Was the inaugural Atlanta Food & Wine Festival just a chance to get a little tipsy and eat amazing food, or will the event help drive Atlanta's food renaissance?
I spent five hours perusing the festival on Saturday. I thought that would be enough time to take the temperature of Atlanta's food scene, talk to a few attendees and experience a few delicious new items (food and otherwise).
My first stop: Kevin Ouzts' 9 a.m. charcuterie session. Ouzts, who produces locally-sourced meats as the Spotted Trotter, currently works in a very small rented space, so he mostly deals his goods at farmers' markets. During the session, he told the audience that he'll be moving into a 1,300-square-foot building in Kirkwood with a storefront next month. Then he let us taste a bit of what he'll soon be offering on a larger scale. Tete presse and lamb tongue terrine are not on my normal breakfast list, but after Ouzts’ presentation and delicious snacks, I was excited about delving farther into the festival. He also gave us a bit of salami and pepperoni — meats that stood heads-and-shoulders above typical Kroger fare.
My next chance to sample somewhat local wares came at the “Beer and Cheese” discussion, which was packed with about 60 people. In the session, Steve Hayes offered up some of Terrapin Beer’s standbys — the perennial Hopsecutioner and the seasonal SunRay Wheat and Monk’s Revenge — matched up with cheeses picked by Star Provisions’s cheesemonger, Tim Gaddis. After sitting through that tasting, I guarantee that my cheese-beer diet will consist of Monk’s Revenge and a wedge of Georgia Red. The cheese, produced by Flat Creek Lodge of Swansboro, Ga., was one of the most exciting bites I tasted all day. For a solid summer standby, try pairing a fresh goat cheese by Sweet Grass Dairy with a taste of SunRay.
I wandered up to Hayes after the panel to talk about Terrapin’s special collaboration releases with Left Hand Brewing Company. I’ve had one of their recent beers on my mind permanently, but unfortunately, there are no plans for another run of Depth Charge — that heavenly espresso milk stout released in 2009. Terrapin and Left Hand are planning another special release for July, however, and Terrapin is close to unveiling a barley wine experiment, he said.
Panel sessions with beer and meat are all well and good, but the real action went down at the tasting tents. Tickets for this free-for-all food- and booze-a-thon were offered separately from the panels, and it seemed like taking advantage of just the tasting tickets was a popular option. The chefs in the tents weren’t Southeast-centric, but in the span of an hour, I tasted a lot of barbeque — fall-off-the-bone ribs, decadent pork belly and a succulent pulled duck sandwich. Ample flavors of alcohol — wine varietals a-plenty, craft beer and a handful of bourbons — helped me wash down my meal.
So is the festival simply a chance to drink and eat or does it mean something more for Atlanta? The city’s been on the food map for a while — just turn on Top Chef or other cooking programs — but the Food & Wine Festival will help bring foodies from other areas together at once. Walking around the event, I met people from as far away as Pennsylvania and as close as Florida that had journeyed to Atlanta for a taste of what the city has to offer.
In fact, I spoke with a fellow beer lover after the Terrapin session. We chatted about IPAs and special release beers for a bit before he offered up a few words that may or may not change my life forever -- sour beer. I’ll let you know how it goes.