Friday, August 24, 2012

Taste of Atlanta

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I'll admit, when Taste of Atlanta moved downtown, I was not a happy camper. Way back when, it was a tiny foodie event that no one had heard of, set up under tents in the side parking lot at Lenox Square. It was my favorite event in the city. They had fantastic chef demos lined up back-to-back and I would show up early for a front row seat and just stay there for hours and learn everything I could. But, the word spread, and the crowds came, and they outgrew the space. I can't begrudge them their growth, after all, it means fewer people will go hungry as they support both Share Our Strength and the Atlanta Community Food Bank, among other fantastic causes, so it's all for the good, but I missed the way it used to be. Until last year.

Crab Salad @ Jct Kitchen & Bar
Crab and herb salad, buttery golden crab melt and crab bisque - The Optimist

Last year, SparkQuest and Taste of Atlanta partnered for a fun promotion where every time you dined at one of the restaurants participating in the festival, you unlocked a chance to win fun festival prizes. I was hoping to win the Big Green Egg, as I am a huge fan of the Ultimate Cooking Experience, but was still thrilled to win a pair of VIP passes and an overnight at the GA Tech Hotel and Conference Center, located right in the heart of the event. It was so nice to have the room to go back to when I needed a little break from the heat and noise, plus having a sparkling clean restroom was worth it's weight in gold. Trust me on this, you need to book a room for yourself, you will be glad you did.

Crab Soup @ The Family Dog
Cajun spiced crab soup over house-made sausage "risotto" - The Family Dog

I also really enjoyed having the VIP tickets, as they had fun VIP only seminars going on through out the festival. I registered for the Champagne: The Lowdown on Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir and Wines NOT Found in Any Rap Song seminar, taught by Don Hackett of Cook's Warehouse & Sherlock's Wine Merchant. Not only did we get to taste lots of lovely bubbly, while learning a ton about my favorite sparkling beverage, we also got to see champagne being sabred, and in my case, since I was sitting near the front and was waving my hand wildly in the air like a goofy five year old, I got to actually do it myself! Admittedly not completely alone, as he held my hand like the woman in the video above, but who else can say they have sabred champagne?

Wood fired Pizza @ Fritti
Pizza Margarita - Fritti

I was also one of the luckiest girls in Atlanta because I was one of the Celebrity Judges at an Iron Chef style face-off between one of my favorite people, Ford Fry, of JCT Kitchen, No 246 and the Optimist and Ron Eyester of Rosebud and the Family Dog. The Battle Crab winner was Ford, whose lovely herb salad studded with lumps of sweet crab meat still makes my mouth water just thinking about it nearly a year later. You can read how I feel about his  mind-blowingly good crab bisque here. I hope they'll invite me back to judge again this year as it is one of the high points of the festival for me.

Grilled Artichokes @ Brick Tops
Garlic butter basted grilled artichoke with remoulade - BrickTops

Even if you don't get to be a judge like I did (hopefully will again?), there are plenty of delicious bites at Taste of Atlanta. Sotto Sotto and Fritti were out there dishing up their tasty pastas and even brought a wood-fired oven to bake their pizzas on the spot. The grilled artichokes from BrickTops are one of my perpetual favorites, all charred garlic-buttery goodness. Another stand out were the steamed duck buns from Miso Izakaya that had me fondly remembering all of the ducks I ate in Beijing. You can join me this year on October 5, 6, and 7 with advance tickets sold here or you can go all out and include the Friday night block party the Big Grill: Grills Gone Wild  with tickets here. Hope to see you there!

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