Florida foodies will be out in force when the Seventh Annual Downtown Food & Wine Fest hits Orlando the weekend of Feb. 21 and 22. Some 30,000 attendees are expected to turn out for the extravaganza, which will feature dishes from 30 of the city’s premier restaurants and an array of domestic and international wines for pairing.
The event is presented and produced by CBS Radio Orlando and several local AM and FM favorites in partnership with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Fogo De Chao gives meat on a stick a churrasco upgrade — Photo courtesy of Downtown Food & Wine Fest
"Over the years, we’ve added national headline acts, DJs, sports bars, wine sampling opportunities and full liquor bars and beers to offer something for everyone," says Nick Smith, director of integrated marketing and events for CBS Radio Orlando. "Entering into our 7th year, we recognize it’s all about keeping the guests coming back and wanting more and challenge ourselves to take it to a new level."
In case you haven’t been paying attention, Orlando – for several years touted as an emerging gourmands’ destination – has arrived. Cited just last month in The New York Times’ "52 Places to Visit in 2015," alongside top-tier destinations such as Milan and Singapore, Orlando’s James Beard-nominated dining venues were among the reasons it made the grade.
Glittering Lake Eola serves as the festival's backdrop — Photo courtesy of Downtown Food & Wine Fest
This year, uber-local restaurants such as The Smiling Bison (which began its life as one of Orlando’s favorite food trucks before making the successful transition to brick-and-mortar) will be showcasing dishes, as will Primo Restaurant (located at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes), Siro (Orlando World Center Marriott) and Waterford Lakes-area newcomer Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant.
Live music is among the festival’s highlights. This year’s headliners are Billboard Music Award-Winners Lifehouse and famed Canadian rockers, Loverboy. "We’ve raised the bar for live entertainment. Not only have we diversified our local music talents from jazz and soul to pop and rock, we've also secured our biggest headliners yet. . ." says Smith. "There will also be a focus on creating a fun, upbeat dance environment featuring some of our hottest DJs in the 101.9 AMP Radio Liquid Lounge."
Booths will be stationed in the heart of downtown at Lake Eola and along Robinson Street. Advance online tickets are $15; $20 at the door. Kids under 12 are admitted free. Those extra hungry for al fresco sampling can do a two-day pass for $25, advance online purchase only. Food tickets will be available all day for $2 apiece; food and beverage offerings will run from 1-4 tickets each.
Little Black Dress is the official wine of the festival, but an impressive array of others will be on hand — Photo courtesy of Downtown Food & Wine Fest
Attendees are encouraged to grab an event guide and peruse all the offerings. "With over 100 menu items, you'll have plenty to choose from including your local favorites and those ‘always wanted to try' restaurants," Smith advises. He recommends the Wine Tasters’ Passport for true enthusiasts, noting it was a sell-out on the first day last year.
"And for the raving Fest fans, then it’s all about the Ultimate Fest Experience package. It not only includes tickets to sample the food and the Wine Passport but secures guests access to a VIP tent located directly next to the stage – they won’t miss any of their favorite acts!"