Cocoa Beach Uncorked doesn't try to be cool; it just is. It’s the Bruno Mars of food festivals. Cocoa Beach Uncorked is held about 50 minutes east of Orlando on Florida’s Space Coast. If you’re not from the area and, like me, had never heard of the term “Space Coast” before, it’s an area of Florida encompassing 72 miles of Atlantic coastline including Cocoa Beach, Melbourne, Port Canaveral (of Disney Cruise Line fame), Titusville, Palm Bay, and Viera. This was the second year for the two-day food and wine festival, which features local cuisine, brews, cocktails, and wine under a breezy (and rather elegant) white tent right on the beach.
Fifty exhibitors offered 2,500 attendees an array of culinary delights. Standout dishes included tuna poke from Fishlips Waterfront Bar and Grill (spoiler alert: I loved it so much, I went there for dinner on Sunday to order even more poke), Tequila Azul’s scratch-made guacamole, Playalinda Brewing Co.’s pork belly with fig jam, beer cheese dip, and shrimp and scallop ceviche, and Coasters Taphouse’s watermelon gazpacho with tomato, roasted bell pepper, grilled zucchini, basil, and crab.
Cocoa Beach Uncorked is a shoes-optional event. In fact, Uncorked offers a shoe check in lieu of a coat check so guests can enjoy their food and wine samplings barefoot on the beach. Does a food festival get any more chill than that? The playlist alone is enough to love Uncorked: “Eye of the Tiger,” “Jessie’s Girl,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and more ‘80s hits kept the crowd dancing all afternoon. Spring for VIP tickets if you want a seat; the VIP tent has chic inflatable couches and chairs so you can curl up with your plate and watch the waves as you sample everything.
Many attendees were locals, but the proximity to an international airport and abundance of hotels within a five-minute drive makes Cocoa Beach Uncorked a prime festival for foodies across the country. We stayed just a mile down the beach at Hilton Cocoa Beach and could technically have walked to the festival.
I had the pleasure of serving as a judge for the Cocoa Beach Uncorked Chef Competition on Saturday morning. One of my favorite entries was by Chef Justin of Playalinda Brewing Co., who was a real standout across the board. The competition entry was a fresh take on steak and eggs: a quail egg, pancake foam (you heard me), maple vinaigrette, and bacon jam. It’s basically breakfast on a plate. The pancake foam melted in your mouth and screamed breakfast. The deeply flavorful bacon jam, I’m told, is available on their burger at the restaurant. Sign me up!
Another favorite dish in the food competition was Chef Ryan’s entry for Bonefish Grill: diver scallops with corn, chorizo, and polenta cakes. This featured corn in three ways: The creamed corn sauce, corn relish, and corn cake finished with a spicy crawfish creole sauce. It was fun to see such a Southern take on scallops.
The standout dish and winner of the Chef Competition was Chef Jeff’s entry for Rising Tide. Bear with me, because if I read this description or saw this dish on TV, I would probably roll my eyes but I’m here to tell you: This is one of the best dishes I have ever eaten. Chef Jeff served Landseair Sangria, a perfectly cooked scallop with juniper berries, peppercorns, carpaccio, sorbet, and strawberry dust. I know the combination sounds weird but the dish tasted like fairies whipped it up in a magical realm. It was unlike anything I’d ever eaten before. It was cold, creamy, crunchy, and unbelievably innovative. I felt like I was eating the future of food. My compliments to the chef. If you want to try sorbet with fish, Rising Tide serves a blood orange sorbet with tuna at its Port Canaveral restaurant.
In addition to eating and drinking to their hearts’ content, guests of Cocoa Beach Uncorked could also enjoy about half a dozen cooking demos each day, including a pig roast on Sunday. Each cooking demo ended with a tasting sample and a take-home recipe. Chefs were happy to mingle with the crowd, taking time to tell you about their respective restaurants. I never felt rushed in line. In fact, this was one of the happiest crowds I’ve ever seen. Everyone was dancing barefoot in the sand, wine glass swinging from a lanyard as they walked from booth to booth to hear about all the culinary delights Florida’s Space Coast has to offer.
For more information, visit the festival’s website. Travel expenses were provided by Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism. Tickets were provided by Cocoa Beach Uncorked. Opinions are my own.