-winning wines. The Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show was Nice Winery’s Cabernet Franc, Paicines 2018. We couldn’t find that one, but we lucked out with his silver-winning Nice Winery Malbec 2019 Chukar Vineyards, which was a gorgeous deep dark purple and went down smoother than its nose would suggest. We also got quite a big dose from the lovely volunteer so it was a good thing we carpooled home.

Click to enlarge The banh mi crostini was a flavor bomb.  - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO

The banh mi crostini was a flavor bomb.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

The best wine in Texas was Hye Meadow Winery Boooom Red, Texas High Plains, 2017. We didn’t come across that one, but we tried a Texas Nebbiolo recommended by local wine writer Sandra Crittenden. I’m still trying to figure out how to describe that one.

We also caught up with chef Cuc Lam and writer Josh Armendariz helping out their friend and chef Evelyn Garcia at her booth for Kin HTX. We were rewarded with a soft, warm and fluffy bao filled with sweet pork belly. Other delicious bites included a beef Burgundian topped with potato mousse from Eculent and seafood empanadas from Pier 6. Eculent had a nice ice cream shop to go with their bites served in little cones and it won first place for Showmanship.

Click to enlarge It's rodeo as usual.  - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO

It’s rodeo as usual.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

There were times when participants commented on how the event made life normal again. We don’t know yet if we’ve reached that level, but it was a night of food, drink and fun. The rodeo is back. Let’s hope it’s for good.

Here are the winners of the best bites of 2022:

Trailblazer Appetizer Price

1st: Omni Houston, pork belly skewer, Moroccan barbecue, mashed carrots, chicharrone
2nd: Songkran Thai Kitchen, Thai Steak Salad (neu nam tok)
3rd: Revival Market, Cauliflower Crostini with Cauliflower Hummus, Homemade Giardiniera, za’atarchive

Lone Star Entry Price

1st: Killen’s Tex-Mex, beef brisket suadero taco with black garlic salsa guacamole, queso fresco and charro beans with jalapeno sausage
2nd: Gus Fried Chicken, fried chicken wing
3rd: 3rd: Russo’s Italian Kitchen, Lobster Maestro with Lobster Essence, Bianco, Talegio, Capelietti, Maine Lobster, Smoked Pecans

Two-step dessert prices

1st: Egghaus Gourmet, Texas Pecan Croissant
2nd: Ragin’ Cajun, bread pudding with rum sauce
3rd: Ashley Cakes, carrot cake

Click to enlarge Eculent's stand in the back, its beef bourguignon in front.  - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO

Eculent’s stand in the back, its beef bourguignon in front.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Outstanding staging

1st: Eculent
2nd: Texas Harvest

Audience Award

1st: Cotton Culinary, Figgy Piggy
2nd: Guard and Grace, Creekstone Farms, Oak Toasted New York Prime Strip with Loaded Baked Potato

Tasty Tradition Award

1st: Joyce’s Seafood & Steaks, white chocolate pudding
2nd: Taste of Texas Restaurant, Certified Angus Beef Tenderloin and Megan’s Mac and Cheese

Rookie Award

Homemade Creamery: RC Ranch Wagyu Brisket Ice Cream Sandwich

Trail Boss Food Truck Award

Cruisin Sushi, Special Cruisin Roll

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