Hmmm. Where to start? Prior to purchasing tickets for Beard in Baldwin, we were told by food savvy friends (and respected enemies) that it’s the best food event in Orlando. Having now been, we entirely agree. We anticipated good. We didn’t anticipate the fantastic orgiastic eat-and-drink extravaganza that it was. Caligula would have been proud. Booze was flowing freely, Orlando’s culinary heavyweights were throwing their best punches, and kitchen weirdos were freed from their sauté pans and salamanders to drunkenly hob knob about the ballyhoo. It felt more like an industry fete than a mass-market moneymaker. It’s now fixed forever on our calendar.
However, not all was beer and skittles in Baldwin Park. Yes, there were many highlights. There were also question marks and a lowlight here and there. Apologies to the restos we may have missed (Prato, Luma, and Hawkers somehow managed to evade our hungry gaze). Also, the quality of our photos devolved as the light dimmed and our livers struggled. You’ll see.
Far and away our best bite was Hunger Street Taco’s Sope de Huachinango de Talla; masa cake, wood fired yellowtail snapper, black beans, queso fresco, roasted tomatillo salsa and various crispy, freshy bits. We went back thrice. Thrice! As a side note, @hunger_street kept rocking all night when everyone else waved the white flag way too early. They killed it. The light smokiness of the snapper combined with the drunk-uncle corniness of the masa cake – damn Sam.
Shout out to @swineandsons for shirking safe and doing something interesting; chicken offal with crispy chicken skin crumble and black garlic mayo. We loved this dish. Kudos to them for not fiddling for the lowest common denominator.
Seito’s “Mangducken”; grilled Mangalitsa pork and Bell & Evans duck tsukune wrapped in Bell & Evans chicken skin with a lemongrass skewer and apple-karashi (mustard). This was a great dish. Pretty as hell. We’ve been up and down (mostly up) on Seito over the years, but this was a thoughtful, innovative, and very well executed plate, the fatty grilled meat pairing wonderfully with the tart mustard.
The carnivore boys at Orlando Meats turned out a winning Radish Toast and Lardo over Fermented Spring Onion Gazpacho. The gazpacho, fat with cream, garlic and olive oil, was beautiful. It was also almost a bit too flavor-forward for the subtlety of the lardo. Almost. This was good.
Finally, we managed to get one of the last remaining crumbs at Nicole Macarons. It was enough to get us genuinely excited about trying a whole one. Munch loved this. When it comes to sweets, Chew Chew and I defer to her love.
Ravenous Pig featured a smoked trout waffle cone with goat cheese espuma, bacon gastrique and chives. This was the first thing we tasted. Everything tastes better when you’re hungry and this was a very good bite. However, in a bit of backwards logic, it suffered by being the lead in to a succession of the above favorites. A lot to like about this dish. We’d like to have it again. Just not before the above stuff.
Domu’s cheeseburger gyoza felt like a cop out. Sure, it was tasty enough, but we would’ve liked to have seen something a bit more inventive from the Audubon king of chicken wings than elevated Totino’s Cheeseburger Pizza Rolls (which many of the drunks-on-parade would’ve undoubtedly equally enjoyed).
We love Sticky Rice Lao Street Food (read our review HERE). We’ve also loved eating their crispy rice salad wraps more times than we can currently count. Not being a highlight doesn’t mean it isn’t a favorite. It was yum as usual, but it was usual. Hey, these are subjective highlights.
Boca sibling Steelbach did a very tasty pork croquette with aerated swiss and a spot on coarse cut relish. Not sure why we’re not marking this a highlight. Think we were just full at this point.
Chau Trinh is one of the most creative culinary minds in town but Sushi Pop’s Strip Loin Steak Katsu Sando fell a little flat with us (toasted milk bread, caramelized onions, black garlic, wagyu beef butter with kimchi cabbage slaw and mirin pickle). This was a quality dish and well prepared but at an event like this, we like to see restos push limits and this felt a tad pandering. Not saying we value innovative over good, but we do value innovative-good over good-good. This was good-good.
Osprey Tavern – not sure here. A Carrot Tart with buckwheat crust was boredly enjoyed by our sweet-eaters and a Duck A l’Orange with Bell & Evans duck ham, Frog Song Farms radish and vanilla citrus crumble was tasty enough. Neither gave us sparkly thoughts.
Likewise, Ravello turned out an uninspiring plate of tuna cooked med-rare with olives, potato and a bit of balsamic. We get this dish. It would work very well – exceptionally well – at an al fresco cafe after a quick swim in the Med and with a glass of vermentino. It worked far less well in this context. Subtlety doesn’t play well at an event like this. An unnamed CEO of a locally headquartered restaurant chain recommended this dish as his favorite of the evening. His value as a friend has been significantly diminished.
It pains us to say it, but we really didn’t like Tapa Toro’s Mollejas con Romesco at all. Zero love. This sounded delicious on paper; crispy sweetbreads, a pistachio romesco, luxardo cherry gastrique and Xeres (sherry). Should’ve been a no-brainer as we’re definitely down with the occasional thymus gland, but it should also have been tender. As served, it was an unwieldy mouthful of gummy, fatty rubberiness with zero of the promised crisp and not as much flavor as we expected. Just poorly prepared. Either improperly seared or just undercooked (it’s almost impossible to overcook sweetbreads) or both. Easily our worst bite of the night.
Likewise, Orlando Eats’ running favorite Taste of Chengdu sort of dropped the ball on Sweet and Sour Ribs and Chinese Asparagus Salad. Nothing necessarily wrong with their plate but also nothing necessarily right. The sweet and sour rib was a tad cloying and only yielded the smallest sliver of meat, the Chinese asparagus salad a very fresh and tasty offset. Actually, we would have been happy with a small bowl of the salad. Expected more, wanted more, received less.
We hated that rockstar pizzeria Pizza Bruno was attempting to sing its greatest hits on a pro toaster oven. In their game, the oven is everything so not the best venue for them to showcase their very real pizzaiolo skills. Despite working with both hands tied behind their back, the quality of the dough, cheese and marinara still shone through.
The biggest lowlight? A lot of vendors were emptied out by 9pm or so (the event was scheduled to run until 10PM). Not really what you want to see when you’ve shelled out $130 per ticket. Next year, we’ll like spring for VIP tix in order to arrive an hourly early.
You can disregard 99.9% of the above. We drank a lot.