What’s new at Taste of Atlanta this year

Festival to be held October 24-26 in Midtown
Dale DeSena
Dale DeSena, founder of Taste of Atlanta

Courtesy of Catrina Maxwell Photography

We hope you’re hungry because Taste of Atlanta returns October 24-26 in Midtown at Tech Square. The event will feature more than ninety restaurants, including St. Cecilia, Ink & Elm, Lusca, and Buttermilk Kitchen.

Several new restaurants will be joining the massive eat-fest, including the Bishop and Max’s Wine Dive, says founder Dale DeSena. Tupelo Honey Café, which is scheduled to open in Decatur soon, will make its debut at the festival. Popular chefs like Jay Swift, Ron Eyester, Ford Fry, and Drew Van Leuvan will be there, too, greeting attendees and passing out food.

In its 13th year, the festival continues to evolve. This year, the hours have changed to noon to 8 p.m. so festival-goers can dine into the evening. DeSena shares other notable changes below.

What’s changed this year?

We’re going to set up the festival by neighborhood. Atlanta’s neighborhoods often drive where people want to go out to eat. Our festival is eight city blocks. Each city block may have one to two neighborhoods so people can find their favorite neighborhoods and their favorite restaurants at the same time. Also, they can explore new neighborhoods.

We’re working on Chef’s Green Room—a mix of five different restaurants from different neighborhoods and live music. It will have theme for each day. On Saturday, the theme will be a nontraditional take on barbecue. Even if the restaurant doesn’t serve barbecue on the menu normally, at Taste of Atlanta, they’ll use the Big Green Egg. The second day, the theme of the Chef’s Green Room will be seafood.

What new exhibits can people expect?

We’re adding a Throwdown Tent with three chefs competing and two competitions each day. Saturday is a Meat Brawl and Sandwich Smackdown. Sunday we’ll have a Fried Chicken Throwdown and a Taco Takedown. Mara Davis will MC.

We’re also creating a Speaker’s Corner in the VIP tent. It’s a new stage with Greg Best as MC. It will feature chefs and mixologists talking about beer, wine, and cocktails, and may involve food pairings.

Saturday and Sunday we’ll have four live cooking stages including one cooking class taught by the Cook’s Warehouse. There’s no cost—people can register to participate.

There will be seven [iterations of] The Chef’s Table per day with chefs talking about how they got where they are, food trends, and tastings.

What are your goals for this year’s festival?

We want to turn tasters into diners. The goal is to make sure our patrons start going to the restaurants.

How does that work if chefs are cooking off-menu items in the Chef’s Green Room?

Chefs are looking for things outside the box to challenge them a little more. Maybe these will land on their menus. Scott Serpas did a shrimp po’ boy at the festival a few years ago. He didn’t have it on his menu. After the festival, hundreds of people came to his restaurant wanting it. It’s on his menu now.

Tell me about the Friday night event. How is it different from the rest of the weekend?

It’s all-inclusive: beer, wine, cocktails, food, and live music. It’s not a taste coupon day. It’s a great party. The theme is Culinary Matrimony, and chefs are pairing their food with something or someone else. Beverages will be created by Atlanta’s best bartenders. I was one of the founders of the USBG [United States Bartender’s Guild] chapter here with Greg Best and Eric Simpkins years ago. They will be making specialty cocktails. It’s still a tasting event. It’s held in the parking lot at 4th and Spring, but it’s a little more expensive: $70 for general admission or $90 for VIP.