There is a difference between enjoying food and being a foodie. And if you have any doubt about where you fall on the food-appreciation spectrum, I have an easy litmus test: Go to the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. I just got back and I’m still testing positive for foie gras and gout. If you sliced my finger, cabernet would pour out. I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining, given that you’re probably reading this on your morning commute while mushing your sled dogs, but stuffing your face in Miami turns out to be more challenging than you’d expect.
The first night, you walk into a vast conference room where there seems to be about a thousand booths proffering food or drink. They hand you a wine glass with a lanyard, the purpose of which becomes clear the moment you find yourself with a plate and a splash of vino—congratulations, you’ve got glutton’s handcuffs. The solution is to hang your glass around your neck like a mare’s feedbag, except instead of oats you have a half-ounce of the 2011 malbec. You might think the Riedel amulet makes you look like a tool, but I assure you, it makes you look like a giant tool.
We’re there early, but already the joint is shoulder-to-shoulder with Miami’s most discerning food snobs, lined up so deep you’d think some of the booths were giving out free plastic surgery. Those who aren’t waiting in line tend to wander aimlessly from table to table in search of the next plate, the Walking Fed. Arrrr! Brains! Or actually, pancreas. I wolf down a plate of sweetbreads before Googling “What are sweetbreads?” Hint: Sweetbreads are neither sweet, nor bread.
Over the next two hours, I eat some amazing things. I just can’t tell you what they were, because it’s all a blur of tiny plates and swigs of wine. I eat and drink all night, yet never get full or drunk because each portion and each pour is tiny. I know they plan it that way so that you can try lots of different things, but I’m still sort of hoping I discover some secret room where they hand you a whole burger and a pint of IPA.
The next day is more of the same, arranged beneath tents on the beach. Now there’s hard liquor and a Hard Rock Cafe, complete with dancing bikini girls atop a platform near the entrance. It’s safe to say the daytime event has a trashier vibe, which is A-OK with me. As before, custom seems to dictate that you pretend to be really interested in everything you’re eating and drinking. You swish your wine around and say, “Oh, 2013? That was a good year for wine. I’ll try that.” Then you pound your sip of wine and storm off to the next booth to repeat the charade.
Strangely, many of the restaurants seem to be serving uncharacteristic items—the Sushi Samba booth is slinging pork skewers. Come on, Sushi Samba. I came to the Skynyrd concert, I wanna hear “Free Bird.” Now where’s that tuna belly?
Eventually you reach a moment of reckoning. You realize that you’ve been swigging booze on the beach and the diuretics are kicking in. You’ve got to find the bathrooms, and mankind has yet to hold an outdoor festival that has satisfactory bathroom facilities. If you’re going to a festival in a foreign land, the first phrase you should learn is “Are you done in there?”
Indeed, the toilets are where the festival’s thin veneer of civility falls apart. You fought for that wine, buddy, and you’re gonna fight to get rid of it, too. There are two classy porta-potties, the ones that look like nice little movie-star dressing rooms, flanked by about 20 of the plastic nasty kind that accurately recreate the smell of a medieval Viking dungeon. Naturally, there is no line for the latter. And also no line for the men’s star trailer. So my wife, Heather, says, “Screw it, I’m just using that one,” and walks right up to the men’s trailer. “You go, girl!” shouts one of the Hard Rock go-go dancers over in the women’s line.
But Heather quickly realizes that she’s misjudged, assuming the bathroom was a one-hitter. Instead, she opens the door to find a row of urinals and two stalls, both occupied. There’s a line of dudes crowded just inside the door, waiting for the stalls. She gives up and heads over to the Viking dungeons.
However, Hard Rock Girl follows Heather’s lead to the men’s room, and as I’m standing at the urinal I hear her behind me pleading with a guy who’s waiting for a stall. “I’ll be quick!” she says. “I just have to pee!” He replies, “Well, I’m gonna crap my pants!” Welcome to high society.
So, am I a foodie? Given that I walked straight off the beach in search of pizza, I guess not. But I do enjoy wearing my wine glass. Sometimes a burger needs two hands.