High ticket prices and a schedule conflict kept us from attending last year (lame excuses, to be sure) so we buckled down, watched our pennies for the most part and bought tickets for this year’s event.
Line to Pick up Glass & Bags
We left Fort Lauderdale just after 11 a.m. Saturday and arrived in Miami Beach around noon. Parking is at a premium during this event, so we spent nearly 30 minutes driving around SoBe, gazing at storefronts, turistas (us included), etc. looking for a decent (if any) parking space.
Waiting in Entrance Line
We ended up parking at a city lot on Lincoln Road, a good three blocks from the Cardozo Hotel, where we were staying. In previous years we had taken a car service both ways and wish we had done the same this year. We arrived at the hotel a short time later, stored our bags and headed out across Ocean Drive to the festival’s main entrance, which was located several hundred feet ahead on the beach. As expected, there was a long line of attendees waiting to get into the event. The Grand Tasting Tents didn’t open until one, so we figured a few minutes waiting in line under a gray, overcast sky as a brisk and briny exfoliating wind blowing around us
Barilla Tent at Beginning of Festival
wouldn’t hurt. The sacrifices we Wanderlushes make for a glass of vino. We remembered one of the first rules of wine tasting: leave the light-colored clothing behind and stick with dark colors, like gray, black…or in the best scenario, wine proof plaid. Also, it is amazing that some women felt it was incumbent upon them to remain slaves to fashion and wear the latest knee-high, high-heeled shoes or leather and suede boots; designer skirts, blouses. But on the beach? The sandy beach? Hello, it’s sand, ladies. Trekking up and down a beach is a tough enough (especially when tipsy), but high heels only compounds the risk of injury, and worse, a fashion emergency. Come on. I love a lady in heels as much as the next guy, but this made no sense to me whatsoever.
After our tickets were scanned, we were each handed a “swag bag” filled with event
View of the Demo Tents and Village
sponsor literature, coupons, etc., along with a beautiful Crystal wine glass. At the end of the gift back/wine glass distribution desk several associates stood at attention, flanking both sides of the velvet rope entrance, all clutching bottles of French wine, white and red…and most importantly, all eager to pour us a sample of some excellent wines. This was a well-received, classy touch missing from previous events. Then it was on with the show.
To fully appreciate an event like the SBF&WF one must have a deep appreciation for overindulgence, plain and simple. This isn’t an insurance seminar or morning Tai Chi in the park. The SBF&WF is all about food, wine, beer, spirits—and more of it. Participating vendors offer up patrons small, sample-sized portions (usually), but there’s no law that says you have to stop at just one. And we didn’t on several occasions. Event planners are smart, though, in
Whole Foods Cafe
strategically placing barrels brimming with bottled water throughout the site. Plus, we saw during both days of the event several young men and women walking between tents, offering up cool treats of iced coffee, frozen fruit bars or sodas. The first year we attended the SBF&WF we acted like, and suffered like, amateur event goers, overindulging in wine, food and spirits, followed by hours (though it seemed like days) of wandering dazed and confused under a hot sun until our tired, overstuffed bodies, bodies which were on the verge of bursting, couldn’t take it anymore. We learned our lesson well that weekend and applied this knowledge to maintaining a steady, harmonic wine and food buzz at this year’s event.
Getting the lay of the land is simple at the SBF&WF: just head south on the beach,
Ming Tsai Demonstration
stop in any one of the clearly marked tents and sample to your heart’s content. Several of the smaller tents near the entrance are dedicated to cooking demonstrations, while just further south there are the two Grand tasting tents, the focus of our SBF&WF experience (as well as several thousand of our closest “friends.”) Recalling past events, we decided to target specific vendors first, followed by others of mild interest and then lastly, those which are desirable, but not a requirement. There are several hundred vendors spread throughout the tents, both on its periphery and in the center, each of which is about the size of a football field. That’s roughly a 100-yard, game winning drive of food and wine, minus the Gatorade shower. Whole Foods Market and the Food Network sponsor the
Samosa's, Flank Steak & Cracker w/Creme Fraiche and Caviar
event, along with a myriad of co-sponsors, all of which work in conjunction with local and national wine and spirit vendors; restaurant owners, chefs and cooking personnel—plus, many of the stars from the Food Network’s many hit shows. Walking around happily
buzzed and satiated, the SBF&WF has a genteel vibe to it. Everyone is enjoying himself or herself, aromas waft throughout the tent, food and beverages are spilled, but none seem to mind too much. People are, for the most part, courteous and accommodating during the event. We didn’t’ witness and rude or inconsiderate patrons cutting in line, though it does happen when people’s inhibitions are lowered and drunk levels are raised. A funny thing happened while we were waiting for
Burger & Beer Joint's Chili Burger
chili cheeseburgers at the Beer & Burger Joint set-up. As we were sitting in line patiently waiting our turn to feast on what turned out to be an incredible sample-sized chiliburger, a tipsy 50ish looking guy attempted to “sidle” into line. I gave him a stern but polite glance. These are burgers worth waiting for. He acknowledged his transgression and apologized immediately. We both laughed heartily when I told him not to worry…there’s plenty for everyone.
French Wine & Cheese Tent
On Sunday, the final day of the event, we checked out of the hotel around noon and plodded slowly over to the event, which was not surprising given our overindulgence the previous day. The crowds this day, while still considerable, were less than on Saturday. We vowed to pace ourselves and maintain control since we’d be driving back to Fort Lauderdale. It was the same gluttonous routine: eat, drink, repeat. Sunday’s weather was a sharp contrast to the gray and rainy Saturday. It was sunny and cool as the temperature hovered somewhere in the upper 60s. A nice slight breeze
View of the Beach from Grand Tasting Tent
was blowing from the north and was fitting for this final day of the event. I found myself stopping at moments throughout the day just to marvel at this magnificent weather we were fortunate to have. By the end of the day we had enough energy to attend the show’s big finale demonstration: a “cook off” between Anthony Bourdain and world-renowned chef Eric Ripert. It wasn’t much of a cook off, as Bourdain humorously admitted, but it was very entertaining to see these two friends take subtle shots at each other during the demonstration. We especially loved Bourdain’s quip to Robert
Bourdain vs Ripert
Irvine, who along with Guy Fieri acted as judges for the competition, that his show should be called “Dinner Slightly Difficult”. After the demonstration we ended up buying a copy of Bourdain’s and Ripert’s books to get them signed and have our picture taken with these food celebrities. Then, as much as we wanted the fun to continue, it was time to go.
We shook the Miami sand out of our Fort Lauderdale shoes, the wine buzz from our heads, then strolled over the dunes and made our way back to the hotel to retrieve our bags. The final walk back to the car was laborious as we dragged our luggage and hefted our newly acquired swag bags upon our shoulders to make the drive back to reality, both having enjoyed the South Beach Food & Wine Festival again to its utmost degree. Next time we will opt for the car service and try some of the other events. Burger Bash, perhaps? Until next year’s event: Cheers!