Last weekend marked the 14th annual Taste of Atlanta festival. From West Peachtree to Techwood, Tech Square was filled with delightful aromas and delicious food. The event featured over 90 restaurants from across Atlanta, and the VIP experience offered tastings of many different alcoholic drinks. Patrons spent “Taste Coupons” to purchase small portions of a restaurant’s selected dishes and to get a feel for what food Atlanta has to offer.
Unfortunately, the weather was not kind on Saturday. Throughout the day, there was a fine mist and light to heavy drizzle — the kind that fell sideways and ignored umbrellas. There were 40,000 people expected in attendance, and noticeably fewer showed up on Saturday, preferring Sunday’s more optimal forecast.
Despite the precipitation, festival-goers seemed to be in good moods overall, uplifted by the rising scents of cooked meat. New this year was an entirely paperless system: wristbands with RFID chips inside were mailed to the pre-orderers or bought at the gates. These functioned as tickets to enter the event and Taste Coupons to purchase food from the booths, though some ended up not working at the gate.
With WiFi hosted in the now-defunct Wal-Mart, two taps of the wristband on the scanners was all it took to get some food from anywhere in the event. All wristbands started with 10 points, and refilling cost one dollar per point.
Taste of Atlanta was kicked off late Friday afternoon with a party featuring live music and many chefs and restaurants serving food. Part of the proceeds for this day went to The Giving Kitchen, which provides emergency grants to Atlanta restaurants.
Saturday’s and Sunday’s events began at noon and featured the restaurants in addition to a silent auction, whose proceeds went to the Cooking Matters charity. In addition to Tech Square favorites Waffle House, Gyro Bros and Tin Drum, The Melting Pot, Bartaco, Jim ‘n Nick’s BBQ, Zola Italian and several dozen more restaurants lined 5th and Spring Streets.
There were about 10 different barbecue joints, some seafood places, a few East-Asian-cuisine options and several sweeteries, totalling to about 75 restaurants. Additionally, there were several event stages where chefs would cook food while describing their process, ingredients and motivations. These included “Rock Your Taco” at The Chef’s Table, “How to Grow Your Garden” at Eat GA Stage and “Girls Who Grill” at the Big Green Egg Stage.
Events in The Kitchen Workshop were focused around letting the patrons cook their own meals, and Carnival’s Kids Corner offered family-friendly recipes and kid-friendly treats.
For those who snagged the limited VIP tickets, the space behind the Conference Center’s parking deck opened up the “Grand Tasting Experience” where nothing cost points to consume. An additional 19 restaurants became available across both days, featuring Maine lobster rolls, miniature chocolate peanut butter pies and the crowd-favorite “Braised Brasstown Beef Short Rib and Udderly Cool Grilled Cheese” by American Food & Beverage.
There were also wine and beer tastings throughout this space, but the locus of inebriation lied in the Barcraft Atlanta tent, where several Barcraft semifinal-
ists whipped up cocktails and where patrons could vote for their favorite to be Taste of Atlanta’s Best Bartender. While parts of the VIP experience were on paved ground, the Barcraft tent and the live music were both on grass — more specifically, mud.
This lessened the experience to the point where the only people at the live music area were the band on Saturday. Wooden boards were set up in the Barcraft tent to walk on, but sandals and heels were the literal downfall of several people in the muddier regions.
Despite the drizzle and mud on Saturday and the clouds casting shadows on Sunday, the mood of the crowd having eaten food could not be dampened. The tastes of Atlanta were not the only things featured last weekend: the spirit of Atlanta was also on display.