Tasting tent lines
The queue for the Tasting Tents reached amusement-park lengths each afternoon, with crowds eager to get inside and start chowing down. As chefs and cooks prepped for the opening of the gates, a blend of smoky and succulent aromas wafting through the lines only fueled the anticipatory waves of hunger.
STK Atlanta's Braised Beef Short Ribs
We started off with one of ATL’s hottest steakhouses. Executive Chef Liran Mezan told us that these tender ribs were “just a classic braise”—four to five hours in a bath of red wine, port, and veal stock. The bright crunch of shaved radish and the warm chew of a jalapeño cornbread made our very first bite of the festival one of our favorites, even after all was said and done.
Table & Main's Fried Chicken
This city loves its fried chicken, and there was no shortage of it at the AF&WF. Not content to hand out mini-mouthfuls, Roswell’s Table & Main showed up to the party with 500 full-size chicken legs—for Friday alone. Executive Chef Ted Lahey’s version was described as “not very cheffy,” just “a slightly gourmet-ified comfort food.”
Springhouse's Field Pea Panzanella
James Beard semi-finalist Chef Rob McDaniel made the trip from his Alexander City, AL restaurant with one of the prettiest dishes we saw all weekend. Their panzanella featured field peas, cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and tomato aioli, intermingled with torn chunks of a housemade ciabatta. It was a great change of pace from the proteinapalooza we’d been on up to that point.
One of the best things about an event like this is the chance to rub heavily-tattooed elbows with your favorite celebrichef. Top Chef contestant Kevin Gillespie is blowing Atlanta eaters away at his new outside-the-box restaurant Gunshow. He was a fixture at the Breville tent, where fans could get up close and (somewhat) personal with his trademark beard while getting cookbooks signed and posing for pics.
Gillespie’s favorite find of the festival? Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken. Said Gillespie, “[expletive expletive], I’ve gotta eat that [expletive] more often.” We couldn't [expletive] agree more.
Parkside Projects's Deconstructed Lamb Pastrami on Rye
Delicately sliced meat was flavored with Shiner Bock beer mustard and pickled rhubarb, and then sprinkled with rye “soil”: a dehydrated rye loaf that’s then ground up to add the essence of a sandwich flavor without the heaviness of two slices of bread.
Local Three's Dan Dan Noodles
The weekend’s festivities kicked off on Thursday night with a hard-hitting, late-night tailgate party. So Executive Chef Chris Hall knew what would go down easy the next day with festival-goers, as well as his kitchen staff. “It’s hangover food, man. We need it, too.”
Local Three’s take on traditional Szechuan noodles combined ground pork in a dish reminiscent of your go-to college staple, but with just enough complex seasoning from the ginger and soy broth to make you feel at least a little grown up about it.
The French Press's Fried Boudin Sliders
We would have sworn these were Chicken Minis from Chick-fil-A when we saw them from across the tent. Imagine our surprise when we found that this Lafayette, LA restaurant was serving fried balls of Cajun boudin, placed atop a slab of bacon, drenched in pure cane syrup, and nestled between bite-sized buttermilk biscuits. This staple of their breakfast menu may be named after the quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons’ biggest rival, but we’re okay with being big fans of the Sweet Baby Breesus, too.
Pine St. Market's Two-Year Southern Prosciutto
Maybe it was the frying pan that seemed to be always full of sizzling thick-cut bacon. Maybe it was the smoky “ham jam” served atop crackers. Maybe it was the holy-crap-look-at-that pig’s head mounted front and center at their table. Or maybe it was the thin strips of sublime two-year prosciutto being deftly sliced off and handed out like sticks of meat gum to everyone who wandered past. Whatever the reason, this specialty meat market 's booth had one of the largest crowds around it all weekend long.
Ole Smoky Moonshine
Yes, there was moonshine. Lots and lots of moonshine. It's the South; don't judge us!
There aren’t many names in the Atlanta food scene right now hotter than Asha Gomez. Her restaurant Cardamom Hill was named a James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, and she’s almost single-handedly schooling Atlanta diners on the vast intricacies of Indian cuisine by focusing on food from around her home city of Kerala rather than settling on been-there-done-that dishes like tandoori and naan.
Cardamom Hill's Pork Vindaloo
For the AF&WF, Gomez offered up a history lesson with her pork vindaloo. The dish has a heavy Portuguese influence, thanks to sailing crews who would dump chunks of pork into barrels of wine that was about to spoil. During long journeys at sea, the wine would turn, and then spices would be added to the mix upon the ship’s arrival at a new port. The result is spicy and tangy, and Cardamom Hill's version features a bitter finish from mustard seed.
Is it good? She went through 80 pounds of pork in under 90 minutes on Saturday. So, yeah.
Phillip Ashley Chocolates
These strikingly-beautiful pieces of Memphis-inspired chocolate were actually gold medal-winners at last year’s International Chocolate Salon. On the left is a 62% dark chocolate BBQ truffle; on the right, a 42% milk chocolate ganache blended with sweet potato. Decadent, rich, and creamy with a chaser of what-IS-that-flavor, it’s Beale Street like you’ve never experienced it.
Buckhead Beef's Angus Beef Maple-Smoked Tri-Tip
As the official meat and seafood provider for the AF&WF, you’d think that Buckhead Beef had plenty to do already this weekend. I guess it’s not enough to supply hundreds of Atlanta restaurants and blanket the country east of the Mississippi with spectacular meat; you have to show everyone up by cooking it better than most of them, too. Executive Chef Matthew Richardson knocked it out of the park with a rocking tri-tip served over jicama slaw and a peach gastrique. Overachiever.
BLT Steak's Hanger Steak with Tomato, Cantaloupe, and Blue Cheese
Hanger steak was already one of our favorite cuts. But we’re absolutely stealing this pairing for our next cookout. BLT Steak topped the expertly-grilled beef with halved tomatoes, a grilled onion vinaigrette, blue cheese crumbles, chives and balls of cantaloupe. The melon may get lost visually amidst the tomatoes, but when your guests get ahold of one in their mouth, it adds a texture, temperature, and sweetness that elevates this simple-sounding dish into something spectacular.
King + Duke’s Open Hearth
When the new “colonial” concept from Ford Fry was announced, all anyone could talk about was the open-flame cooking methodology he promised. King + Duke is now open, and the 24-foot hearth is undoubtedly the star of the show. So much so that they brought a scaled-down version to the festival. Executive Chef Joe Schafer told us about the tricky learning curve that comes from this kind of cooking—the kitchen doesn’t even have a range in it. But once his cooks learn how to make the fire work for them instead of working for the fire, he says it just clicks.
King + Duke's Smoked Bacon & Onion Marmalade on Toast
So simple, but so damn good. For all the bacon floating around at this year‘s AF&WF, this was the best bite of it we had. Gum Creek Farms pork is cured for seven days and smoked over hickory and white oak. It makes for an exceptional all-purpose bacon that’s not too breakfasty, and the onion marmalade provided a superb tang on top.
Porter Road Butcher's Open-Face BLT
You know those ads that show a small business using some high-tech app to manage their inventory, where the supplier is automatically and seamlessly alerted when more material is needed? You know who doesn’t have that? Porter Road Butcher in Nashville, TN. When they need more bacon—like for their scrumptious open-face BLTs with roasted garlic mayo, arugula, and halved tomatoes—they have to sit down and write a letter. And mail it. And wait two to three weeks. That’s because their Duroc Yorkshire hogs come from a lone Amish farmer just down the road. But one bite of this stuff will tell you it’s worth the old-school legwork.
One Hot Mama’s Korean Short Rib Tacos
Cooking show fans will remember Orchid Paulmeier from Season 7 of Food Network Star. These days, she’s lighting up the Lowcountry at her BBQ-heavy joint in Hilton Head, SC.
Tacos were all over, but we couldn’t find any better than Orchid’s. The pork—her father's own recipe—marinates for two whole days. Add some sesame slaw, pico, Sriracha, and a handmade tortilla, and you’ve got one of the most popular items on her menu. Fun fact: it actually started out as a one-off item for another food festival, but she had to start serving them full-time when festival-goers started coming into the restaurant looking for them.
The Shed at Glenwood's Fried Chicken
“Best Fried Chicken Ever” isn’t a phrase we throw around lightly. But it just may be what we found from The Shed at Glenwood. Chef Todd Richards spends three days making it, from a very cold water wash and a top-secret brine to the finishing fry job that gives his crust the deep red hue of Nashville’s famous “hot chicken.” But this stuff really isn’t spicy until they ladle on their bourbon-molasses hot sauce.
The lines here were the longest we saw on Saturday; handing out just bite-size pieces, they still went through 100 pounds of chicken. And it was the only thing we went back to for seconds.
Brookville Restaurant's Fried Egg Yolks
Perhaps the strangest thing we tried at the festival was this dish from a neighborhood joint in Charlottesville, VA. They looked like deep-fried cheese curds, but these golden balls were actually fried egg yolks. The yolks are cooked sous vide for an hour in 65º water, then frozen, cut, breaded, and fried. They’re crisp on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside, and delicious all over.
To serve, Chef Harrison Keevil dropped them on a light and crunchy ragout of asparagus, sugar snap peas, onions, and scallions. Oh, and then he grated bottarga (salted, cured fish roe) on top. Just ‘cause he can.
Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand's Southern Sanchez Slider
Delia Champion spent 15 years perfecting her chicken sausage recipe, and the crowds flocking to her East Atlanta shack are gobbling up the dozens of varieties of sandwiches and sliders she now serves. For this festival’s sliders, her chicken chorizo gave off a gentle heat that was balanced by some cooling housemade pimento cheese. Add gentle tang from a bread-and-butter pickle, bookend it all with King’s Hawaiian rolls, and we could have taken down a six-pack of these with ease.
Pure Knead's Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie
“There’s nothing in there that makes a cookie.” That’s what Chef Joshua Thompson told us about his, well, cookies. No eggs, no butter, no brown sugar, no wheat flour. Yeah, we were skeptical, too. But after months of trial and error, he cracked the code—he declares prune puree the key to a true vegan chocolate chip cookie.
It was our last bite of the festival… and maybe the biggest surprise of all. Not just a good vegan cookie—these were ridiculously good cookies, period. Now all we needed was a big jug of milk. (Oh, wait. I guess that would put a crimp in the whole vegan thing.)