Move over, Lady Gaga: SF Food Wars competitions, a benefit for SF Food Bank, are now a harder ticket to procure than any megaconcert Live Nation can dream up. When this weekend's Amuse Brunch (Brunch in a Bite) battle at Thirsty Bear went on sale, there were pending orders for all 200 tickets in the system and the event sold out in three minutes, the time it took for a server to process them all. That enthusiasm always all but guarantees a festive atmosphere, but it also makes us doubly grateful to be the resident guest judge and get in the door at all.
We were joined at the judges' table this time by Chow's senior food editor/kitchen goddess Jill Santopietro and Bi-Rite's Karen Armstrong. They were intelligent and thoughtful ladies who we enjoyed dissecting this tiny brunch with, for better or worse.A play on amuse bouche, a one-bite morsel typically served as a gift to diners, the miniature entries in Amuse Brunch were a perfect fit to our typical philosophy of taking only one taste when initially rating SF Food Wars contests and then going for a second bite of the top contenders. Many competitors did not adhere to the theme and offered items that were larger than we could shove into our mouths in one take. Some even teetered on the edge of disqualification, but we were too amused to be that punitive.
"The Bite of Smokey Porky Love," a teeny, open-face take on the BLT served on weekends at the Alemany and Stonestown farmers' markets by chef Dontaye Ball's Good Foods Catering, was the judges' clear first place winner, and also took home People's Choice Honorable Mention. A quarter-sized crispy pita round held a potent drop of pork cracklin'-laced aïoli, Ball's house-made smoked bacon, smoked tomato jam, a slice of cherry tomato, and a smattering of microgreens.
We awarded second place to "Salmon Dill-ites" by Memmalicious, little hash browns topped with smoked salmon and dill crème fraiche that kept their wonderful crisp texture even hours into the competition, a seemingly miraculous feat that was not sadly reached by many of the competitors, whose once-hot creations suffered as they cooled down.
Third place wasn't such a clear-cut choice for the judges, but we appreciated the ingenuity of Team TimeCube's "One Shot Waffle," a test tube filled with a buttery and -- darned if it wasn't true -- waffly liquid and decided it would round out our podium. TTC also took home the Photographers' Choice honors for their lab-like presentation.
We correctly predicted that the crowd would choose Porkuporkia's "Pork in the Hole," little sandwiches of maple-glazed doughnut holes and pulled pork, as the People's Choice, but the beyond-cloying sugar-meat bombs induced involuntary convulsions at the judges' table. The judges and the people often choose the same winning teams at SF Food Wars, but this was a dramatic exception.
Organizer Jeannie Choe announced that the next contest, Delicious 3.14159: Pie or Die(ameter), will take place in July.