Planning on Attending 2013 Charleston Food & Wine Festival? Here’s a sneak peek…

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the 2013 Charleston Food & Wine Festival Launch Party with Charleston City Paper’s own food writer, Eric Doksa. It was held at the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina.

The event is a great place to get an insider’s view of what’s to come at the Food and Wine Festival. More than 20 of Charleston’s top chefs prepared amazing food and beverages.

Because of the week started off with terrible weather – including flooding- and the forecast for the day called for rain, the event was hosted both inside and under the hotels covered patios. It got a bit crowded at times, but no one seemed to mind. Of course, a highlight of the evening was meeting celebrity Chef and culinary master, George Mendes of ALDEA in New York. Mendes is quite well known in the food world and became publicly recognizable after appearing in Top Chef Masters Season 3.

Several of Charleston’s favorite chefs ran out of food early, leaving many longing for a taste of what they had to offer. Notably, Chef Marc Collins of Circa 1886 and Jacques Larson from Wild Olive were among those who ran out of food.

So what was a hit with the crowd? I asked Doksa what his favorite dishes were and he thought that the best dishes were the Caw Caw Creek suckling pig sausage with faro and butterbean salad by Chefs Chris Stewart and Sarah O’Kelley from the Glass Onion. I have to agree, and in particular, the faro and butterbean salad was one of the single best bites of food all night. I could have taken home a pound of that! Doksa also loved the Pineapple Upside Down Cheese Cake by Tristan’s Amanee Neirouz. Again, I concur, that was one amazing taste of a deconstructed cheesecake. I can still taste that pineapple! Another favorite was the gin drink served by Gin Joint’s Joe Raya. Doksa said “anything Raya touches turns to liquid gold.”

Gin Joint Glass Onion Tristan

My personal favorites were the lamb gyro from Cru Café’s John Zucker. I loved the spice the pickled jalapeño added to it. My favorites of the night? The Virginia Heritage Pork belly pastrami with sweet pickled veggies, rye mayo and Geechie Boy Mills Johnny Cake from Husk’s Chef Travis Grimes. I saw it described in the paper today as a fancy little pizza. I personally would not describe it as a pizza, but no matter how you described it, it was simply amazing. I didn’t realize the dish was from Husk when I tried it, I’ve found Husk to be hit or miss when I’ve dined there and I’m not a huge pork fan, so it came as a huge surprise that this was my favorite. It made me want to head back to Husk and give it another try. The other dish of the night was the previously mentioned Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

Cru Café Husk

So, what got mixed reviews? Everyone agreed that the bratwurst tartine by Chef Todd Garrigan from the soon to open Craftsman Kitchen and Tap House lacked a little flavor. Another disappointing bite was pastry Chef Andrea Upchurch’s southern inspired macaroons. They were very chewy and sticky. I was very mixed about the salmon with apple radish salad on a grit cake. The grit cake was very oily and soaked up so much liquid from the dish that it became dense and heavy. The salmon and radish salad were good and would have been better without the grit cake.

The best single bite of the night goes to Cru Café’s miniature chicken and waffles. The presentation was great and it was really tasty. Chicken in a waffle cone, brilliant!

The festival will run from February 28th through March 3rd 2013. Unless you have an unlimited budget, deciding what events to attend can be a challenge. Here are a few events I would personally buy tickets for:

The Grocery Breakfast on March 1st. Based on last night’s launch event, this breakfast is sure to be popular. Unfortunately, since I’m allergic to tomato, I was unable to taste the breakfast hash prepared by Chef Kevin Johnson. However, I had a great time watching him prepare it!

The Low Country Jazz Brunch at Husk on March 3rd. I’m sure this will sell out fast; the Jazz brunch is a favorite every year.

The World of Fried Chicken at Hominy Grill on March 2nd. Hominy is a local favorite and has great fried chicken so I’m sure this will be a fun event.

Tickets will sell fast, so make sure you get them quickly if you have an event you don’t want to miss.

Visiting Charleston for the event?

If you’re coming from out-of-town, you’ll need to find a place to stay. Expect hotels in downtown to be astronomically expensive. I looked at the Renaissance hotel, The Charleston Place, the Doubletree and the Francis Marion and couldn’t find a room under $400/night. The Food & Wine Festival is offering hotel and event ticket packages. There is no way I’d book any of the hotel & ticket packages – unless, of course, money is no object – they’re outrageously priced. For example, the Best Western is offering rooms for $499/night with a minimum of 3 nights and it includes tickets 2 tickets to one of the Perfectly Paired Dinners on March 1, 2 tickets to the Low Country Jazz Brunch on March 3 and 2 tickets to the culinary village and tasting tent on March 2nd. The value of the events equals $827 dollars. Three nights at the hotel will cost $1497 which means you’re paying $670 or $223+ dollars a night for the best western. I would never pay $223/night to stay at the downtown Charleston Best Western. From there, all of the prices just go up.

So where is one to stay? I would suggest renting a car and staying in one of the neighboring areas. You can stay on the beach in Isle of Palms or James Island or you can stay in Mt Pleasant for ½ the price of what downtown hotels are charging and it will only take you about 15 minutes (maybe more with event traffic) to get downtown. There’s plenty of inexpensive parking downtown and it’s very easy to get around. I’d also look at renting a vacation home – lots of people put their homes and condos on the market for the weekend! There are tons of booking sites easily found on the web.

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