Taste of Savannah has become a tradition for many locals who want to sample dishes from some of the city's best restaurants all in one spot.
Several years ago, when the Savannah Food & Wine Festival took over the event, the day turned into not only a culinary feast, but also a treat for wine and spirit lovers. This year's event will elevate that experience even more with a new location, more wine and spirit entries than ever, an over-the-top VIP experience, a curated artisan market and a contemporary Social Square.
This year's Taste of Savannah takes place from 1-5 p.m. Nov. 14 at the historic Georgia State Railroad Museum. General admission tickets are $65 per person and include unlimited tastings in a souvenir leaded crystal wine glass (no plastic this year) and five free food tokens. The food items are priced at $3-$9 and require food coins to purchase. Food tokens are $1 each.
A limited amount of VIP tickets are available at $135 per person or $250 per couple. These tickets include access to private parking lots located on site, early access to the event at noon and access to the VIP Board of Directors Lounge featuring catered gourmet food, its own bars and restrooms.
So, aside from moving the ever-growing event from the cramped Ellis Square location to the roomy museum, what else is new this year?
According to Savannah Food & Wine Festival co-founder and director Jan Gourley, the new location allows festival planners to offer more of what Taste of Savannah ticketholders want to see, eat and drink.
"We have more wine and spirit entries than ever before," Gourley says.
And while other festivals put the focus on their expensive wine dinners, the Savannah festival stays focused on offering great wines and spirits at all events.
"We made a real conscious effort to put an equal ratio of spirits and wine. This allows us to be more focused on what this festival was really about to begin with."
She also says they cut booth fees this year so everyone local can participate if they want to.
"This is a way to showcase them and get them involved and let go of doing wine dinners during the week ... We have so many more great restaurants participating this year."
The guest experience is also important to festival planners. Gourley says that moving the location also allows for real glassware to be used, so each guest will be given rimless crystal wine tasting souvenir stemware once they enter the gates.
"It makes a difference when you taste wine in a good glass," she adds.
And taking that experience to a higher level also includes offering a VIP experience. She admits that last year's VIP experience did not go over as planned.
"We heard what people had to say last year and we know it was everything but VIP. This year is different. We'll have catered food, music, comfy seating, gift bags to all our VIPs and VIP parking. The area has its own restaurant. It is going to be phenomenal. Everyone will want to get in that area," she says.
This year's event will also feature an artisan market.
"In the past, we let all kinds of things in," Gourley explains. "But this year, if it doesn't have anything to do with food and wine, we said no."
They have also developed an express check-in to get rid of that bottleneck of lines outside the event.
"Beginning at noon, you can get your wristband and glass, so when gates open, you can get in."
Also new this year is the Social Square presented by Do Savannah, Visit Savannah, Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport and Jet Blue.
"We'll bring in talent and do sampling. There will be charging stations and a comfy lounge area with big monitors so you can use (social media) to post photos," Gourley says.
There will also be fun photo ops and giveaways.
The lineup of events for the day also includes the Bartenders' Challenge, Big Green Egg cooking demos, a Georgia Grown Village as well as several stages with informative panel discussions and cooking demos.
One of those areas is the Savannah Locals Stage presented by Savannah Magazine.
According to Amy Paige Condon, associate and digital editor of Savannah Magazine, the stage will feature panel discussions with local talent on topics like "The Farmer and the Chef," "Fruits of the Sea: Georgia Oysters and Wild Shrimp," "Culinary Contributions of African Americans to Coastal Georgia" and a panel featuring James Beard Foundation award-winning chefs.
"We want to highlight as many local topics as possible," Condon says. "... We want to explore what really is Savannah in terms of plates and flavors and what makes local flavors distinct.
"... That discussion is important so we can elevate the conversation of food around here and give support to those working to define Savannah flavor," she says.
"The challenge is to not only define who are as a city, but deciding who we want to be ... We are seeing more and more of our local chefs recognized for their contributions and we want to support them."