2016 Atlanta Food + Wine Festival Recap: One Country’s Best Culinary Events

This event gets better and bigger each year.
Staff Writer

Angel Postell

Piedmont Park provided the perfect backdrop for this year’s Tasting Events.

You can't help but feel the energy when you pull up each year to the Loews Atlanta Hotel for the annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival. Partners Dominque Love and Elizabeth Feichter have created and produced what has become one of the best culinary events of its kind.

Once you get out of the car, you're face-to-face with chefs and beverage professionals from all over the south who are lugging coolers filled to the brim with brisket, heirloom vegetables, and fresh seafood from their home town, all to serve to an international audience who comes in for the annual fete. There lots of hugs and high fives happening as you make way into the lobby. And not just any lobby. The place that folks hang at all hours to catch up, meet, and toast the successes and challenges of the year.

We’ve been coming since the inaugural year and things just get better over time. This is a major task since similar festivals have popped up in every known and unknown city around, but yet the organizers in Atlanta keep it fresh, and produce events and learning sessions that beg you want to come year after year.

Some of the highlights of this year:

  • Vineyard in the City: Yes, you heard correctly. The team decided it would be a fun experiment to see if a vineyard could grow successfully in a major metropolitan city. So amongst the high rise building flanking the area, eight grapevines from North Georgia, were planted in rows 12 feet long. It was such a cool place to hang for an event, whether a fancier dinner or a chef after party, you could not help but look at awe at what they had accomplished.

  • New Location and New Times for Tasting Event: It was a trek to get to Piedmont Park, but it was well worth it once there—the new location for this year’s Tasting Events. The park provided the perfect backdrop and again, you felt transplanted from a major city into a luscious and expansive park that allowed for various levels for participating chefs and beverage companies to set up under the tents.

    A night time session was added, which was an instant hit filled with thousands of folks. Somewhat lost was Jennifer V. Cole’s Southern Porch Party where she and friends chatted up various southern topics while sipping on a bourbon spiked drink, rocking in chairs. You felt like you were on her porch and we hope to see that space is expanded and highlighted more in the years to come.

  • Connoisseur Lounge: For those that splurged on a Connoisseur Badge, you had access to one of the best views of the hotel. Overlooking the sights of Atlanta, attendees could enjoy special events and parties, seminars, and a place to get a delicious cocktail or bite of food. One of the best ways to kick off the morning was the Visit Houston Breakfast featuring popular chefs from the area like Bryan Caswell, Richard Knight, and Marcus Davis. Knight of Hunky-Dory Tavern in Houston served a dish featuring with smokes salmon, herb rice, poached egg, and papadums with curry sauce that was a great boast for the full day ahead.

  • Learning Sessions: One of the best activities all weekend is the jammed packed schedule of learning sessions offered at the Loews. There are 10 plus options to choose from at any given time which makes for an extremely difficult decision on what to attend. The outdoor grilling classes are always entertaining and a great way to get some sun while watching a demo.

    The cocktail technique labs are extremely informative and depending on what time they start could result in a serious buzz before noon. David Wondrich hosted a class discussing the history of the Chatham Artillery Punch. As he shared documented stories of three different version of the punch, attendees were served a healthy portion. The laughs got deeper the further into the discussion and Dave’s breath of knowledge on the subject is remarkable.

  • Sunday Brunch: Our schedule did not allow us to stay for the Sunday Brunch but on paper the event looked to be one of the best. Chef Kevin Gillespie led the event and organized a Gunshow inspired dim sum service where chefs including John Currence, Jeremiah Langhorne, Justin Burdett, and Chris Stewart served carts of southern inspired brunch dishes.

  • Ballard Design Chairs: It was not an official event but the Ballard Design chairs were a standout at this year’s event. Partnering with Festival talent, various chefs sent a questionnaire in advance about their hobbies, personality, and favorite things that Ballard took to create custom chairs to match their responses along with a plate setting to complete a table setting. Attendees got a chance to peruse the designs and grab a recipe card placed at each chef area.

Must-see Atlanta places:

Aside from attending a schedule packed with events, we had the chance to go visit some new and long standing restaurants and bars not to miss:

  • Staplehouse: newly opened after years of plans and preparation, Staplehouse is well worth the wait. When the Wally World inspired painted garage door opens, it shows off the petite patio garden and seating area which leads around to the intimate dining interiors. After greeted by the owners including the chef cooking in the open space, you dive into either a tasting or an al la carte menu. Whatever you decide, be sure to order a round of puffs.

  • Revival: Chef Kevin Gillespie went the total opposite direction with Revival, a mom and pop type restaurant. You walk up to an extended porch filled with rocking chairs, and inside walls are filled with old timey photos and décor. The menu makes you feel like grandma is cooking your meal with lots of southern favorites—fried chicken, iron skillet corn bread, sides, pies, and more.

  • Miller Union: A trip to Atlanta is not complete without a visit to Steven Satterfield’s veggie centric Miller Union. Satterfield’s menu changes daily serving what is delivered in the backdoor by local farmers and purveyors. His vegetable dishes are some of the standouts, such as the trio of tartines or the ever changing veggie plate.

  • Linton’s: The newest restaurant by Chef Linton Hopkins and wife Gina, is as charming as they come. Located in the Atlanta Botanical Garden, this “garden-to-table” concept compliments his already established popular spots like Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch Public House. Be sure to order the salad or soup of the day and skillet chicken livers.

  • Amer: Looking for a place to get away and grab a cocktail, Amer is a place to visit. It is small and might be challenging to grab a seat, but be sure to get to the bar and order off the menu that is in sections—Shaken, Built, Stirred, and Sodas.

  • Ticonderoga Club: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you to raise your glasses and drink, Ticonderoga! Ticonderoga! Ticonderoga!” is just part of the story that describes this hot spot where Greg Best resides behind the bar at Krog Street Market. There is hoochy cider punch, fortified wines, a variety of special cups, and fine liquors which all pair well with the solid menu served.

  • Kimball House: There are so many treasures to find at the Kimball House. The décor makes you feel cozy and comforted, and a little bit academic with books and antiques on walls and shelves throughout. The bar is a great place to sit and order drinks from the informative team or grab a booth which is perfect for larger parties. They offer absinthe service and a caviar, raw bar, and a three course steak dinner.

  • The Fox Bros: Looking for you meat fix, look no further than Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q. Fixtures in the national and local barbecue scene, the two brothers/identical twins are some of the best pitmasters around. They are also some of the most giving, responding to any request to help a worthy cause, or friend in need.

Tickets go on sale in early 2017, so plan to attend next June 1-4. To learn more or to sign up to receive updates, visit www.atlfoodandwinefestival.com.

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