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I’m feeling a little mixed about this year’s Devoured culinary festival.

I feel like I got my money’s worth, and the food was diverse and amazing as usual, and I’d go again in a heartbeat.

But it was JUST SO DANG CROWDED.  Over 3,000 people attended the event over the weekend. Waiting in all the long lines, and elbowing through the crowds to get a sample kind of detracted from the experience this year. I actually got chewed out by a tall young woman for taking a lobster ravioli sample before her, even though I had been patiently waiting in line for 10 minutes, long before she ever showed up and cut her way to the front. Pshhh. The nerve!

I’m not sure if Sunday was more crowded than Saturday?  I think it was mostly my fault for getting there after noon, and feeling rushed to hit all the booths before they ran out of food or drink.

I highly recommend getting there as soon as it opens in future years, so you can take your time and avoid some of the lines and food shortages. Next year I’ll try not to be hungover from the night before so I can arrive before noon. *sheepish grin* I’ll also be wearing a bathing suit to future parties at Ranga’s so I don’t get thrown in the pool fully clothed again. Grrrrrr!

IMPROVEMENTS

I didn’t attend Devoured last year, but there were definite improvements over previous years’ West of Western festivals. I like limiting the event to 21+, so that the alcohol booths can be interspersed with the food booths.  Before, when there was a separate tent for the wine, and you couldn’t leave the tent with your drink, it was far too much of a hassle to go back and forth.  It just makes sense to be able to drink and eat together (although it is a bit difficult to juggle a wine glass, your food, and a camera without dropping anything!)  Also, the selection of alcohol has vastly improved. The larger selection of beer appeals to our less-than-serious partners, who, you know, just want a good beer.

Also, going to the plastic wine glasses is a good move. Having been a volunteer before, shining all those glasses before handing them out, and collecting them afterward was a nuisance. Plastic may take away from the “classiness” of the event, but it’s definitely easier to manage.

I appreciated how the process of turning in your ticket and checking ID inside the museum was smooth and efficient. The entertainment this year was also great. Tony and I both thoroughly enjoyed Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers.

There is room for improvement. For example, I wasn’t a fan of the parking situation. The museum’s small parking lot was of course full.  There was a less than noticeable sign saying that there was more parking at the Viad garage, but no arrows or neon signs or anything to indicate WHERE that parking garage was.  A parking map on the website would be helpful. (I am glad that parking is still free! A rarity in downtown Phoenix.)

Also, I just feel bad about all the individual plastic cups and plates and forks, etc that I personally disposed of that day, let alone the event as a whole. Perhaps there is a way to make the event greener, and more conscience-friendly. :)

THE WEATHER

The temperatures approached 90 degrees on Sunday, and there were very few spots of shade to duck out of the unrelenting heat.  I had worked outside the day before, so I knew how hot it would be and was fully prepared with SPF50 sunscreen.  I’m not sure all the other foodgoers were quite as prepared (and may be nursing a sunburn as a result).

I must say, I’m awfully proud of Tony — he dressed like a true Arizona native, all on his own! He wore lightweight long sleeves for arm protection and his not-so-sexy wide-brimmed hat (hehe, as he says, who’s he trying to impress?)!  That’s my boy! He was actually offered $5 for his hat at one point, by a gentlemen whose shaved head was pinkening by the minute. We all had a good chuckle at the poor guy’s expense.

Note, some people REALLY dress up for this event (a la stilettos and cocktail dresses), but I say skin cancer prevention trumps style any day.

THE DRINKS:

One of the first things Tony did, after satiating his initial hunger by devouring all samples in sight, was to locate the beer booths. I helped him in his search, since I did drag him to the food festival in the first place.

San Tan Brewing Company, Flagstaff’s Lumberyard Brewery, Four Peaks, Honey Brown and Sam Adams all had beer on tap at the festival. Thank you, all of you. You made my fiance a very happy man.

Nothing like ice cold beer on a sweltering hot day. And yes, he was double fisting — I gave him my glass so he could make half as many trips ;)

Unfortunately, every booth was out of IPA by the time we sought out beer (1:30PM according to the timestamp on my camera). That’s EARLY!  Apparently Tony wasn’t the only IPA fan at the festival.

San Tan was the only booth serving up a hefeweizen that I saw:

Sam Adams was offering a lager and a seasonal that Tony quite liked, the Noble Pils. They also got points for handing out coupons!

Honey Brown (not pictured) stood out in my mind for serving up the coldest, crispest beer late into the afternoon.  I don’t even remember what the variety was, but it was shocking how cold and refreshing it was.  The gal behind the tap promised “It’s cold!” and boy was she right.

Arroyo Vodka, a local Phoenix distillery, featured a cocktail called the Arroyo en Fuego, which has Arroyo Vodka, cucumber slices, agave nectar, jalapenos, lime juice and soda water. It packed quite a punch, and they served it in very generous dixie cups!

My favorite drink was probably the Huckleberry Lemonade, served by 44° North (an Idaho based distillery). I grabbed a recipe card it was so good. The mixture is a ratio of 1.5 oz of 44 North Mountain Huckleberry Vodka to 6 oz Lemonade. The perfect refreshment for a hot summer day (I know it’s still spring, but AZ springs are like everyone else’s summer!). I went back for several glasses’ worth. They also had a rainier cherry vodka drink which looked quite pretty.

There were quite a few local wineries, and I’m sorry I can’t give them the attention they deserve.  While the wine would have made an amazing pairing with some of the foods, I just couldn’t stomach any wine in the heat, especially any of the reds. Red wine is just not a thirst quenching drink, you know?

I was supremely grateful for the ice cold mini bottles of Fiji water distributed throughout the courtyard — I guzzled quite a few bottles.

THE FOOD

Now, let’s get to the food, shall we?

Sunday must have been unofficially the day of The Taco. Also, there was an overwhelming amount of pork.  Vegetarians would NOT have had a good time here. The many pork offerings included: pork pate from chef Payton Curry, Luau pork with Asian slaw from Hula’s Modern Tiki, Cuban pork sandwich from San Tan Brewing Co, pork belly pastrami on a rye crisp from Citizen Public House, smoked apple-braised pork belly with endive slaw from Cowboy Ciao, pork tenderloin with endive from Caffe Boa, and head cheese with sauerkraut, also from Caffe Boa (I’m proud of myself for trying this. Wasn’t a fan). Seriously, after my 4th or 5th pork dish, and my third so-so taco, I was looking for anything non pork and non taco.

These lamb sliders with tangy mint sauce from Fez hit the spot. Original and oh so good — one of my favorites.

Kai didn’t disappoint.  They had the most offerings, and a standout display as usual.  Apparently I missed their aloe vera-prickly pear-cucumber push-ups (omg, that sounds amazing) and the “Kai French Toast” with a fried quail egg.  They also had beer-infused chocolate truffles, which looked too heavy for my overfull belly, but I’m sure were amazing.  My favorite dish that I tried of theirs was the beef tartare:

Our favorite dessert of the day was the orange blossom honey cheesecake with fresh graham cracker crust from Tempe-based Honey Moon Sweets. Tony got three samples, if that tells you anything about his mini-love affair with this delectable dessert. :)

Runner-up for best dessert would be the blood orange gelato from The Grateful Spoon (formerly Arlecchino), the gelateria next to La Grande Orange — so cold and refreshing,  it was absolutely perfect for a blistering hot day. I was completely mesmerized by the stand-out shrimp ceviche at La Grande Orange/Chelsea’s Kitchen, and Tony fell in love with their pepperoni pizza. (The ceviche was the only dish I wish I could have tried twice, but alas, they ran out). Unfortunately, we sampled all these offerings early on, when I was starving and stuffing food in my mouth faster than I was taking pictures.

There was a tie for most unusual dessert: sweet potato ice cream from Udder Delights (sorry, no pic, but it was actually tasty!), and this anise flavored gelato from Crave. As Tony says, there are two types of people: Those who like black licorice, and those who don’t. We definitely fall into the latter camp.

{I need a better hand model! Sweetie, I think I’m going to relieve you of your job next year…}

There was nothing gourmet about The District American Kitchen’s offerings, but that was the point. They appealed to those childlike (and American) at heart, with cotton candy, philly cheesesteaks, and cheesy corn dogs on a stick.

Relish Burger Bistro at the Phoenician served up Kobe beef sliders, which Tony enthusiastically inhaled. Note, all you SPG Amex cardholders, SPG MEMBERS save 50% on lunch and dinner at the Relish Burger Bistro, Sunday through Thursday, through March 31st.

Everyone was buzzing about the lobster and pancetta stuffed ravioli topped with morel mushroom from a Different Pointe of View. As a result, the lines were crazy long (and I got in my first near-altercation over a sample). I was not all that impressed, but everyone else sure was. It definitely won for most beautiful presentation:

I missed one of my favorites of year’s past, Tammy Coe Cakes — where was she in the maze?  I circled at least twice.

Ack, and apparently I missed  “far and away the best dessert of the day“ – the salted caramel brownie bites from Bite Me Brownies. Sheesh.

I also didn’t get to try the jerk-rubbed scallops at The Breadfruit. And I LOVE scallops!!

Okay, so I better stop reading other people’s reviews. It’s depressing to see what I missed. Can you believe there’s THAT MUCH food?

In the end, I’m happy that I went on Sunday (from what I read, it had the better offerings). To be fair, I’m not a big steak eater, and apparently all the best steak was on Saturday.

Next year I’m going earlier, before the IPA’s gone and The Breadfruit runs out of scallops.

And we’re hitting every. single. booth. Twice!  Booyah.

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