What to Expect From the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival

The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival reloads this weekend for another year of tropical culinary excess. To understand the festival’s true spring break-like essence and what it has evolved into during the 11 years of its existence, consider this scene from last year’s event: Paula Deen, the living patron saint of butter and diabetes, is standing onstage underneath a giant white tent built on the sugar-sand of Miami Beach as hundreds of her Deeniacs scream and whistle. Wearing a flowing, Pepto Bismol-colored muumuu over black leggings, her eyes shielded by sunglasses so large that she resembles a tree frog, Deen then asks, in her thicker-than-grits Savannah drawl, how many in the audience are there “hoping to see my britches to fall down?” An unlikely roar erupts. Clearly they saw the viral clip of her South Beach appearance from 2010 when the doughy, silver-haired former agoraphobe lost the integrity of her pantaloons.

Prowling the stage in 2011, she promises no such “moon over Miami” would revisit, but then grabs her butterboobs and suggests that perhaps “my falsies might fall out.” Moments later, her Food Network compadre Robert Irvine, walks onstage wearing a sky blue body shirt and cradling a giant dish of butter. Deen suggests he remove his shirt all Chippendales-like. Instead, he dips an index finger into the dairy product, takes a lick and then rubs the remainder all over his ribbed abs. As her husband Michael watches, Deen drops down for a lick off his hairy belly. And then Irvine inexplicably goes down on all fours with the precision of a man who has great experience doing so. Deen proceeds to ride him like a jockey to the delight of the Photoshop geniuses who would go on to create PaulaDeenRidingThings.com.

To borrow a phrase, this festival is no ordinary day at the beach.

Originally conceived by organizer Lee Schrager as a fundraiser for Florida International University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, the festival last year sold more than 53,000 tickets to more than 40 events and raised $2.2 million. In a decade, SoBe has eclipsed Aspen’s Food & Wine Classic in popularity and prestige. For four days, Miami’s South Beach district turns into a rollicking buffet of strange and glitzy decadence as Food Network personalities and reality TV stars descend on Florida’s nether region to pimp their brands, press the flesh, see their friends, and blow off some steam.

“Its sun and surf and sex and suds,” Miami chef Norman Van Aken told me last year. Van Aken, father of New World cuisine and executive chef at the Miami Culinary Institute’s Tuyo, says the festival is “the big daddy of food festivals like American Idol is the big daddy of American TV.”

If that’s the case, then spiky-haired bro Guy Fieri is South Beach’s Steven Tyler. He and Emeril Lagasse will host the first big shindig of the weekend on Thursday night, Moet Hennessy’s the Q, presented by Allen Brothers Steaks. This is the first year for the event since the retirement in 2011 of the festival’s wildly popular BubbleQ event, which married the venerable pastimes of barbecue and carbonated French beverages. BubbleQ was the festival’s way of keeping it real, inviting the likes of barbecue gods like Myron Mixon and Chris Lilly to pull some pork seaside with Food Network stars like Bobby Flay of Mesa Grill in New York City and such locals as Miami Beach chefs Dewey Losasso of The Forge and Mark Zeitouni of Lido. What has changed for this year? Not much. Different brand of bubbly and different chefs but the same beachside tent behind the Delano Hotel. And the same expensive ticket — $300 a pop. For another hundred bucks, patrons get a 45-minute VIP head-start at the chandeliered hog trough.

This year’s heavy hitters include Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon in New Orleans, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, and Ben Ford of Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City, California (Ben’s dad is some old guy named Harrison.) The local roster includes Michelle Bernstein of SRA. Martinez and Jordi Vallés of J&G Grill.

The big change is that this year’s Q will have a three-hour after-party called The Q After Dark (which is odd, because the Q itself takes place in the dark). One imagines besotted foodies raving barefoot on the beach, reeking of KC Masterpiece parfum as DJ Ruckus spins his trance-hop canon from Phunked Up Records.

If that hasn’t crushed all culinary souls, Friday’s schedule includes Rachael Ray’s Burger Bash, a carne-extravaganza featuring 30 chefs from joints across the country. Meatmeister Michael Symon of B-Spot Burgers in Cleveland is going for a three-peat trophy this year — his fried salami, provolone cheese, shasha sauce and pickled onion burger took the top prize in 2011. But it’s far more impressive that the burger craze — which took over for the bacon craze, which took over for the cupcake craze, which took over for the seasoned salt craze — is still going strong enough to survive 1,000 episodes of Ray’s daytime talk show.

Later that night, Robert Irvine (he of the buttered and lickable British abs) will host the Party Impossible bash at 1111 Lincoln Road. And while that might sound impressive, it helps to know that 1111 Lincoln Road is an open-air parking garage. A very nice parking garage in a very swanky part of South Beach’s shopping district, mind you. A parking garage designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the same Swiss firm that created the ground-breaking, Lifesavers-looking Allianz Arena in Munich. But it’s a parking garage, one with jutting, off-angle concrete pillars and uneven cathedral ceilings that give the impression that, cool or not, it could crumble at any second (which could be a buzz kill).

Saturday’s schedule hits the throttle with a blur of two dozen events, including a farm-to-table brunch at the Miami Beach botanical gardens hosted by Michael Schwartz of Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink in Miami. Seminars like those by fromageinatrix Laura Werlin’s grilled cheese and wine-pairing class lend the day an educational aroma. But before things get too esoteric, The Best Thing I Ever Ate Late Night Bites & Sweets party, named unsubtly after Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” series, showcases finger foods and desserts (read: munchies) at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach.

Which brings us back to Paula Deen, who hosts her annual Down Home Cookin’ Sunday Brunch. Last year’s shindig nursed hangovers with fried chicken, pocket pies and the lip-smacking goodness of Fort Worth, Texas, chef Tim Love’s beef short ribs with anasazi bean stew and ricotta cheese. Oh, and Deen making up new lyrics to long-established gospel standards. At a gospel brunch. Halleluiah.

By the time Travel Channel bug chewer Andrew Zimmern hosts the Trucks on the Beach closing food truck party that night, it’s a good bet Deen will be asleep. Unless there’s more butter to lick.

If that happens, all britches are off.

Where Celebs Go Out: America Ferrera, Harvey Keitel, Hope Davis

At the premiere of Our Family Wedding:

● AMERICA FERRERA – “My favorite restaurant of the moment is Broadway East, on the Lower East Side.” ● CHARLIE MURPHY – “I’ve been going to this Mexican restaurant in New Jersey. I think it’s called El Torito, whatever. That’s one of them. I go to so many restaurants. This is what I want to explain, so no one’s insulted. I’m on the road 48 weeks of the year in different towns, and I go to a lot of restaurants, so to ask me what my favorite restaurant is, is kind of a hard question to answer. I like going to Baja Fresh in L.A.” ● GRETCHEN ROSSI – “In Newport Beach, it’s Flemings. It’s a steakhouse, and I eat the steak and potatoes and everything that you can imagine on the menu. But I just eat small portions, so that you get a taste of everything.”

● LANCE GROSS – “I love Tao here in New York. I don’t get to New York a lot, but the Cafeteria. I love the Cafeteria. I do all the nightclubs. I don’t even know the names. I just go into them.” ● REGINA KING – “Right now, I’m really loving Osteria Mozza in L.A., Mario Batali’s restaurant. It’s so funny because where he opened was a place in L.A. that there’s been four restaurants that tried to make it there; came; spent a lot of money; closed down. And he has been booming, banging with business, and rightfully so. So, if you go and get the oxtail ragu — oh, my God! Hah! It is so good, and mmmm, the pizza next door is even better, because it’s Nancy Silverton from La Brea Bakery making the dough. I love to eat, clearly.” ● PRAS – “Geez! Right now it’s gotta be Dylan Prime. That’s in my neighborhood. Every time I’m out of town, I always take a trip back to Dylan. I feel like I’ve landed back home. Do you like steak? I love — I’m a big meat eater, despite all the things they tell you about eating charred beef.”

At the opening of A Behanding in Spokane on Broadway:

● HARVEY KEITEL – “A candy store in Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn. It was called Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves.” ● ANTHONY MACKIE – “Hey, book that is black! I love to go down to STK. One of my very favorite restaurants is Three Sisters, on Madison and 124th — the best Caribbean food you can find in New York. ● JENNIFER MORRISON – “I have had no chance to discover that yet because we just opened last night. Where in L.A.? I love Madeo restaurant. We eat there all the time. Dan Tana’s, some of the usual spots. I’m a huge fan of spaghetti and meat sauce. It’s my weakness, anywhere I go.” ● ZOE KAZAN – “I love your magazine! I haven’t been going to a lot of bars or clubs lately. I’ve been going to theater hangouts, like the West Bank Cafe or Bar Centrale. In my neighborhood, I love Buttermilk Channel, which is a restaurant in Cobble Hill or Frankie’s 457. I like the fried chicken at Buttermilk Channel.” ● MARTIN MCDONAGH – “Angus McIndoe.” ● HUGH JACKMAN – “Oh, c’mon!”

● DANA IVEY – “I don’t want to give it away ’cause too many people will go there. I don’t want to say because it’ll be infiltrated by everybody, and I won’t get a seat! No, but Joe Allen’s is always good. That’s one of my faves. Oh, they have this great, great salad that I really, really like — trevisano, something, I can’t remember, but that’s what I get every time.” ● HOPE DAVIS –Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn.” ● JOAN HAMBURG – “You mean in this neighborhood? I love to go to Orso’s. Oh, I like a lot of places. I like Blue Hill downtown. I got a list!” ● SARAH PAULSON – “One of them is a secret. I don’t want anybody else to know about it, so I won’t talk about that place. I love a place called Café Cluny, on 12th Street and West 4th Street, down in the Village. Any favorite dish? The burger and the Cluny. It’s a giant martini, which is always really good. I’m, kind of, like a person who only goes to places that are in the neighborhood I happen to be standing in, in the moment, which is what’s so great about New York — you’re bound to turn around and hit something great.” ● MARCIA GAY HARDEN – “Oh, God, we never go out. Honestly, we don’t go out. Our living room, our kitchen, our dining room. What about in L.A.? Oh, God, I wouldn’t say L.A. before New York! I couldn’t possibly say L.A. before New York. Okay, wait! We like Settepani in Harlem. We love Orso. We love Orso.” ● STACY KEACH – “It’s a tough one, isn’t it? There’s so many. Joe’s restaurant in Venice. Everything is good, but I, particularly, like steak ‘n eggs, yeah. In New York, there’s so many wonderful restaurants, and we just got here. And every time I come back to New York, I discover new places, so I’m hesitant to give you names of places.” ● PABLO SCHREIBER – “The old standards are the — what’s the place over here on 46th where we go after the show? It’s right above Joe Allen’s. Yeah, I, always forget the name of it ’cause they have no sign. [That would be Bar Centrale. -ed] That’s my favorite place for after-dinner drinks. I went to a great Greek restaurant last night, called Molyvos, on 7th Avenue between 55th and 56th. That place was pretty delicious. I had the whole fish. It was a black sea bass, and they did it perfectly. I’m a father of a 16th-month-old kid, so I don’t get out much these days.” ● DAVID HYDE PIERCE – “No, I don’t have any. I don’t have a lot of places to talk about like that.” ● LILY RABE – “I love Maialino. It’s in the Gramercy Park Hotel. It just opened. It’s amazing. Yes, it’s really good. And I love Café Cluny. Morandi. Those are my favorite places to eat. And the Breslin is also really incredible. The Breslin has this pork belly that’s one of the most memorable things I’ve ever eaten in the city.” ● JULIE TAYMORE –Craft, Maialino, Bobby Flay’s restaurant Mesa Grill.” ● TOM WAITS – “Oh, gee, I eat at home. I eat at home.” ● PAUL DANO – “Eton’s — it’s a dumpling place in Brooklyn. Po. Franny’s — all Brooklyn.” ● ANTHONY ANDERSON – “I really don’t hang out much in New York because of the work schedule that we have. But when I do, I find myself having a drink at Tillman’s. My favorite eatery would have to be Abe & Arthur’s.” ● GRIFFIN DUNNE – “I’m mostly upstate these days, so I’ve got little holes up there that I hit, in Duchess County. What do I want to plug? Gigi’s, an Italian restaurant — very, very good. I think that’s in Rhinebeck, yeah.”

Where Celebs Go Out: Harvey Keitel, Anthony Mackie, Marcia Gay Harden, Jennifer Morrison

1. Harvey Keitel at the opening of A Behanding in Sokane on Broadway: “A candy store in Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn. It was called Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves.” 2. Anthony Mackie: “Hey, book that is black! I love to go down to STK. One of my very favorite restaurants is Three Sisters, on Madison and 124th — the best Caribbean food you can find in New York. 3. Jennifer Morrison: “I have had no chance to discover that yet because we just opened last night. Where in L.A.? I love Medeo Restaurant. We eat there all the time. Dan Tana’s, some of the usual spots. Any favorite dishes? I’m a huge fan of spaghetti and meat sauce. It’s my weakness, anywhere I go, so …”

4.Zoe Kazan: “I love your magazine! I haven’t been going to a lot of bars or clubs lately. I’ve been going to theater hangouts, like the West Bank Cafe or Bar Centrale. In my neighborhood, I love Buttermilk Chanel, which is a restaurant in Cobble Hill or Frankie’s 457. I like the fried chicken at Buttermilk Chanel.” 5. Martin McDonagh: “Angus McAndoes.” 6. Hugh Jackman: “Oh, c’mon!” 7. Dana Ivey: “I don’t want to give it away ’cause too many people will go there. I don’t want to say because it’ll be infiltrated by everybody, and I won’t get a seat! No, but Joe Allen’s is always good. That’s one of my faves. Oh, they have this great, great salad that I really, really like — trevisano, something, I can’t remember, but that’s what I get every time.” 8. Hope Davis: “Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn.” 9. Joan Hamburg: “You mean in this neighborhood? I love to go to Orso’s. Oh, I like a lot [of places]. I like Blue Hill downtown. I got a list!” 10. Sarah Paulson: “One of them is a secret. I don’t want anybody else to know about it, so I won’t talk about that place. I love a place called Cafe Cluny, on 12th Street and West 4th Street, down in the Village. Any favorite dish? The burger and the Cluny. It’s a giant martini, which is always really good. I’m, kind of, like a person who only goes to places that are in the neighborhood I happen to be standing in, in the moment, which is what’s so great about New York — you’re bound to turn around and hit something great.” 11. Marcia Gay Harden: “Oh, God, we never go out. Honestly, we don’t go out. Our living room, our kitchen, our dining room. What about in L.A.? Oh, God, I wouldn’t say L.A. before New York! I couldn’t possibly say L.A. before New York. Okay, wait! We like Settepani in Harlem. We love Orso. We love Orso.” 12. Stacy Keech: “It’s a tough one, isn’t it? There’s so many. Joe’s restaurant in Venice [California]. Everything is good, but I, particularly, like steak ‘n eggs, yeah. In New York, there’s so many wonderful restaurants, and we just got here. And every time I come back to New York, I discover new places, so I’m hesitant to give you names of places.” 13. Pablo Schreiber: “The old standards are the — what’s the place over here on 46th where we go after the show? It’s right above Joe Allen’s. Yeah, I, always forget the name of it ’cause they have no sign. [Bar Centrale] That’s my favorite place for after-dinner drinks. I went to a great Greek restaurant last night, called Molyvos, on 7th Avenue between 55th and 56th. That place was pretty delicious. I had the whole fish. It was a black sea bass, and they did it perfectly. I’m a father of a 16th-month-old kid, so I don’t get out much these days.” 14. David Hyde Pierce: “No, I don’t have any. I don’t have a lot of places to talk about like that.” 15. Lily Rabe: “I love Maialino. It’s in the Gramercy Park Hotel. It just opened. It’s amazing. Yes, it’s really good. And I love Cafe Cluny. Morandi. Those are my favorite places to eat. And The Breslin is also really incredible. And the Breslin has this pork belly that’s one of the most memorable things I’ve ever eaten in the city.” 16. Julie Taymor: “Craft, Maialino, Bobby Flay’s restaurant, Mesa Grill.” 17. Tom Waits: “Oh, gee, I eat at home. I eat at home.” 18. Paul Dano: “Eton’s– it’s a dumpling place in Brooklyn. Po; Franny’s — all Brooklyn.” 19. Anthony Anderson: “I really don’t hang out much in New York because of the work schedule that we have. But when I do, I find myself having a drink at Tillman’s. My favorite eatery would have to be Abe & Arthur’s.” 20.Griffin Dunne: “I’m mostly upstate these days, so I’ve got little holes up there that I hit, in Duchess County. What do I want to plug? Gigi’s, an Italian restaurant — very, very good. I think that’s in Rhinebeck, yeah.”

New York: Top 10 Thanksgiving-Friendly Restaurants

imageBecause we don’t like cooking, our kitchen is the size of a closet, and the thought of leaving the city and risking missing the early-morning sale at Saks is too scary to bear (as are some of our relatives), here’s a list of our picks for the most Thanksgiving-friendly restaurants in New York City (and the specials they’re running for Turkey Day).

10. Freemans, three courses, $75. Number 10 on our list because only half of us find irony in surrounding yourself with taxidermy on Thanksgiving. 9. Ben & Jack’s, three courses, $65. The main course, traditional roast turkey, comes with turkey stuffing, caramelized mashed sweet potatoes, classic mashed potatoes, sautéed string beans, cranberry sauce, and turkey gravy — enough said. 8. Mesa Grill, three courses, $70. With dishes like fresh sage and orange butter turkey and pumpkin flan made with gingersnap wafers, Bobby Flay’s longstanding Southwestern joint would surely prove to be a Smackdown winner. 7. BLT Market, three courses, $95. Because where else could you get a sage-foie gras crouton?

6. Benjamin Steakhouse, three courses, $65. A sure bet with its ten-foot working fireplace, oak wood paneling, oversized mirrors, leather chairs, and traditional eats courtesy of Peter Luger alum Benjamin Prelvukaj. 5. Kittichai, five courses for $55 or four for $45. Infusing dashes of Asian flare into traditional dishes — turkey osso buco braised in massaman curry with Brussels sprouts, sweet potato and traditional trimmings — makes the sleek eatery an innovative delight. 4. Gilt, four courses, $110. Who knows, you might run into Blair Waldorf. 3. Via Dei Mille, five courses, $59. Like Cipriani only newer, cheaper — better. 2. Alloro, four courses, $40. Excellent value from local Italian dynasty Gina and Salvatore Corea; includes turkey meatballs, pumpkim raviolo, prune-stuffed turkey, and pumpkin tiramisu. 1. Cookshop, two courses, $60. Proudly displaying a chalkboard listing not the daily specials, but rather the joint’s “favorite farmers,” was the touch that made this modern cozy spot, with its food that’s fresh-as-can-be, come-out on top.