Every year, just before Atlanta gets too hot for comfort, the city undergoes a massive festival surge. April’s Dogwood Festival and beer-fueled SweetWater 420 Fest are perennial must-sees. But it’s May’s Atlanta Food & Wine Festival that takes top honors. Honestly, you’d do well to plan an entire trip around it.
Whether you’re an obsessive Food Network devotee, an avid home cook, an in-the-know foodie, a server, a chef or simply a person who loves to eat, drink and be merry, this sprawling annual fest has it all and makes its base in Midtown Atlanta. Opt for one, two, three or four days of festival-going (Dates this year include May 29 - June 1.), as you join fellow eaters and more than 250 chefs and mixologists from across the nation for exclusive dinners, tasting tents, presentations, classes and foodie chatter.
Small tastes vary from savory to sweet at the tasting tents. — Photo courtesy of Raftermen Photography / AF&WF
Loews Atlanta Hotel is the festival’s official hotel - so there’s a good chance you’ll rub elbows with that Top Chef alum you’ve been geeking out over - which will host a smattering of demos, classes and a daily breakfast (for connoisseur package ticket holders). Pick an interest, any interest. Chances are, this festival has a special presentation or class tailored to your favorite cuisine, led by an esteemed chef or food personality.
For instance, Chef Kevin Gillespie (Atlanta) will give the scoop on hillbilly grub; Chefs Edward Lee (Louisville, Kentucky) and Paul Qui (Austin, Texas) will lead a flavorful journey through South Korean cuisine; James Beard Award-winning chef Linton Hopkins (Atlanta) will talk about endangered heritage foods, including several from the South; Frank Stitt (Birmingham, Alabama) will reflect on food in Southern literature; and chocolatier Kristen Hard (Atlanta) will bare witness to raw chocolate’s phenomenal qualities.
From complicated plates to on-the-go comfort eats (like this King of Pops popsicle), Atlanta Food & Wine Festival is chockablock with good eatin'. — Photo courtesy of Raftermen Photography / AF&WF
When not polishing up on your kitchen know-how, walk three blocks over to 12th Street and Peachtree Walk, where tasting tents dominate. They're arranged in various “trails,” so you can plan your gorging on a theme. Examples include Bourbon, Craft Beer, Farm Fresh, Chicken, Seafood, Pork, Southern Sandwiches and Southern Wines.
Take your empty belly on an exploration through food and booze from more than 100 award-winning chefs (The selection of chefs changes daily.). This isn’t one of those festivals where you get a little bite of this, a little bite of that, then pull through a drive-through for some “real food.” No, sir. You’d be hard-pressed to find a way to eat up every booth . . . which is why this lasts for four days.
Gastronomes take over the lawn at the Atlanta History Center during the 2013 About South dinner. — Photo courtesy of Raftermen Photography / AF&WF
At night, sign up for one of the festival’s high-demand dinners for an unmatchable culinary experience. Cooking all-stars will team up to cook around different themes at locations around the city.
Case-in-point: Friday night’s About South dinner brings together 34 chefs (culinary royalty like Aaron Deal, Brooks Reitz, Ashley Christensen, Julian Van Winkle and Anne Quatrano) from 13 states for a Southern-inspired feast held on the bucolic lawn of Atlanta History Center. Dig in!
Tickets begin at $100. For more details, visit www.atlfoodandwine.com