The brainchild of charming Southern entrepreneurs Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter, the inaugural Atlanta Food & Wine Festival has set out to celebrate Southern food, drink, and way of life. It's a great opportunity to talk with great chefs, taste some great food and drink, and experience the first year of an exciting new festival. For more about the festival, read an interview with the founders, and some participating chefs including: John Currence, Michael Paley, and Tim Love.
Follow the play-by-play on Twitter, and check in here regularly for updates on demos, chef sightings, food notes, a slideshow with scenes of the festival, and more. Let's go Atlanta!
DAY ONE: FRIDAY, 5/20
1:55 a.m. A twice-delayed flight leaving from New York meant hanging in LaGuardia's Delta terminal. It should be noted there are worse terminals to be stuck in. Best terminal for food in the tri-state? Is it really a question? There's the DiFara spin-off Tagliare, Bisoux, Lomonaco's Prime Tavern, LaFrieda burgers... rumors among employees at the terminal are that LaFrieda's fried chicken sandwich is the terminal's best grub. This segues into arriving in Atlanta.
It was too late to get to most of the city's exciting restaurants, but Atlanta is where Chick-fil-A got started and the original Chick-fil-A Dwarf House is open 24 hours a day. So the trip kicked off with a visit for my first Chick-fil-A at the place where it all started. Crunchy fried chicken with mustard, pickles, Pepper Jack cheese, lettuce and tomato on a sweet bun whose bottom gets pretty thin. Tight post-midnight meal.
Buckhead was jumping... already seeing some great food truck action including a New Orleans po' boy truck!
10:45 a.m. One of the amazing things about this festival is all the seminars — an embarrassment of riches. You end up in the dilemma of "I'd love to stick around after the Cathal Armstrong demo and interview Chris Lilly about barbeque, but gee, I have to go run to talk with Linton Hopkins at Restaurant Eugene to discuss, oh, I don't know, the state of the culinary world and his much-discussed burger." Impressive.
Cathal's Armstrong of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va., did a demo called "Egg Three Ways." He and his mixologist Todd Thrasher did a bang-up job serving omelets with gribiche and pisco sours. In a one-on-one interview afterwards, Cathal noted some of the D.C. ingredients that distinguish it and give it a signature culinary profile — among them, asparagus. "When it's in season we use it by the boatloads," noted Cathal. "And when it's over, that's it. We're done."'
Other tidbits? Cathal said Baltimore crab cakes are good, but D.C.'s are just as good, and could perhaps be called the city's signature dish. Also, he's opening a new restaurant in Alexandria next month. A pub on the water where you'll be able to watch the game, and get a great pint of Guinness. It will be called Virtue. Look out for the pig trotters.
12:30 p.m. Interviewed chef Linton Hopkins at Restaurant Eugene about the state of the culinary world, nourishing cooks, and of course, his storied Holeman & Finch burger. Did you know he is a cancer survivor? Linton noted that when he was going through treatment and lost his taste for food, the one thing he never lost his palate for was cheeseburgers. The Holeman & Finch burger is the burger he would make for himself. Tips for making a great burger at home? "Use a griddle." Also, he doesn't use pepper. Just salt. And Kraft cheese. Eating this burger this weekend, by the way (or on any trip to Atlanta) is a huge priority. It must happen. Been hearing about it since last November at the Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival.
1:35 p.m. The Bourbon, Bluegrass, and BBQ lunch on the terrace at the Four Seasons had great atmosphere with live music, cocktails made with Four Roses, and several tasty dishes. One of the cooks there noted how hot the girls were at the events and how much fun he was having. Party on single chefs! As for the food, there were some delicious barbeque boiled peanuts mixed with slow-cooked pork belly and topped with gratin. It's hot! In the high 80s, low 90s. Strawberry shaved ice with tequila and micro basil leaves helped refresh and tasted like summer.
1:56 p.m. Next big event is the tasting tents, which starts at 3 p.m. Taking the break in the action as an opportunity to hit The Varsity for the first time. Atlanta's drive-in burger and chili cheese dog institution.
2:45 p.m. Finally, The Varsity. The one I hit was a huge complex. Huge. Been hearing about The Varsity since Frank Bruni did his epic cross-country fast food eating tour in 2006 for The Times (if you haven't read it, check it out). Along with Culver's, The Varsity was one of Frank's two favorite stops in all of the country. I wouldn't go that far, but the burgers are pretty idiosyncratic. Why? There's something going on with the buns 'round these parts — they get condensed and sweeter. This is a greasy cheeseburger. Tasty, though more chili and cheese wouldn't hurt. Hey, if you're going to go messy, go all the way. Prefer the chili cheese slaw dog. Frank's right about the onion rings though — they rock. So does the chocolate milkshake, which is more like an icier Wendy's Frosty. "You ordered the mother lode," said the drive-in guy.
3:30 p.m. The Street Cart Pavilion preview meant that it was possible to get a glance inside one of the trucks. Jamie and Sean Dietrich of Dietrichs Fine Foods discussed what to serve surfers, an expertise they've built up by working Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. "With people coming off the beach, they've often done a lot of drinking, so you really need to fill them up." Also, when she first started consulting local government about setting up shop, there was a lot of "Shh, just do what you want to do, let's not complicate matters with government."