Just down the mountain from Asheville, in the waning shadows of our own food and wine festival, the Foothills area put in its bid on Sunday to be recognized for its foodie community with the inaugural Taste of Our Carolina Foothills food and wine festival at Overmountain Vineyards in Tryon.
Featuring more than 40 restaurants and cafés and over a dozen wineries, breweries and distillers, the festival promised a unique look at an often-overlooked region of the Carolinas’ culinary landscape. Hundreds turned out to dot the hills of the picturesque vineyard, taste the offerings of local purveyors and sip on regional wines.
My recommendation to anyone attending a festival of this kind is to get something in your glass first thing. For us, it was a dry muscadine from Russian Chapel Hills Winery, which was truly a pleasant surprise. Unlike the sugar-soaked, mother-vine wines of Carolina yore, Russian Chapel Hill’s take resembled a dry chenin blanc or a less apple-focused riesling — tart, flavorful and balanced, with a kiss of residual sugar.
Southside Smokehouse, from Landrum, S.C., came out swinging with a decent pulled-pork sandwich, but the real base hit was a flavor bomb of a gumbo. Hare and Hound, also from Landrum, brought a hell of a smoked rib, with the meat basically falling off the bone. And the Cheese Store of Asheville displayed a great variety of local cheeses as well as international fare.
I have come to loathe the dreaded fillo-cup offerings at food and wine festivals. I understand that restaurants at these events have to display what they can do in a concise finger-food format, but let’s face it, by the fifth time you’ve stuffed a fillo cup packed with anything in your mouth, you’re beginning to get over the concept. Green River BBQ, however, caught me off guard with an extremely simple tomato salad served in the crispy cup. I was expecting the usual cream cheese-based, shredded-meat monstrosity, but instead I found something that was distinctly classic, Southern and fantastic.
As for beverages, Tryon’s Bottle Tree Beer Co. offered up a great golden ale, while Motte and Sons Distilling poured a completely passable, lightly oaked grain whiskey, as did Back Door Distilling, whose spirit was quite potent at over 100 proof.
Naked Apple Hard Cider was also pouring their quite quaffable wares, including a tart, but memorable blackberry cider. And the hosts themselves, Overmountain Vineyards were tasting out a strong portfolio of traditional and fortified wines that hailed from the very vineyards in which we were enjoying ourselves.
The festival was the first of what is hoped to become a tradition, and from the crowds and the drunken, happy faces, I see no reason why it shouldn’t become an annual occurrence. Tickets ran for $45 a pop and, despite the aforementioned overabundance of fillo cups, it made for quite an enjoyable experience.