My pants have been loosened, my hangover has dissipated, and I’m now ready to recap the general awesomeness that was the 2016 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival (AFWF), which took place June 2-5. From the second the festival began until the last fork hit the plate, there were a solid three days of back-to-back events all revolving around the rich food and beverage traditions of the Southern region. A second didn’t go by that I wasn’t impressed or entertained by the planning and involvement that happened on all levels. But blah, blah blah — all you really care about is the food and drinks, so let’s get to it.

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Welcome to the 2016 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival! Who’s ready for something tasty?!

Atlanta Food & Wine Festival: Vineyard in the City

One of the coolest features of the 2016 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival was the pop-up vineyard, the first of its kind in the United States. Located on 14th Street across from the Four Seasons Hotel, this urban oasis was such a neat sight to see and discover — a little piece of Napa Valley in the middle of Atlanta’s busy Midtown district.

Events happened at this location throughout the weekend, including a wine luncheon, master classes for those with proper tickets and a VIP Sunday brunch, which was a great way to appreciate the power of food and wine in a setting where it all originates. Besides the trellised grapevines and bars, the temporary vineyard featured bocce courts and comfortable seating (including much-needed shade trees).

But here’s the best part: The vineyard will stay in place through June 30 for private events and community use. So if you missed checking out this special little green spot within the surrounding concrete jungle, you’re not too late!

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Vineyard in the City was such a unique experience to have, right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Midtown.

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Can you believe this is metropolis Atlanta and not somewhere in Northern California?!

Atlanta Food & Wine Festival: Tasting Tents

Anybody who knows me knows that I have a tough time at the buffet. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been a lifelong member of the Clean Plate Club or maybe that I eat with my eyes and not my stomach. Either way, I cannot say, “No,” when portion limits go out the door, which is why AFWF’s Tasting Tents are so good (and bad) for someone like me — quite literally a smorgasbord of options!

Piedmont Park housed the epicurean event of the year that is the Tasting Tents on Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Armed with a media badge, a notebook and pen, and a camera, I had the enviable job of tasting every bowlful, spoonful, plateful, napkinful, cupful and any other paper product that was full of something delicious. Going from sweet to savory to spicy to bubbly to tasty to just plain boozy (we’re looking at you, Palmetto Moonshine), this was an epicurean journey I didn’t want to disembark.

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Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, based out of Nashville, sure was hot … and delicious.

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I enjoyed looking at Palmetto Moonshine’s concoctions, but I couldn’t handle doing much more than that.

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Doesn’t this barbecuing contraption from Fox Bros Bar-B-Q remind you of those amusement park swings that go higher and higher as they rotate? Wonder what these birds looked like before they got on the ride?!

It’s impossible to mention every exhibitor that showed up to serve us lucky festival goers — there were hundreds of amazing businesses and brands from across the American South and Southern regions around the globe. Here were a few of my favorites:

  • Orgasmic food: The banana pudding gelato from Mississippi’s Sweet Magnolia Gelato Co. It was sweet, creamy and tasted exactly like banana pudding in ice cream form.
  • Snazziest drink: Cucumber Basil Smash from Hendrick’s Gin was refreshing, flavorful and I literally went back for thirds (don’t worry, I didn’t drive home)
  • Best pitch: The team from O&O Hooch, a fizzy limeade mixer. I already thought my “Hoocharita” was good, but it only got better after speaking with the passionate people behind the Sullivan’s Island, SC, brand.
  • Best swag: Besides all the great drinks Old Fourth Distillery was serving, they were handing out free T-shirts, tank tops and other branded merchandise.
  • Best cooking method that looked like a ride: The vertical, hanging barbecue swing by Fox Bros Bar-B-Q was not just a sight to behold; it was a snack to devour.
  • Prettiest display: It’s not a hard gig to market chocolate to the masses. However, French Broad Chocolates maintained a delicate, lovely display among melting conditions.
  • Tastiest flavors: EVERYONE!
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I got a thumbs up for my newly earned “hoochie mama” status at O&O Hooch.

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My favorite variety of French Broad Chocolates was the fresh raspberry — sweet and tart!

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Foie gras on ice still tastes great in the heat.

Atlanta Food & Wine Festival: Learning Experiences

Throughout the three days, festival goers had the opportunity to hone their skills (or develop non-existent ones like for me) during a variety of demonstrations, technique laboratories, pairing sessions, panel discussions, cooking classes and tasting seminars.

I attended the Southern Living Test Kitchen Secrets class, taught by Southern Living‘s own Robby Melvin, who taught us how to recreate some of the tastiest recipes from the magazine. The class was about all things summer, specifically focusing on tomatoes, cucumbers and okra. Robbie shared a lot of ways to make easy recipes even easier, like impressing guests with a super easy-to-make open-faced cucumber sandwich with tomato, or dishing out a flavorful heirloom tomato marinade, perfect for pasta, fish or just on its own as a cold salad. I’ve included the recipe for the open-faced tomato sandwich below.

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Robbie Melvin demonstrated how to make an easy summer go-to: cucumber cream cheese and tomato sandwich.

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…And here’s the finished product. It might look simple, but this baby was packed with flavor! Check out the recipe below.

There were a ton of other great classes, but some that caught my eye included Chardonnay: Your Best Frenemy, Sweet & Savory Marshmallows and One Hot Mama Flew South.

There was so much happening during the day, it’s crazy to think that there was just as much happening at night. The Dinners & Events were great for getting to know the food and the people who create that food in a more intimate setting. Events included Geaux South, a celebration of the flavors and world-famous foods of Louisiana; Nourishing Community, a discussion about how food industry leaders are nourishing their communities; and Sunday Brunch, a VIP breakfast at the Vineyard in the City, featuring the Festival Advisory Council members and friends who enjoyed family-style service inspired by Kevin Gillespie’s Gunshow.

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Summer is the time for grilling, so students in this breakout session learned how to properly grill meat … like the whole cow!

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Blueberry and lavender lemonade, mixed with gin or vodka from Old Fourth Distillery

There are many other details to share — foods I devoured, cocktails I drank, people I met, experiences I cherished. The easiest way to divulge these amazing tastes, smells and sights is over a cold bottle of chardonnay with a few hundred of the South’s wildest eating buddies. See ya next year!

Open-Faced Tomato Sandwiches with Creamy Cucumber Spread

Southern Living
This sandwich recipe is simple and incredibly flavorful. It is the perfect way to enjoy summer tomatoes and cucumbers!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 20 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Course Sandwich
Cuisine American
Servings 6 servings

Ingredients
  

  • 1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cucumbers seeds removed, diced
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 2 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh dill
  • 2 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt plus more for serving
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper plus more for serving
  • 6 Texas Toast slices or other thick white bread slices toasted
  • Thinly sliced chives
  • 1 1/2-1 3/4 lb. assorted fresh tomatoes about 3 large, cut into 1/2 inch-thick slices

Instructions
 

  • Stir together cream cheese, cucumbers, red onion, dill, mint, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl until well combined.
  • Spread about 1/4 cup cucumber mixture on each slice of toast. Top each with 2-3 tomato slice and drizzle each with 1 tsp. of the olive oil. Sprinkle with chives, salt and pepper. Serve Immediately
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