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All the Bites, Booze, and Lessons Learned During Atlanta Food & Wine Festival 2017

Atlanta’s biggest culinary party went down over the weekend in Midtown

Reentry into civilized society is always rough after four days of gluttonous food, strong drinks, and late-night partying during the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival. In its seventh year, the festival continues to evolve along with the Southern food narrative by bringing in talent from around the South and the world’s southern-most regions. Classes dug deep into everything from mezcal and Franciacorta wines to Louisiana seafood and street foods like fried chicken and tamales. Weather again plagued the Piedmont Park tasting tents, nearly washing out Saturday evening with a brief evacuation due to lightning and Sunday afternoon with a 30-minute delayed opening due to heavy rain. But the crowds, chefs, and bartenders returned unfazed by Georgia’s finicky June weather to turn the tents into one big (and wet) Southern tailgate party.

So, without further adieu, we give you Eater Atlanta’s highlights, observations, and photos from the seventh annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.

Thursday

Chef Sean Brock was seen walking down Peachtree Street looking quite determined and serious. One observer decided not to poke the bear and felt it best to just walk away.

That being said, if anyone has seen Brock’s Butterpat Industries cast iron skillet, someone swiped it during the festival and he would really like it back. Do the right thing, thief.

Louisiana won the evening during Destination Delicious at The Stave Room at ASW Distillery with a smorgasbord of seafood delights that included crawfish, towers of oysters, shrimp, and whole crabs. At one point, the line was to the door.

There was no shortage of whiskey at the festival kickoff event, which included big boys like Bulleit and Four Roses and craft distilleries like Tennessee’s Belle Meade and hometown favorite and host ASW Distillery.

Folks heeded the advice of festival organizers all weekend to not drink and drive and opted to Lyft and Uber around town. As Thursday’s event drew to a close, people lined the entrance to the parking lot waiting for their rides. One reveler was overheard asking, “How many people can we fit in our Lyft? Like a clown car?

Friday Sessions

In Jason Tesauro’s sake class, one particular sake made an attendee exclaim, “It tastes like an after-Saturday run!” That may or may not have been a good thing.

Another sake attendee noted that, “Shower sake should a be a thing … like shower beers or shower rose or sometimes shower Champagne if you’re feeling extra fancy.”

Tesauro described another sake as one that is for “... the drinking pros or the Japanese businessman who wants to throw down with his buddies at night but be fresh and clean the next day.”

Overheard on the conference floor: “Come to the terrace because we have snapper and beer!” “All of my pants are drinking pants.” “Have you seen my left shoe? It seems to have gotten up and walked off.”

Overhead during Neal Bodenheimer and Ryan Gannon’s Happy Hour class: “Happy hour is the best hour!” “Happy hour starts with the Navy. It was about a seamen, not booze.” “Make America great again … at happy hour.”

In reference to her hometown of Baltimore: “We have crabs!” advanced sommelier, Julie Dalton exclaimed. “Oh really, Julie?” advanced sommelier, Jacob Gragg remarked. We all revert to middle school humor in the end.

Julie Dalton recalled the moment she realized beer and cheese pairings were the superior combination: “I remember the moment when I really began to appreciate beer. I attended a class on beer vs. wine with cheese. We had six different cheeses and six different beers and wines. It was the moment I realized that this whole wine with cheese thing is bullshit.”

There was no shortage of zingers from advanced sommelier Eric Crane in Beer: The Sommelier's Perspective session:

  • “We have a lot of beer, and it’s a choose-your-own adventure seminar. We’re not leaving this room until all of this beer is consumed.”
  • “I would like an aged Corona, please.”
  • Last year it was #quenchy which, as it turns out, made it onto an official festival tasting tent sign. This year’s Crane hashtags included: #lotsofturbidity #turbidfordays.
  • “Pro tip. The best snack is Champagne and Kettle chips.”
  • “Do you know how to order a Stella Artois in a bar? If you’re in a really geeky bar and you order a pint of Stella Artois (pronouncing the final ‘s’) and they correct you saying ‘the ‘s’ is silent.’ Okay, I’ll take a Tella Artois (pronouncing the final ‘s’). Their heads explode. You’ll actually taste anger in the beer. It’s the greatest.”

Saturday Sessions

In the Science of Taste class with Anne Quatrano, she and her fellow chefs were doling out nerdy seasoning tips:

  • “Add bit of salt to coffee to neutralize the bitter taste.”
  • “Juice a mushroom for a great option for umami flavor.”
  • “Basic start to a great dish: salt, chili flakes, lemon, garlic, and olive oil.”

After the Ingredient Spotlight: South Carolina class, one attendee was overheard saying, “Oh my god, I’m so stuffed, I need more rosé.”

During Oh, Baby, I Like it RAW!, Drinking coach and Avion Tequila ambassador Tiffanie Barriere had this to say: “Rum was for pirates. Tequila was for warriors. Think about that before you drink.”

On a serious drinking note, Ticonderoga Club’s Greg Best disclosed why the suppressor cocktail became a thing for him as a bartender: “Atlanta is a driving town. It’s a conundrum for bartenders as mixing that last drink could be the next wreck.”

New Orleans’s Neal Bodenheimer of Cure agreed, saying of low-abv cocktails, “People want to drink with a little more mindfulness now.”

Empire State South’s Kellie Thorn said of aperitif cocktails, “There’s something very Southern about the spritz or low-abv cocktail. They are refreshing on a hot day, which we have a lot of down here.”

Overheard during Mezcal: A Perfect Pairing with father-and-son team chef Mark Abernathy and Brett Bassett: “Are these bugs organic? Fair trade?” “There are ground caterpillars on the orange.” “Mezcal + bugs = hangover cure! Who knew?”

The BevCon lounge was the place to be between sessions at the Loews for weary journalists and talent looking for cocktails, bourbon, and Champagne. Also, swigs from a giant flask. Bartenders included Charleston’s Jayce McConnell of Edmund’s Oast, Chapel Hill’s Gary Crunkleton, former H. Harper Station barkeep Jerry Slater, and Empire State South’s Kellie Thorn.

Pro tip: When your stomach is angry, have a bartender whip you up an impromptu amaro tonic with High Wire Distillery’s Southern Amaro, a dash of bitters, and a splash of bourbon.

Leave it to drinks historian David Wondrich to give us a little posey prose: “Peach trees were growing all over the fucking place in America. And, they weren’t just growing. Their limbs were groaning with fruit.”

Chef Travis Milton describes the flavor profile of Appalachia: “Savory, vinegar, and liquor.”

Milton then served up a passionate session on the apple stack cake, which included a piece of cake that represented four generations: “This is my family tree on a plate.” It was delicious.

Overheard in the Loews lobby on the Saturday evening: “This festival should be renamed the Atlanta Booze & More Booze Festival.”

Tasting Tents

A beautiful first evening of tasting tents had many people opting to walk the mile from the Loews to Piedmont Park rather than taking the shuttles.

Nashville-based Hattie B’s Hot Chicken (which is working on a local outpost) was in the house at the tents bringing the the fiery yardbird that turned out — to everyone’s surprise — to be the most delicious hot quail ever. We washed ours down with a shot of Belle Meade Bourbon madeira cask and Hattie B’s frozen Old Fashioned.

The Glennfiddich Dome featured all the scotch and a club-like environment with oonce-oonce music and purple lighting.

The heat was down but the humidity was up, prompting one tasting tent attendee to ask about “those magical battery-powered fans” from last year’s tents.

Fruitland Augusta’s yellow tumblers gave pause: “At least my liver is peachy.”

But the peach shortage in Georgia was on everyone’s minds this weekend, including founder Dominique Love, who stated via Twitter that festival kitchen manager Gena Berry may have been consuming the very last peach in the world.

Saturday night brought storms and a brief evacuation to the Sage parking deck. In the true spirit of Southern hospitality, whiskey was being passed around by bartenders and chefs to satiate the soaked crowd. Safety and whiskey first, y’all. That’s how we do T-storms in the South.

Heavy rain wasn’t stopping the folks from Porter Road Butcher in Nashville from making sausage at the tasting tents, as seen via their Instagram feed.

The crowds gathered once again around the huge pan of paella filled with mussels down at the Fox Bros. tent.

The crew at Atlanta’s Old Fourth Distillery were keeping folks cool all weekend with G&Ts and shots of Lawn Dart at the tents.

Martinis and oysters from The Darling in Charleston in the connoisseur tent were a classy AF way to wait out the rain.

Sunday brought a 30-minute rain delay and the day’s unofficial festival attire: rain boots, Tito’s ponchos and muddy legs. No one seemed to mind.

General Observations

Instagram’s Boomerang feature was all the rage this weekend, especially with those capturing bartenders double shaking tins of cocktails or sommeliers pouring wine.

“Covfefe” was the unofficial word of the weekend as overheard in many sessions to describe, well, just about anything unusual or for lack of a better word. Old New Orleans Rum included it in their cocktail Covfefe Punch at the tents.

T-shirts that caught our eye during the festival:

  • Sex, pork, & rock and roll
  • “Shut up liver, you’re fine.”
  • “Margaritas made me do it.”
  • “I wish you were pizza.”

One attendee made a poignant yet light-hearted political statement, “Earth is for lovers.” We agree.

Speaking of attire, this year’s sock game was on point including the festival’s kitchen manager Gena Berry, whose socks were stitched with her unofficial title, “Ringmaster of the Shit Show.”

For those who chose to off-road, this year’s festival brought pop-ups at Ticonderoga Club with late night menus, a Welcome to Georgia Party and a spritz brunch with author and editor-in-chief of online drinks site Punch Talia Baiocchi. On Saturday morning, folks headed west to Riverside for Erika Council’s biscuits and cinn-rolls paired with Perc Coffee at Bryan Furman’s B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque.

The festival went sustainable this year. There were multiple sightings throughout the weekend of the gang from Compost Wheels picking up bins of food waste to turn into rich compost for local farmers. Did you sign up for home service yet?

Finally, for those keeping score, the koozie-collecting game was strong this year. Shout out to Eater managing editor and Atlanta expat Sonia Chopra, who would be very proud.

City Guides

An Eater’s Guide to Atlanta

Coming Attractions

Houston All-Day Brunch Hot Spot Taste Bar and Kitchen Heads to Atlanta

Pop-Ups

Mexican Street Food Pop-Up Gorditas ATL Lands a Decatur Restaurant Residency

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