Last week, my wife asked if I was interested in discussing our menu for Thanksgiving Day. It's something we do every year. Discuss dishes that worked, others that didn't. We are a household of culinary tinkerers, so we try to mix it up from year to year. Different sides maybe, a different technique for the bird. She does the majority of the cooking in November, and I take over Christmas Eve.
What struck me as comical about the whole scene, however, was I kept thinking to myself, 'How on earth are we discussing food at a time like this?'
The time was smack dab in the middle of the fourth annual Savannah Food &Wine Festival. It was a busy week for food. It was a busy week all the way around for the city of Savannah. A tremendous turnout across the board and an equally impressive performance by all parties involved, from soup to nuts. Almost literally.
I could go down the list of events and dishes and tell you how great they were, but I'll spare you the play-by-play. I will say, for the record, that the James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner at Cohen's Retreat was about as stellar as you would expect. The Secret Savannah Speakeasy was arguably the best party of the week. Live music, food from some of Savannah's best and a scene back inside of the blacksmith shop at the Georgia State Railroad Museum - at night - is pretty tough to beat. Friday night's barbecue event at Service Brewing Co. was as advertised as well. You will not find a better collection of barbecue masters in Savannah at any point. No chance.
The one event that continues to jump off the screen and make me smile, though, is Taste of Savannah.
Taste of Savannah was created to offer a little bit of something to everyone. Yes, a lot of the week can be filled up with pricey wine pairing dinners, but the Saturday afternoon shindig at the museum is for everyone. And everyone turned out.
If you were there, you witnessed the scene. Thousands of people milling about the museum grounds, eating and drinking to their hearts' content. There were cooking demos and there were samples of some of the South's finest spirits. Best of all? There were a ton of smiling faces.
I found it interesting that a lot of the people who stopped by to visit us at our Eat It and Like It tent (by the way, huge thank you to In Any Event Party Rental and 24e for helping me with my tent) were from out of town. A ton, really. Tampa, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Denver, Atlanta, North Myrtle Beach, New Jersey. That was just a sampling. Easily seven out of 10 people I asked said they had come to Savannah specifically for this event. Those numbers are certainly not scientific, but I am a huge fan of sticking a wet finger into the air.
Most importantly, not a single one of the people we spoke with had anything but praise to shower upon our city and our signature foodie event.
Ticket sales were up. Clearly, the crowds were up as well. Fortunately the grounds at the museum can hold the numbers. At a couple of different points, I did feel like the wedding dress could have been a half-size bigger to accommodate the weight we'd put on. It was certainly do-able and comfortable, but you wished you had a smidge more room to breathe. That's just me being nit-picky. This once again was, without question, the greatest food event of the year in our city. Hands down.
Last year in this space following the festival, I talked about the fact that after a couple of years of growing pains downtown, festival organizers hit a home run by moving Taste to the railroad museum. This year, there was no shortage of happy customers. Those who knew and had watched the festival's growth couldn't have been any more thrilled with the venue.
Those who didn't know couldn't imagine a Taste of Savannah event being anywhere else. The grounds are just dripping with history and charm. Check-in for Taste is on the grounds of a Revolutionary War battlefield, for goodness sake. Isn't that what our national identity is to our visitors? Of course it is. History, hospitality and increasingly so every single year, food.
Over the course of the week, the food was exceptional. From the Spanish wine pairing with cheese and charcuterie conducted by Savannah Tech's Jean Vendeville on Monday, all the way to the winning dish at Taste of Savannah, Curry Laksa prepared by CO, the week showed diversity in our city's culinary offerings. Anyone who came to Taste Savannah could clearly see that we don't just walk around licking sticks of butter. Far from it.
You don't need me to tell you that Savannah's Food &Wine Festival will grow. I am told there were 40 more vendors at Taste of Savannah this year than last year. Heck, I'd like to see a post-Taste concert on that Saturday night. We have the space, we have the support, we have the momentum. Why not? Maybe one day.
Setting the food aside for a moment, this city hit a grand slam on Saturday. Not everyone lives downtown, obviously, so you may not have noticed. But in one single day, the Historic District hosted the Savannah Children's Book Festival in Forsyth Park, the Savannah Art Walk downtown, which is growing faster than that weed in the yard you can't get rid of, and several thousand more at Taste of Savannah.
The Historic District was a beehive last weekend and I didn't see anyone doing anything but smiling. With full bellies, of course. Now on to Thanksgiving. I think I've got the scalloped potatoes to deal with this year.
Nov. 6-12, 2017, can't get here soon enough.
See you on TV,