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Celebrating the Best-Kept Food Destination

Celebrating the Best-Kept Food Destination
Written by Hannah Lee Leidy | Photography by Forrest Clonts

Each spring, food and beverage professionals gather in Columbia, South Carolina, to celebrate the Midlands’ distinguished and growing culinary scene. After a couple years of postponed and then scaled-down events due to Covid-19, the 2022 Columbia Food and Wine Festival showcased the state capital’s rich eating and drinking culture through expertly crafted small bites from local restaurants, multi-course meals that turn eating into education, and culinary crawls to destinations throughout the area. 

3 bartenders shake up cocktails at the Kick Off Dinner at the Columbia Wine and Food and festival

Events unfolded over the course of five days, running from March 30 to April 3. The mid-week kick off allowed for Columbia residents to experience the festival’s talent before visitors arrived for a weekend of eats and drinks. A collaborative three-course dinner launched the festivities on Wednesday evening. Presented by the chefs Alex Strickland, Javier Uriarte, and David Grillo, the meal fused elements of the French mainstay Black Rooster with the more recently opened restaurants Ratio and Boca Grande.

Event goers traded their seats for strolling on Thursday with the Mixer on Main. This cocktail competition brought the city’s leading mixologists to the Columbia Museum of Art, where they pitted classic drinks against creative ones and sweet flavors against smoked. Determining the best cocktail was placed in the attendees’ discretion—if they weren’t too distracted by the abundance of small bites provided by neighboring restaurants from the Main Street District.

The gate to Dinner on the Green

Friday welcomed visitors arriving for the weekend festivities with Dinner on the Green, an en plein air meal held at the Boyd Foundation Horticultural Center at the Hampton-Preston mansion. Guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and aperitifs while checking out the newly opened center, which supplied the inspiration for the following four-course dinner. Four chef ambassadors—selected for their dedication to using South Carolina-produced ingredients—designed every dish, which ranged from perfectly seared vermillion snapper with spring vegetable succotash, citrus dashi, and a micro kale and mustard salad to decadent Hickory Hills Farm buttermilk pie with locally grown strawberries. 

Columbia Food and Wine Makes a Weekend Destination

Festivities surged on Saturday with a day packed with brewery tours, cooking classes for kids, and seated sake meals, and spotlights on surrounding suburbs. At Kids Can Cook Too, sponsored by Publix, youngsters donned their chefs hats and aprons to learn how to shop for and prepare ingredients, which materialized as pizzas and frosted cookies.

Festival goers toast beer flights at Columbia Wine and Food

Some of the older festival attendees instead opted to drink their carbs at four of the craft breweries making a mark on Cola’s artisan drink scene. Aboard busses, they made rounds to Steel Hands Brewing, River Rat Brewery, Columbia Craft, and Savage Craft. The hazys, ambers, pale ales, and lagers were broken up by conversations with the master brewers and specialty snacks.

A different sort of liquid grain took centerstage at the Sake & Sushi luncheon, held at M Space/Miyo’s, a Pan-Asian restaurant and event space. Three types of sake, selected by Miami-based sake sommelier and importer Andrew Sowers, complemented a selection of regional Asian specialties, including sushi, Thai lettuce wraps, and peking duck.

People gathered at the Grand Tasting Finale at Columbia Food and Wine Festival

The weekend culminated in the Grand Tasting, an outdoor bacchanal with chef-driven bites from more than forty restaurants and vendors along with wines, beers, cocktails, and kombucha flowing from the dozens of craft beverage brands on site. The Robert Mills House and Gardens provided the perfect backdrop for the event, which unfolded upon the block surrounding the estate, the front yard, back gardens, and carriage house. 

So often, tasting events involve a large number of beverage offerings and fewer for food, but the selection at the Grand Tasting ensured no guest left hungry. From smash burgers to duck confit tacos and smoked pork belly to gnocchi cacio e pepe, guests could leisurely meander around the property, snacking, sipping, and walking it off—on repeat—for the afternoon.

Even though the 2022 Columbia Food and Wine Festival is barely over, applications are already open to vendors interested in participating in the 2023 event. And, for food and drink enthusiasts who can’t wait for next year, the vibrant dining options in Cola’s Main Street District and Riverwalk District are the perfect amuse bouches to tide us over.

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