Review: Music City Food + Wine
I came, I saw, I ate and drank. Year five of the Music City Food and Wine Festival is in the books and as a veteran of this event since the beginning I have a few thoughts. I’m sure you can’t wait to hear them. And then my nomination for top eats this year.
- Hated and then Loved: Off the bat, there were no commemorative bags as usual to store your swag in. Hated that. But in a move of marketing genius, the first booth was Toyota’s, where in exchange for giving up your e-mail address you got a better bag than ever and swag like the makings of an herb garden, a personalized grilling spatula and a spice mix you got to blend yourself from Chef Tim Love.
- Loved: The Grand Tasting expanded. This is the heart of the festival for me — rows of local restaurants offering up their best efforts in small bites. Keep a going to get a list of my favorites but suffice it to say I overate in a horrifying fashion.
- Loved: New Orleans chef John Besh was supposed to present a demo but instead he was in the Caribbean doing hurricane relief. I actually hated that he wasn’t here in Nashville but loved the support he got from festival organizer Chef Jonathan Waxman, who subbed for him along with Chef Susan Feniger. And we got to taste their food, which usually doesn’t happen. I love rule breakers.
- Hated: This festival has gotten more spirits heavy (as in booze vendors) over the years which has spawned more loud-mouthed drunk guests who think it’s just fine to yell out whatever comes into their heads to chefs during the demos. I sat next to two of them at different demos and they were…what’s the word?….obnoxious. I know of several chefs who pulled out of the festival this year for that very reason.
- Kind of Hated: Crostini everywhere! I love a nice piece of grilled or toasted bread as a platform for meats and cheeses but I’ll wager at least half of the offerings this year were on a crostini. Not much to do about that but it just struck me as one note as I traveled up and down the tasting tables.
- Loved, Loved, Loved: Marcus Samuelsson, the chef-owner of Red Rooster in Harlem and frequent guest on Food Network. What a joy. He broke all the rules, serving us first a lethal cocktail adorned with fried peanuts he sauteed in a giant skillet while walking across the stage and then calling fellow star chef Aaron Sanchez and having the crowd talk to him. He ended by serving everyone a knockout dish of fried chicken and pasta napped with a sauce made with Ethiopian berbere spice. Bonus points that he knew about Prince’s Hot Chicken and Swetts.
Okay, my top dishes from the festival:
Superior hot chicken lollypops come out piping hot (in temperature) and crispy from the fryers manned at the festival. Nothing I ate even came close to how much I love Hattie B’s Hot Chicken.
Not the prettiest dish but Holler and Dash’s Hunka Hunka Bacon Love was stupendous — peanut butter mousse and sugar bacon atop a tender biscuit brushed with maple syrup with a banana slice with popcorn on the side. Oh my goodness.
Savory cheesecake with smoked salmon on a pumpernickel base with a cherry cocoa puree from etc. was super inventive and super delicious. Worth every calorie.
Even with its flaws (perceived by me), the Music City Food and Wine Festival is a jewel in Music City’s crown. It’s just over and I already can’t wait for next year.