Beach, Bubbly and Barbecue at BubbleQ

I couldn’t imagine a Friday night event at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival topping my experience at Wine Spectator‘s Best of the Best last year, but BubbleQ went way beyond my expectations.

But then again, what’s not to love?  Some of the biggest names in the local and national food scene serve up their take on barbecue, with free-flowing Perrier-Jouët Champagne and enough sweets that you could fill up on dessert alone.  As the evening goes on, the action under the tent turns into a nightclub with a DJ playing dance music, accompanied by a drummer and saxophonist.

Hosted by Emeril Lagasse who served up a tasty version of a pulled pork sandwich, this year’s BubbleQ featured more than 25 chefs from South Florida and around the country.  They were joined by students from Florida International University’s School of Hospitality who helped prepare and plate the food.  Click to read more about the students’ roles in preparing for BubbleQ

Though the event was certainly crowded, you never had to wait too long to get each dish or for a refill of Champagne.  And with the chefs on hand to serve their food, it was a unique opportunity to get up close and talk with them.

Each chef offered a dish that featured pork, beef, fowl, lamb or seafood.  One of my favorite pork dishes was the first dish I had at BubbleQ.  Simple and so good, it was a heaping plate of pulled pork and coleslaw from Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama.  The meat was so tender and well-seasoned that I would have gone back for seconds had there not been nearly 30 more dishes to taste.

Another highlight was the cochon de lait po’ boy from John Besh of Restaurant August in New Orleans.  The pork belly was so sinfully rich and creamy that I ditched the bun to enjoy the meat on its own.

For the beef dishes, I couldn’t get enough of Michelle Bernstein’s Kobe beef short rib taco with green tomato slaw.  The taste of the beef contrasted so nicely with the slaw that it made for one of the more exciting flavor combinations of the evening.

I also enjoyed Norman Van Aken’s Miami-Cuban spin on the night’s theme.  The iconic Florida chef, known as the “Founding Father of New World Cuisine” served deep fried Cuban barbecued stuffed mollete sandwiches with mojo slaw.  Just as much a mouthful to eat as to say, the sandwiches were packed with flavor.

Not to be missed was the lamb belly BLT from Tim Love from Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth, Texas.  The Top Chef Masters contestant looked like he was having just as much fun serving his food as partygoers did eating it, dancing and singing with the music and chatting with fans.

On the seafood side, I loved the grilled oysters from Susan Spicer of Bayona in New Orleans.  They were big and juicy, served on top of a savory artichoke bread pudding and lemon garlic butter.

Though I hadn’t yet made my way through the entire tent, I took a break from barbecue for dessert, just so I wouldn’t be too full to enjoy it.  I was glad I had saved room for Sweet Street Desserts from Reading, Pennsylvania, who displayed all their goodies on a bar made from ice.  From chocolate to peanut butter to fruity creamy treats, there was something for any kind of sweet tooth.  There was even a man decked out as a human cupcake stand, passing out a variety of moist and delicious little cakes.  My other favorite sweet treat was a tequila milkshake served by Elizabeth Karmel from Hill Country in New York.

Throughout the evening, the Champagne never stopped flowing.  At one point I thought they had switched up the bubbly for absinthe when I saw a green fairy — a woman in a bright green bodysuit dangling upside down from a chandelier, pouring Perrier-Jouët.

Towards the end of BubbleQ it was a sight to behold behind the bar — dozens upon dozens of empty Champagne bottles overflowing from boxes.  After Friday night I would think there would be no Champagne left in the entire state of Florida!

As the evening wound down, I hit the white sand dance floor with the other partygoers and chefs until it was time to head home.  From the outside BubbleQ may not appear to be as sophisticated as Best of the Best, but this one-of-a-kind party on the beach just can’t be beat.