After dreary, wet winter, festival season can’t come soon enough. Even though the 9th annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival is still two-and-a-half months away—running this year from May 30 through June 2 at the Loews Atlanta Hotel in Midtown—the first round of early bird tickets will go on sale March 15, giving fans of the Southern food celebration something to look forward to.
Themed this year as “Off the Eaten Path,” expect a brand new location for the tasting tents (Historic Fourth Ward Park!), a kickoff event focused on late-night bites, and classes focused on unexpected pairings, like pancakes and beer. After last year’s event, cofounder Dominique Love announced she was stepping back from the festival to focus on other projects, but cofounder Elizabeth Feichter has plenty of ideas in the works.
Read on to find out what’s new and noteworthy this year.
Tasting tents on the move
Located at Piedmont Park near the Legacy Fountain for the past few years, the festival’s three nights of tasting tents will now be set up at Historic Fourth Ward Park.
“We like to keep it fresh,” Feichter says. “We enjoyed working with the Piedmont Park Conservancy, but that space probably doesn’t work the best based on the amount of people we have. We fought mud for a few years. I’d like to avoid our guests being muddy. Fourth Ward is a larger area, and the irrigation and drainage is more set up for larger impact. Plus it’s such an awesome area right off the BeltLine.”
Since most of the AFWF classes and events will still take place in Midtown, Feichter says, her team designed the festival schedule to allow for one-and-a-half to two hours between classes and tasting tents. This will enable guests to arrange their own transportation to Historic Fourth Ward Park.
Vino pop-ups + cocktail culture
This year, the tasting tents will feature wine pop-up stations, live music, and interactive food and beverage pairing areas. “We really want to highlight wine because it’s our namesake,” Feichter says. “We want to make sure guests get a lot of opportunity for enjoying throughout.”
There will also be a new area—the Cocktail Garden—which Feichter says will likely include some mixology demonstrations. Think 15-20 minute crash courses on how to make various beverages.
Perfect pairings + a back-to-basics brunch
Feichter describes the AFWF’s “Off the Eaten Path” theme as having a focus on surprise and delight. So it’s not surprising that some of the classes focus on unique pairings. One, led by Pancake Social’s Evelyn Ling, matches pancakes with beer and cocktails. Another pairs crawfish with champagne.
On the other hand, the festival’s annual Sunday brunch event is taking a turn back to the basics. “We’re trying to have a return to some of those traditional flavors with new spins,” Feichter says. “You’ll have biscuits and sweet items and eggs and sausages, plus items on the grill.”
Late-night bites + dishes that tell a story
This year’s Thursday-night kickoff event, titled Destination Delicious, is returning to the Stave Room at American Spirit Works. The theme is “Night Market,” and guests can expect to enjoy late-night bites from each of the 13 Southern states that participate in AFWF.
“There will be live music and [culinary] talent everywhere. It’s a great way to kick it off,” Feichter says.
A couple of days later, check out the Master Studio Series Kitchen Raconteurs: Storytelling through Food. Hosted by Matt and Ted Lee (of the Ovation TV series Southern Uncovered with the Lee Bros), it’ll feature chefs and beverage pros sharing the stories behind their dishes.
“We want our talent to be approachable and our guests to be able to interact with them—in a class, our Connoisseur Lounge, and in our tents,” Feichter says. “It’s all about exploring the South for us; Atlanta just happens to be the destination.”