Charleston has become a culinary hot spot. The quaint coastal city is home to more than 150 restaurants and several James Beard-nominated and -winning chefs. Every spring, the South Carolina destination opens its doors to epicurean experts and foodie fanatics for the Charleston Wine & Food Festival. With so many tasty happenings around the city, you may need some help getting through it all. Consider these the highlights for the Lowcountry excitement.
What to Know
The BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival is an annual celebration of the Lowcountry’s best food and wine. The four-day culinary event began in 2006, and this year the festivities run from Feb. 28 to March 3 in Francis Marion Square. The festival is considered one of the top food and wine celebrations in the United States, and attracts chefs, food professionals and winemakers from across the country.
Last year, more than 21,000 people attended the event and participated in 75-plus programs. This year’s lineup is equally stellar, boasting a total of 85 dinners at some of the city’s best restaurants and private homes, classes at Charleston Culinary Institute, and a huge foodie village with tasting tents, celebrity chef cooking demos, book signings and a pop-up Le Creuset store. High-caliber guests include Boston’s Barbara Lynch, Atlanta’s Hugh Acheson and Linton Hopkins, Blackberry Farm’s Joseph Lenn, Miami’s Michelle Bernstein, Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson, Allagash Brewing Company’s Naomi Neville and mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim.
Tickets for the festival’s most popular programs sell out fast—the $1,075 Ultimate Grand Weekend, $575 Variety and $300 Wine Lovers passes are no longer available. But single-event tickets are still on sale, so get yours now if you plan to attend. Proceeds benefit local culinary charities and scholarships, and since its inception, the non-profit festival has raised $325,000.
What to Do
With more than 85 food-related events, you’ll have no trouble finding one that speaks to your taste buds. If you want to learn about Charleston’s food history, the Soul Food Shuffle day trip is for you. Local farmer and food writer Jeff Allen leads you on a tour through the celebrated soul food Charleston is known for. You’ll make several stops, including Ernie’s for okra soup and flavorful lima beans and Bertha’s Kitchen in North Charleston for its famous macaroni and cheese, turkey prioleau (a slow-cooked rice-and-meat stew) and bread pudding. $150, March 1, 10:30 a.m., various restaurants.
You won’t want to miss the Culinary Village and Grand Tasting Tents. This is where you can indulge in cuisine and cocktails from more than 80 food and beverage vendors. But it’s also home to the SCE&G Celebrity Kitchen, where you can view live cooking demos; the Avalon Wine Outdoor Living + Grilling Area, which also features live grilling and tastings; a Book Signing Tent; and the Whole Foods Wine Retail tent. $85, various times March 1-3, Marion Square Park.
Neighborhood restaurant and bar Closed for Business hosts the best bash for beer lovers. The Allagash Brewing Company Craft Beer Dinner is a five-course tasting of Closed for Business’ Southern pub grub paired with Allagash’s Belgian-style ales. $125, March 2, 7 p.m., Closed for Business, 453 King St.
End the festival on a high note at the traditional Lowcountry Jazz Brunch at the historic Lowndes Grove Plantation. The three-course brunch includes fare from a variety of Charleston’s top restaurants, signature Southern Bloody Marys and mimosas, and live music from local favorite The Mark Sturbank Group, featuring Quiana Parlor and Quentin Baxter. $125, March 3, 11 a.m., Lowndes Grove Plantation, 266 St. Margaret St.
Where to Party
The parties (and after-parties) at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival are as legendary as the city’s Lowcountry cuisine. The eerie—some say haunted—19th-century Old City Jail will be home to the first Jailhouse Shake-Up party. Charleston’s top mixologists—Proof’s Charles Nelson, The Cocktail Club’s Jackson Holland and The Gin Joint’s Joe Raya—will serve up classic cocktails alongside small bites from four of the city’s top chefs and caterers. A local DJ will spin live music, and the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism—the party’s sponsor—will give away a trip to the islands. $90, March 1, 7 p.m., Old City Jail, 21 Magazine St.
Check out the Art Institute of Charleston’s Festival After Hours: Party Around the World, where The Glass Onion’s chefs Chris Stewart and Sarah O’Kelley join Husk chef Travis Grimes and Home Team BBQ pitmaster Aaron Siegel (and more) for a night of international cuisine and cocktails. Chinese, Italian, German, Spanish and Mexican fare will be served while you dance to globally inspired music. $100, March 2, 8:30 p.m., Visitors Center Bus Shed, 375 Meeting St.
Where to Stay
Charleston chefs and restaurants aren’t the only ones getting in on the culinary action. Many of the Charleston hotels and boutique inns are participating as well, providing a variety of packages with festival tickets. The historic Elliott House Inn’s Sip and Savor offer includes accommodations for Friday and Saturday, two tickets for the Vineyard Voyage aboard SpiritLine Cruises on Saturday, and the Lowcountry Jazz Brunch on Sunday, plus a wine and cheese reception. The Inn just completed a two-year renovation and is located in the heart of the Historic District.
You can’t get much closer to the festival than the Francis Marion Hotel—it’s across from the main tent’s entrance. Book the hotel’s two-night Wine and Food Lover’s package, and choose two tickets (per night) to some of the most popular events, including the Grand Tasting Tents, the Jailhouse Shake-Up party, Every Day with Rachael Ray + Manchester Farms Quail Present At Home with Celebrity Tastemakers, and the SieMatic Presents Passport to Pairings at the historic Thomas Bennett House downtown.
If you love history as much as food, consider the John Rutledge House Inn’s Food + Wine Gastronome package. The historic inn is just one of 15 surviving homes once owned by a signer of the U.S. Constitution, and the only one that welcomes overnight guests. Built in 1763, the John Rutledge House Inn is a few blocks from Francis Marion Square. Booking a room here gets you two nights at the inn, plus tickets to the SieMatic Presents Passport to Pairings event, Every Day with Rachael Ray + Manchester Farms Quail Present At Home with Celebrity Tastemakers, Saturday morning at the Culinary Village and Grand Tasting Tents, and the Lowcountry Jazz Brunch on Sunday.
But the most exclusive package is probably the Wentworth Mansion’s Food + Wine Gourmand—it includes three nights in a mansion suite at the historic Wentworth Mansion. The fully restored inn was built in 1886 as a private residence and is in downtown Charleston’s Historic District. Tickets to the festival include Thursday night’s Opening Night Party: Salute to Charleston Chefs at the South Carolina Aquarium; access to the Culinary Village and Grand Tasting Tents on Friday afternoon; and seats at Wentworth Mansion’s Circa 1886 restaurant’s Perfectly Paired Dinner prepared by executive chef Marc Collins and New York’s Jesse Schenker from Recette Restaurant. You’ll also get passes to Saturday’s Vineyard Voyage and Republic Reign’s Cocktail Dinner, as well as the Sunday morning Jazz Brunch at Lowndes Grove Plantation.
Photos Courtesy of Andrew Stephen Cebulka and Charming Inns