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SOBEWFF 2021 Highlights: Fewer Crowds, Intimate Events, New Eats, and More

Festivalgoers at the SOBEWFF Grand Tasting Village.
Festivalgoers at the SOBEWFF Grand Tasting Village.
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
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It's Monday, and another South Beach Wine and Food Festival (SOBEWFF) is in the books.

The festival celebrated its 20th anniversary in a more subdued way with smaller crowds and an emphasis on Miami-area chefs and restaurants. Still, there were plenty of celebrities in town, with Guy Fieri, Geoffrey Zakarian, and Alex Guarnaschelli hitting the sands of Miami Beach.

With COVID precautions in place, festival-goers felt safe to eat and drink. Sure, the day-club atmosphere hosted by David Grutman and his DJs was missed, but in its place was a festival that focused on the food and drinks at hand. In many ways, this year's festival felt more grown-up, with people taking time to meet chefs and distillers and ask thoughtful questions.

With this being the first major food festival to take place during COVID, there was a cautious lightness in the air as people reunited with old friends, sipped cocktails, and chowed down on everything from Wagyu beef to cupcakes.

Here are the top highlights of this year's festival.

Check out the pictures from this year's Grand Tasting Village and Burger Bash.

Meet One Betta, one of the COVID-sniffing dogs at SOBEWFF.
Meet One Betta, one of the COVID-sniffing dogs at SOBEWFF.
Photo by Laine Doss

COVID-Sniffing Dogs

Though the festival had many COVID security measures in place, the most adorable had to be the troupe of COVID-sniffing dogs. The dogs — named Cobra, OneBetta, Mac, and Hubble — were trained to detect the odor produced by metabolic changes in people infected with COVID. One trainer told New Times that the dogs sniffed masks that were irradiated to kill the virus yet still had the scent. The dogs were initially part of Florida International University's COVID safety measures. Though the working dogs wore harnesses asking not to be pet, they were the subject of thousands of admiring gazes and likely wound up on more Instagram photos than any Food Network celebrity chef.

Sugar Yummy Mama's Erika Leguizamon and Giselle Pinto display their unique QR Code.
Sugar Yummy Mama's Erika Leguizamon and Giselle Pinto display their unique QR Code.
Photo by Laine Doss

QR Codes

SOBEWFF entered the digital age this year, utilizing QR codes for everything, from required COVID-related questionnaires via SymCheck to codes for voting for the Grand Tasting Village's "Best Bite on the Beach" competition. This voting change allowed for less crowding around the food booth and was more environmentally friendly as well. Let’s hope to see this at the festival moving forward.

Comfortable tables and lots of bathrooms topped the added comforts at the SOBEWFF.
Comfortable tables and lots of bathrooms topped the added comforts at the SOBEWFF.
Photo by Laine Doss

Fewer Crowds, More Food, Seating, and Bathrooms

Many of the festival's marquee events, including the Grand Tasting Village, Burger Bash, Bubble Q, and Best of the Best, were divided into two sessions. This reduced the number of attendees at each session. There were obvious benefits, including shorter lines for food and drinks. The festival also provided plenty of seating. Another added bonus? Bathrooms at the Grand Tasting Village were located inside the village area instead of at the perimeter — saving festivalgoers the usual 15-minute hike to and from the mobile toilets.

Rev Run at the GTV celebrity demo.
Rev Run at the GTV celebrity demo.
Photo by Natalya Jones

Celebrity Demos Felt Intimate

Snagging a seat in the first row, not straining your neck, and getting a question answered by your favorite chef was definitely more attainable this year. This also permitted better quality picture taking and Instagram live videos. Chairs were grouped by two and spaced out, only adding to the intimate feel.

Vinya's Nicholas Garcia and Allegra Angelo.
Vinya's Nicholas Garcia and Allegra Angelo.
Photo by Laine Doss

Meet-and-Greet with Winemakers, Distillers, and Chefs

In past years, major events like the Burger Bash and GTV felt like cattle calls with brand ambassadors just pouring liquid into endless numbers of glasses shoved at them. This year, there was time to learn about the wine you were sipping and the origins of the organic vodka being poured. Alegra Angelo of Vinya Wines said the GTV was a great experience. "We got to know people, which was nice," she added.

Cookies from D’nomad Mangia
Cookies from D’nomad Mangia
Photo by Natalya Jones

Discovering New Eats

Despite the massive hit restaurants took during the pandemic, there were a refreshing bit of new ones that emerged. Ticketholders were introduced to new favorites at the GTV, including LoMelo’s Meat Market, Taco el Machine Gon, D’nomad Mangia Cookies, and InRamen. And, of course, Ted's Burgers, a pop-up that slings burgers at J. Wakefield Brewing on weekends, won big at this year's Burger Bash.

Night Owl Cookies' Andrew Gonzalez at Best of the Fest.
Night Owl Cookies' Andrew Gonzalez at Best of the Fest.
Photo by Laine Doss

Rediscovering Old Friends

At Best of the Fest, the SOBEWFF closing party was an inspired fete that celebrated past events like Lucky Chopsticks, Southern Kitchen Brunch, Paella & Tapas by the Pool, and Emeril’s Sugar Shack. It was also a chance to sample food from Miami's most loved eateries, including Ms. Cheezious, Night Owl Cookies, Dos Croquetas, Prime 112, and Coyo Taco.

No alcohol? No problem.
No alcohol? No problem.
Photo by Natalya Jones

More Dietary Options

This year, there was a surprising amount of eateries serving food that was more inclusive and a bit more healthy. Cookies from D’monad Mangia were gluten and dairy-free, Thatch served crispy cauliflower, Butler offered vegan eggplant lasagna, and Chef Shac served up a vegan "soul roll." Miracle Noodle boasted keto-friendly, gluten-free, plant-based noodles; and ZenB cooked up pasta made from yellow peas. Finally, there were plenty of options for non-drinkers, including sparkling water, mocktails, and nonalcoholic beer.

Geoffrey Zakarian and daughters at the Grand Tasting Village.
Geoffrey Zakarian and daughters at the Grand Tasting Village.
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg

Celebrity Sightings

Though COVID safety precautions nixed the ever-popular book signings at the Grand Tasting Village, there were still plenty of celebrity sightings. Giada De Laurentiis posed for pictures behind a plexiglass wall at Italian Bites, Guy Fieri and Rev Run crashed the Burger Bash, Geoffrey Zakarian and his daughters hosted a demo at the GTV, and a visibly touched Andrew Zimmern told fans he missed them this past year and that he would have crawled to Miami to participate in this year's festival if he had to.

Rev Run and Guy Fieri crashed the SOBEWFF Burger Bash.
Rev Run and Guy Fieri crashed the SOBEWFF Burger Bash.
Photo by World Red Eye

Keeping It Real

During SOBEWFF weekend, it's not unusual to spot Martha Stewart at Joe's Stone Crab, Alex Guarnaschelli at the Loews Hotel, or Geoffrey Zakarian sipping rosé at Soho Beach House. But if you were at 9Beach Latin Restaurant this past Thursday night, you might have spotted Guy Fieri having a late-night snack. Fieri then left a $5,000 tip to be distributed among the hard-working staff. That might have been the very best moment of the SOBEWFF 2021.

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