Three hours after my friend Grace called last week with a spare ticket to a recent Wine and Dine Expo, I was walking into the Exhibit Hall at the Wisconsin Center.
Exhibit halls. They make airplane hangars look intimate. The Wine & Dine airplane hangar was a sea of tables, counters and demo stations. The tables and counters were laden with bottles, chafing dishes, disposable plates and cutlery, cocktail napkins in every color of the rainbow and all the shades in-between. And we won’t even talk about the business cards and information sheets, which, if collected and given to a family with a fireplace, would probably have been enough to heat their house for winter.
My admission ticket got me a wine glass and bag to carry my share of those cards and information sheets, and I spent $3 on a plastic tray with a cutout for the wine glass. Which turned out to be a smart move. Between the cheese-tasting station and various restaurants handing out samples of their signature dishes, it was easy to pile up more than was possible for a two-handed person to manage.
The event was aptly named – I’d estimate that “Wine” (which, for purposes of this event also included beer and hard liquor) outnumbered “Dine” by at least 2:1. I’ve always preferred to eat my calories than drink them. So the exhibitors who took “Best in Show,” a category for which I served as judge and jury, were food purveyors. “Most Original” was, well, most original.
Here are the award winners:
- American Skillet Co., “Most Original”
These cast-iron pans are the ideal blend of fabulous and insane. Because they’re in the shape of states. I now have a fantasy about buying a set of 50 and throwing a brunch party in which I serve a US map made entirely of pancakes.
- Mr. Dye’s Pies, “Best in Show”
The company’s slogan is “What are Grandma’s Gonna Do Now?” His sweet potato pie was a slice of heaven. Every tiny plastic spoonful was another chance to savor its satiny texture and the perfect blend of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and other flavors. He also had a key lime, which was equally good.
- Wausome Foods, “Best in Show”
They make crackers out of cheese. Five flavors, the best of which is their Colby/Swiss. there are also Cheddar, Jalapeno Pepper Jack, Bleu. These things are crispy, tasty and crunchable. That study that claimed cheese as addictive as crack? These crackers will do nothing to dispel that. The good news is that you can get them in portion-controlled serving sizes. Also, they’re from Wausau and they’re awesome.