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Best Bites: Atlanta Food & Wine Festival 2015

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Best Bites: Atlanta <i>Food & Wine</i> Festival 2015
Pork Belly Rilletes with pickled Paradigm Farms fennel and a shallot mignonette from New Orlean's Meauxbar / Photo by Jennifer Hitchcock

The wealth of Southern culinary talent that converged for the 5th annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival impressed us even more than our considerable appetite for all the festival had to offer. We are still happily digesting—both all we learned and all we ate—and wanted to share some of our most memorable mouthfuls here.

BIG TICKET ITEM

Three-hundred dollars for a poached egg sounds extreme. It actually was one of five sensational courses, each complemented by a rare wine, served Saturday evening at the Fourth Annual Blackberry Farm Tribute to Southern Farmers dinner. But we just may have ponied up for that egg alone. Beautifully quivering in a pool of beurre blanc, it was accompanied by chunks of salty Sunburst Farm Smoked Trout and topped with a bouquet of slender potato sticks—the latter acting as textural tipping point to appetizer perfection.

Photo by Jennifer Hitchcock
Fullsteam's Summer Basil Ale

LIQUID LUNCH

In the seminar rooms, Chef Scott Crawford, soon to be of Standard Foods in Raleigh, North Carolina, shared the powerful personal story that shaped his path to clean eating. Moderator Jennifer V. Cole lent entertaining tidbits (such as when she adopted a whole cow to eventually be butchered whom she aptly named “Supper”), but outshining the two compelling personalities was Crawford’s outstanding chilled yellow pepper miso soup, garnished with crisp snap peas and accented with hunks of tender crab meat.

SOFTENING THINGS UP

While discussing seafood myths, including the rampant nature of both fraudulent labeling and irresponsible sourcing, Chef Spike Gjerde of Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen fried soft shell crabs in a satisfyingly salted crust, one that allowed the crab flavor to shine and was best enjoyed with a dollop of Gjerde’s creamy dill aioli.

TAHINI TIME

No, the point of the demonstration on Shio-Koji was not sesame seeds, but Alon Shaya’s tahini still made a lasting impression through his offering of Shio-Koji marinated shrimp with snow peas and red onion on a bed of that unforgettable tahini. Note: garlic-infused lemon juice is a game changer.

SWEET!

In the tasting tents, a few familiar talents were doing their thing. Per usual, Dan and Jael Rattigan, owners of French Broad Chocolates, offered sweet guidance to eager tasters from behind their exquisite display. Their luscious peanut butter cup may have seemed less exotic than some of their other creations, but note to anyone who can tolerate a Reese’s after such a treasure: you should be ashamed.

Photo by Jennifer Hitchcock
Hot Chicken 'Hot Dogs' from Biscuit Love's Brunch

HALL OF FAME

Last year, we ate far too many of Chai Pani’s “Pani Puri”—puffed puri (unleavened deep fried bread) that was filled with a mash of potato and chick peas, a dollop of tamarind water, and topped with mint and green mango powder. This year, we ate far too many of Chai Pani’s Pani Puri. Next year, we hope to do the same. That pleasing little puff is an explosion of flavor and texture.

UNLIKELY WEINER

Biscuit Love Brunch’s hot chicken “hot dogs” did not win any aesthetic points, but who said this was a beauty contest? Each little wiener, made with Springer Mountain Farms chicken, homemade mustard, pickle, and a squirt of Tennessee honey, was a savory home-run on a bun.

Photo by Jennifer Hitchcock
Fearrington House's pressed pork with bacon jam, smoked onion purée, lentils, and raspberry BBQ sauce

HOG WILD

New Orleans’ Meauxbar was serving a well-balanced bite of pork belly rilletes with pickled Paradigm Farms fennel and a shallot mignonette, while Colin Bedford and Tom Whitaker of Fearrington House in Pittsboro, North Carolina, proved they have a knack for making pressed pork look beautiful by adding bacon jam, a dollop of smoked onion purée, lentils, and raspberry BBQ sauce. The former would make a lovely precursor to any meal, while the latter was a mini meal in itself.

WASH IT AWAY

Yes, there were a good many cocktail, beer, and other beverage options to be found, but we discovered our preferred potable in Fullsteam’s Summer Basil Ale. Not overly hoppy and plenty refreshing, it’s a back porch beer if ever there was one.

 

MORE BEST BITES /// BB&T Charleston Food and Wine: The Year of Pimento Cheese / Music City Food & Wine Festival Edition / Euphoria 2014 / The Waterkeeper’s Ball