Dish Society owner Aaron Lyons accepts his golden artichoke award from Recipe for Success founder Gracie Cavnar.

Image: Todd Parker

This weekend proved conclusively that it's possible to get 400 Houstonians to brave the heat and humidity without even offering them any barbecue or burgers as recompense. Our sold-out Veggie Riot event benefitting Recipe for Success showed that it's easier than ever to get Houstonians to eat their vegetables—provided you have plenty of cocktails and sweet treats to keep the heat at bay.

We had all of the above, courtesy of Tito's Vodka, Bayou Rum, Selmo Wines, Kickin' Kombucha, Chloe's Soft Serve and—naturally, this is Texas—sparkling Topo Chico water. And between sips (and stacking giant Jenga blocks as high as possible), our guests found plenty of time to taste the vegetable dishes prepared by some of Houston's best restaurants and vote on their favorite.

The first golden artichoke award for the People's Choice dish went to Dish Society, which had prepared a variety of rainbow-colored carrots and cleverly "planted" them in a sweet pumpernickel crumble that looked a lot like dirt. The second golden artichoke award for Editor's Choice was given to Culinaire owner Barbara Friedel McKnight, whose butternut squash and poblano pepper tamales were topped with caramelized onions and sage and a drizzle of pumpkin seed salsa verde (and a few pumpkin seeds scattered around for added texture).

Carrot panna cotta from Triniti waited for guests in the VIP lounge.

Image: Todd Parker

"I don't even like butternut squash, but I love this tamale," one attendee was heard to remark; no surprise then that McKnight ran through the 500 tamale samples she made for the event. Still, it seemed a surprise to McKnight when she won—up on stage, accepting her award, McKnight found herself a bit choked up and at a loss for words. We've got some words for her: Barbara Friedel McKnight, you made some of the best masa we've tasted in ages (the wonderful butternut sqush puree inside was an added bonus).

Elsewhere across the competition, similar praise was offered by guests for vegetables they only thought they didn't like; the roasted cauliflower dish from Shade turned more than a few people onto the cruciferous vegetable, for instance, while others became intimately acquainted with cactus for the first time, enjoying roasted mushroom caps with nopales and a spicy guajillo sauce from chef Alex Padilla of Ninfa's. Cyclone Anaya's executive chef Jason Gould served the dish I'm most likely to try and replicate at home: beautifully chargrilled strips of zucchini served street taco-style in corn tortillas with cotija cheese, corn and pickled red onions.

Meanwhile, Kuu and Bernie's Burger Bus both offered excellent examples of what you can expect to see in their own restaurants: Kuu chef Adison Lee with an elegantly pairing of roasted sunchoke and golden beets and Bernie's chef/owner Justin Turner with an over-the-top grilled cheese on sourdough that spotlighted mustard greens (though the real star was the pork belly underneath those greens). And over at Jonathan's the Rub, chef/owner Jonathan Levine was whipping up eggplant-and-feta mini-burritos as fast as guests were snatching them up.

Inside the VIP area, guests were treated to a duo of special tastings: the first was a thick, delicious carrot panna cotta topped with spring peas from chef Ryan Hildebrand of Triniti, perfectly paired with a glass of rosé from Triniti GM Robert Harvey. The second was a one-two punch from Ouisie's Table of salmon mousse atop zucchini slices and a spicy vegetable terrine on soft brioche toast points.

If you didn't get a chance to make it out to Veggie Riot, keep your eyes peeled for our next two events: Mint Juleps and Jodhpurs, our second annual Kentucky Derby party, on Saturday, May 2 at the Houstonia house (complete with derby hat and mint julep competitions!) and our big annual Burger Bash, to be held Thursday, June 18 at CityCentre. And as usual, come hungry.

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