Newcomers Grab The Spotlight at 2020 Houston Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites — Updated
Dozens of judges and thousands of attendees swept through scores of different dishes at the 2020 Houston Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites event at NRG Center, ultimately anointing newcomers and old favorites alike with top awards. Meats and sweets seemed to be among the favorites, and alongside the dishes were 450 winning wines from the Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition held late last year.
Although it’s not quite open yet, chef and owner Ronnie Killen’s forthcoming Killen’s In The Heights added another shiny award buckle to his collection. Killen’s STQ executive chef Teddy Lopez and crew served the crowd righteously smokey, meaty bites of Brisket Enchiladas, which garnered the 2020 Rookie Award.
Three relative newcomers to Houston — all of which just opened within the past 18 months — took all the top Lonestar Entrée awards. Pinstripes, a chain focused on bocce ball, bowling and Italian food, debuted a Houston location at 3300 Kirby late last year. For Rodeo Best Bites, it walked away with the third-place award for its Short Ribs with Parmesan Polenta & Peppercorn Cream.
Phat Eatery, located at 23119 Colonial Parkway in Katy Asian Town Center has won at least a half-dozen awards for its food at various events and festivals this past year. Its deeply spiced and creamy Beef Rendang curry won second place at Best Bites. Taking top honors in the Lonestar Entrée category was upscale and eclectic Japanese restaurant NOBU in The Galleria. It served a fairly sure bet — a riff on the Black Cod Miso which is founding chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa’s most famous dish. The small-bites version was served in a lettuce cup and topped with khataifi, a crispy vermicelli topping.
In the Trailblazer Appetizer category, a long-revered Houston favorite earned top honors. Elegant Creole restaurant Brennan’s of Houston wowed the judges with its Hot Hot Oyster, an oyster battered and fried until golden then accented with Crystal Hot Sauce-infused butter, pepper jelly glaze and pickled okra chow chow. Forthcoming barbecue spot Smokey Cheeks at 1815 Magnum, anticipated to open in March, earned second place with its Smokey Cheek Taco with coleslaw, pickled onions, cilantro and Blueberry Ghost Pepper Hollandaise Sauce. Rounding out the appetizer category winners was The Capital Grille for its Porcini-Rubbed Smoked Bacon with Sweet Corn Risotto and Tomato Jam.
Those were all judges’ awards but the people had a chance to speak, too, by way of voting tokens tossed into competitor buckets. The crowd was most charmed by the intricate dish from the team of Grazia Italian Kitchen and The Caboose BBQ: Smoked & Soaked Wagyu Chuck with corn pudding, date gastrique, Cabernet reduction, tallow-fried crumble, micro arugula and amaranth. Close on its heels were the Duck Carnitas tacos from second-place winner Cotton Culinary The Art of Catering.
In what was perhaps the definition of “win some, lose some,” Ooh La La, which just announced it was downsizing by one location last week, walked away with the top dessert award. Pastry chef and owner Vanessa O’Donnell’s Praline Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel Sauce proved irresistible for judges. Second-place Grimaldi’s Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria mini-cannoli garnered its own share of oohs and ahs, and Joyce’s Seafood & Steaks brought its beloved White Chocolate Bread Pudding. Over the years, the dessert has practically become a mainstay and this time, it took third place.
Not every award at Best Bites is for food. Some is for wowing the crowd with your looks — well, the looks of your table, that is. Brother’s Produce constructed an amazing carved vegetable tableau that spanned the full length of its table and understandably took home first place. Also recognized with the second place Outstanding Showmanship Award was JW Marriott Houston Downtown.
Below is the full list of this year’s Houston Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites award winners:
Outstanding Showmanship Award
- 1st Place: Brother’s Produce
- 2nd Place: JW Marriott – Downtown
People’s Choice Award
- 1st Place: Grazia Italian Kitchen & The Caboose – Smoked & Soaked Wagyu Chuck, Corn Pudding, Date Gastrique, Cabernet Reduction, Tallow Fried Crumble, Micro Arugula & Amaranth
- 2nd Place: Cotton Culinary The Art of Catering – Duck Carnitas
Tasty Tradition Award
- 1st Place: Maggiano’s Little Italy – Lasagna with Marinara Sauce
- 2nd Place: Revival Market – Miso Mushrooms Toast, Whipped TX Goat Cheese & Houston Urban Honey
Trailblazer Appetizer Award
- 1st Place: Brennan’s of Houston – Hot Hot Oyster with Crystal Hot Sauce Butter, Pepper Jelly Glaze & Pickled Okra Chow Chow
- 2nd Place: Smokey Cheeks – Smokey Cheek Taco with Coleslaw, Pickled Onions & Cilantro, finished with a Blueberry Ghost Pepper Hollandaise Sauce
- 3rd Place: The Capital Grille – Porcini-Rubbed Smoked Bacon with Sweet Corn Risotto finished with Tomato Jam
Lone Star Entrée Award
- 1st Place: NOBU – Black Cod Miso on Lettuce Cup topped with Crispy Khataifi
- 2nd Place: Phat Eatery – Beef Rendang
- 3rd Place: Pinstripes – Short Ribs with Parmesan Polenta & Peppercorn Cream
Two-Steppin’ Dessert Award
- 1st Place: Ooh La La Sweets – Praline Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel Sauce
- 2nd Place: Grimaldi’s Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria – Mini Cannoli
- 3rd Place: Joyce’s Seafood & Steaks – White Chocolate Bread Pudding
- Killen’s in the Heights – Smoked Brisket Enchilada
Trail Boss Food Truck Award
- Eaker Barbecue – Smoked Pulled Pork atop Creamed Corn with Green Onion Garnish
Updated 2/24/20, 1:50 p.m.: Article updated to reflect that Smokey Cheeks is not open quite yet.