Eat It All Up

Eat It All Up
Words by Jennifer Kornegay

In the South, eating is often an event. Homegrown ingredients, family recipes and favorite dishes are tightly woven into our regional identity, so it’s no surprise we’ve got a bumper crop of food-focused festivals of all stripes and sizes to look forward to each year. But if you want to get the most bang for your food-fest buck, consider one of the South’s largest: The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, coming your way for its 12th year on September 20-24.

This king-sized culinary celebration held in Atlanta’s historic Fourth Ware Park highlights delectable edibles (and the folks who grow, make and prepare them) as well as libations like killer cocktails, plus the best brews and wines, in three Tasting Tent events. Each day offers a distinct immersive experience. Friday night kicks things off with Atlanta After Dark, featuring the first 50 tasting stations as well as a mixologist competition that enlists the crowd’s opinion to crown the winner. Saturday brings 50 different tasting stations, with Atlanta-area chefs as well as rock star culinary creators from around the South. And Sunday invites attendees to get their game faces on and score with another 50 tasting options that fuse food and football and have an emphasis on tailgating treats in perfect sync with the season. (There are also several curated, intimate dining experiences at area restaurants called Gourmet Gatherings starting on September 20 that are still to be announced, so check the festival’s website for details.)

The 2023 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival again benefits Children of Conservation’s school lunch program. And this year, the theme is “All Roads Lead to Atlanta,” creating a one-stop destination that gives you a grand tour of all things Southern food and drink. “The bringing together of chefs, mixologists and brands from across Atlanta and the South into one place is truly unmatched,” says Brett Friedman, CEO of a21, the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival production and management team. “It’s genuinely a fun, family friendly happening, and something different from everyone’s usual weekend routine. It’s really special to see guests engaging with the talent and everyone having the chance to share what’s special to them.”

This tribute to taste is packed with so much flavorful fun, you’re sure to find something to satisfy your appetite. And yet, the long list of chefs, mixologists and pit masters (more than 90!) can also be overwhelming. Never fear. We’ve enlisted an expert for help. Friedman shares how to take a bite out the big event like a pro.

Go All Out:

The idea of a festival like this is to “leave your wallet at home.” “Once you’re inside the tasting tents area, eat, drink and be merry; no need to purchase any additional expenses. Take advantage of that,” Friedman says. “All that to say, it’s not a race. You don’t have to feel like you need to hit every single table and try every single drink! Take a break between bites and drinks and head to a game or chef demo to refresh before you fuel up again.”

The Value of VIP:

“Buy VIP and take advantage of the early entry time for tasting tents – and if you can, better yet, buy a weekend package – you’ll save money on each ticket!” Friedman says.

Do Your Homework:

Research the roster of festival talent on the event’s website before you head out and make a list of who you’d definitely like to find. Once onsite, scan the scene and make a loose plan. “If you purchase a VIP ticket, you can enter an hour prior to general admission ticket holders and have the chance to roam the tasting tents without the big crowd. You can scope out restaurants you want to check out, go say hello, and get your day started,” Friedman says. “Even without VIP, arrive on the earlier side of things to be sure you can visit every table you’re interested in. While all of the restaurants prepare for a crowd, of course sometimes they inevitably run out of crowd-favorite bites.”

Chew & Chat:

Sure, your hands and mouth will probably stay pretty full of food, but don’t miss out on the chance to meet and talk to the chefs and other talent. “Try to visit as many tables as you can, and chat with the restaurant team! You can learn more about the food, the chef, the restaurant – that’s what these festivals are all about. These chefs and brands are here because they’re passionate about their work and their craft, and they want to share it with you,” Friedman says. “The same goes for the beverage partners; these brands are here for you. Hear their stories and try what they are offering.”

Dress (and Drink) for Comfort:

Check the forecast and dress or the temps and conditions expected. With summers swelter still likely hanging on even in late September, think shorts and a cotton knit shirt or a flowy dress. Pair your outfit with comfy shoes. “Sneakers or flat sandals are recommended,” Friedman says. “Either bring a purse you can wear on your body (like a crossbody or fanny pack), or don’t bring one. You will want your hands free for tasting.” Other must-haves: sunglasses and sunscreen. “And drink lots of water!” Friedman adds.

Stay Safe: Leave your car in park.

“Rideshare is always recommended. Not only is it the safest option if you’re planning to enjoy the drinks our mixologists and partners have to offer, but it alleviates any parking hassles,” Friedman says.

Beyond the Bites:

With so much amazing food up for grabs, it’s tempting to put your emphasis solely on eating, but set aside some time to learn from the masters and sharpen your kitchen skills. “Take advantage of the chef demos and other activities. You may be able to leave with a new recipe and/or taste something new!” Friedman says.