Recap: Atlanta Food & Wine Festival 2016
Sorry I’ve been MIA lately. These last couple of months have been insanely busy and between travel, family time, and work, I simply haven’t had a second to pull my thoughts together and write!
That said I have SO MUCH to write about. Trips to Charleston, Chicago, and Atlanta made for some incredible dining experiences, so even though it might take me a while to get them all posted, you better believe I will share. I’m going to work my way backwards by starting with Atlanta. Earlier this month, I attended my fifth Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, and appropriately, probably put on 5 pounds.
As most of you that have been reading my blog know, I do double duty for many events, including AF&WF. While my career with Goo Goo has me working hard at the tasting tents and spreading the Goo Goo Gospel all weekend, I also try to fit in as many educational classes as I can in the hours the tents aren’t open. This year there were a couple of classes that were favorites.
First, Southern Living’s “Test Kitchen Secrets” demo where I got to chow down on an Open Faced Tomato Sandwich with Creamy Cucumber Spread and Smashed Fried Okra. Gah, I really think I could live on fresh tomatoes. Can’t wait until our famers’ markets here in Nashville are brimming full of them!
My other favorite class was “Forgotten Ingredients” on the grilling deck with Steve McHugh of TX and Travis Milton of VA.
These guys did a great job giving us all a history lesson on regional cuisines and ingredients that have been forgotten over time. We were reminded that Native Americans were the original chefs, and played a significant role in shaping Southern food, particularly in Appalachia and the Ozarks. They cooked Trout with sumac and black locust vinegar (sooo good!) and a Prickly pear mesquite cobbler, both on a Big Green Egg.
The 2016 Goo Goo Girls
Then, of course, there were the tasting tents. Three days of so much food & drink — it was impossible to try it all! As always, I had to be strategic and keep the belly space available for dishes that either sounded super interesting or just really decadent. Then there were also the surprises that perhaps I bypassed initially because I thought they were too basic, but then heard from others were awesome. Of course, then I was forced to hunt them down. Because that’s my job, ya know?
On Friday, the first day of the tasting tents, this Brisket on mac & cheese from Grand Champion BBQ (GA) was the surprise dish of the day. I mean, I like brisket, but it’s one of those things I felt like I could eat on any given day, so I passed it by. That was, until I heard from one of my co-workers how delicious it was.
Actually, it was beyond delicious…definitely my favorite bite of the first day. And yes, I went back a second time. And maybe a third. Shhhh.
Just across the aisle in the Southern Road Trip tent I found a much lighter bite – Meyer Lemon Mousse with saltine cracker streussel and sea salt made by City Grocery (MS). I could have eaten about 10 of these spoons, but alas, I practiced self control and only ate two.
If there is a chicken skin anywhere in sight, I’m eating it. And I definitely was not disappointed with these Crispy chicken skins with whipped feta and spicy honey by Parish (GA). Whipped feta and honey, people. It’s all the rage. (as I learned at Butcher & Bee Nashville)
The most beautiful dish I encountered was PintPoint Restaurant’s (NC) Smoked black grouper cheeks wrapped in shiso pickled sea bean and radish, cucumbers, preserved lemon and local mullet roe bottarga. Yeah, I don’t even know what all that stuff is either, but it was certainly interesting!
Other standouts over the weekend were (clockwise from upper left):
Porter Road Butcher (TN) steak with chimichurri
chilled zellwood corn soup with local shrimp, hearts of palm, coconut, peach, and chili from Amelia Island’s (FL) table
5Church (GA) cheddar cheese angioletti with spring peas
Two Ten Jack (TN) ahi tuna poke with apple, radish, chili oil
One of the best simple dishes I encountered was the Bulls Bay Sea Salt (SC) Tomato & Corn Salad with red mash sea salt. Super light and cool, it was refreshing in the heat, particularly after a few days of tasting some heavier dishes.
In addition to all the food, there is always an abundance of great drinking options at Atlanta Food & Wine. In fact, there may be more “drinks” than there are “eats”, and while most are alcoholic, there are still some great non-alcoholic products to be discovered too. I was happy to stumble upon Slingshot Coffee Co’s Cold Brew, and also thrilled to hear the story from the owner about how she just won Entrepreneur of the Year 2016 from Southern Living magazine! Even more exciting – we can purchase it here in Nashville at Whole Foods!
And now for my favorite two dishes of the entire weekend…
At Eat Local Starkville (MS), Ty Thames was serving up a molasses braised pork cheek on bone marrow grits with herb cream, curry fried raisins and apple dust. Holy schmoly you guys. I mean, I can’t even tell you how great this was. The pics definitely don’t do it justice.
I still haven’t stopped thinking about it, and definitely want to try to recreate it some day for friends.
Last but certainly not least, Hattie B’s (TN) hot chicken bite actually won “Best of the Fest”. Over the 3 day festival, attendees voted with wooden tokens for their favorite dishes, and Hattie B’s racked up the most tokens, earning them a $1,000 prize from PNC Bank.
Talk about some hometown pride. While I eat Hattie B’s hot chicken on the regular here in Nashville, there was certainly something special about that little piece they were serving up at Atlanta Food & Wine.
So there you go. A little glimpse into my experience at this year’s festival. If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend, and live within driving distance of Atlanta, I really encourage you to make plans to go next year. Every year has gotten better and better, and I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings!