Greetings from a sparkling Saturday in Greenville, South Carolina, where Euphoria, one of the most appealing food festivals in the South, is in full swing. We’re talking bluegrass banjos, bacon-infused cocktails with industry legend Allan Benton, she crab soup with Restaurant Eugene’s Linton Hopkins, and a guaranteed return home in tighter trousers (we know it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to try the moonshine cocktails and pork belly polenta at American Grocery Restaurant). It’s all part of the fun.
Founded in 2006 by local hero (and platinum-selling singer/songwriter) Edwin McCain and restaurateur Carl Sobocinski (of Greenville’s Table 301 restaurants), Euphoria is a dedicated to showcasing the brightest star chefs in the South (including Joseph Lenn of Blackberry Farm, Edward Lee chef at 610 Magnolia) as well as the town’s vibrant culinary and cultural scene.
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Greenville’s revitalized downtown, confluence of international businesses (including Michelin and BMW) and world-class entertainment venues have made it an emerging eating and drinking destination. “Ten years ago we’d have to take visiting family and friends to Atlanta or Charleston to entertain them,” Chris Stone, president of the Greenville CVB told me over coffee, “but all that’s changing. Now people actually want to come here to vacation, and they can’t wait to get back to our restaurants.”
This year’s festival draws enthusiastic eaters from 33 states—many of them repeat visitors. David Guas, chef at Bayou Bakery in Arlington, VA, is back for his seventh year in a row (tonight he’ll cook a meal with pal Linton Hopkins at Breakwater). “It is so cool to see how this event has evolved and grown,” said Guas. “The first year was about uncertainty combined with a passion to make it happen. Now the downtown has completely transformed and there’s so much energy.”
Euphoria kicked off Thursday night with a casual evening of acoustic music (featuring Shawn Mullins). Friday highlights included the above mentioned bacon breakfast (including an intimate screening of “Cured,” Joe York’s documentary about Benton) and an alfresco feast that’s widely considered among locals as the most enchanting evening of the year. Attendees gathered under stars and strings of lightbulbs in the Peace Center Amphitheatre for “Taste of the South,” to nibble small plates from Greenville’s best chefs, including Vicky Moore of The Lazy Goat and Spencer Thomson of Devereaux’s.
This morning, a preview breakfast at Roost, gave a glimpse of the forthcoming “soil to city” restaurant that will open in the downtown Hyatt early 2013. After an elixir of figs and berries and a bowl of Suber Mills Grits with bacon and a poached farm egg, I shopped the farmer’s market with chef Spencer Thomson to pick up produce for the chef dinner at his restaurant tonight.
Later in the day, Linton Hopkins prepared she crab soup at a cooking demo (where he confessed one of his favorite things to do in the kitchen is watch butter melt in a skillet) and we joined friends for Belgian lagers at The Trappe Door. This evening chefs throughout town will share their kitchens with visiting celebs (George Mendes, chef at Manhattan’s Aldea will cook at The Lazy Goat).
Sunday promises a New Orleans-style brunch on the banks of the Reedy River and live jazz from acclaimed musician Mark Rapp and Wycliffe Gordon as well as a popular, family style “Sunday Supper” when everyone, including the chefs, can kick back with a cold one. Not a bad way to enjoy the fleeting perfection of a sunny autumn weekend.