Highlands Food and Wine Main Event packed downtown on Saturday

Swarms of visitors to Highlands Food and Wine festival’s Main Event on Saturday  sampled a variety of local culinary delicatessens most commonly with a craft beer, signature cocktail, or a selection of wine specifically chosen for such an occasion in hand.

Pictured below: Robert Earl Keen headlined Highlands Food and Wine Main Event on Saturday.

It may be hard to top wine tastings, an oyster roast, chocolate chip–banana bread from places such as Highlands Wine Shoppe, SweeTreats, The Darling Oyster Bar, Highland Brewing Co., The Chemist, Conundrum or Chocolate Heaven, to name a few; but after the group Love Canon performed to get the crowd warmed up, Robert Earl Keen hit the stage and the entire block erupted in cheers. A stage, along with tents, chairs, tables that were all set up beginning at 10 p.m. on Friday evening. Crews worked through the night in cold and windy conditions to have the street ready by the next morning.

Pictured below: Love Canon performed and warmed up the crowd in downtown Highlands on Saturday.

“This is amazing, the music, the food, everything,” said Irma Johnson of Greenville, S.C. “It’s such a beautiful town and the people are so welcoming. It’s the perfect opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle and just relax.”

Johnson and her husband, Maurice, are no strangers to a Food and Wine festivals having attended the event in Charlotte, N.C. on several occasions, but said the smaller scale of Highlands made everything a little more accessible.

“I think the difference is about three times the turnout in Charlotte,” said Maurice. “But honestly it’s more enjoyable being up here because it’s a smaller event and you don’t have to wait forever in lines to get to the food.”

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Main Street was full of visitors, food vendors, tables, chairs, tents and pretty much anything necessary to have a good time at a street festival.

Kristen McLean of Greenville was in town visiting friends and timed her trip to coincide with HFW.

“Last year we had such a good time and this year is amazing,” said Haselden. “The music, the food, the wine, it all great and were here spending time with great friends. Since we’ve been here, we’ve been meeting new people and learning a ton about food and wine.”

Virginia Hayes of Greenville agrees that learning about different dishes, wines and cocktails is interesting, but during her first visit to the festival she noticed something else you don’t see in her home town.

“I think it’s cool to learn about new types of foods, wines, and cocktails; but I really enjoy seeing all of the people wearing mountain fashions,” said Hayes. “The people watching is part of the fun. It’s just a good vibe. We come up here a lot, but we don’t get to do this every time, this is amazing.”

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Sometimes it pays to be that friend who grabs hydration while they hold your spot in the front row.

One of many crowd favorites was SweeTreats’ chicken and wild rice soup as the crew was consistently pouring cups of the hot comfort food. Owner of SweeTreats, Josh Stover, said his establishment is well known for its chilled deserts, but he wanted to use the Main Event to showcase some of their warmer options, one being a wild rice chicken soup that received rave reviews from guests.

“It’s the same homemade recipe were serve at the deli,” said Stover. “We picked it because we knew people would be cold and we wanted to bring something warm and fulfilling. Most people don’t know we have a really-good deli using 30-year-old recipes. It’s a hidden gem”

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The Darling Oyster Bar  kept tables stacked with piping hot oysters throughout the Main Event.

Another popular draw was the oyster roast by The Darling Oyster Bar. Joe Damaio, owner of the Oyster Bar in Charleston, S.C., is a part time–Highlands resident and said he brings up his catch from South Carolina each year and always hears positive feedback.

“They appreciate the freshness, the saltiness, and how meaty and juicy they are,” said Damaio. “Most people are used to Gulf (Coast) or Canadian (oysters), these are all brought up from South Carolina and they’re completely different. Our tides affect things, the salt in the water affects things, our water is very salty. There’s a lot of factors that make them so good.”

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Every now and then when everyone is facing the same direction, you feel the need to turn around.

Highlands Wine Shoppe Sommelier and Tasting Manager, Jennifer Cunningham, was passing out shots of Maloney’s Country Cream to chilly visitors and said it has become a big favorite around the fire at The Wine Shoppe on brisk evenings.

“We knew it was going to be chilly, so we wanted to bring something to warm people up,” said Cunningham. “If you’ve ever had Bailey’s (Irish Cream), it’s similar but it’s made with different ingredients and it lighter than Bailey’s.”

Pictured below: Concert-goers filled the time between live music sets with the plenty of temptations throughout the Main Event to keep their interest.

Not every treat offered to festival-goers had to be piping hot or lower inhibitions, owner of The Chocolate Heaven Co., Krysti Henderson, brought a variety of banana breads providing a simple finger-food option. The decision to bring the plethora of breads was because Krysti’s sister-in-law finally gave up her family’s recipe.

“We got it, we ran with it, and it took off like wildfire,” said Henderson.

Flavors of banana bread included chocolate chip, bourbon walnut and original.

“We thought it would be a nice change from bringing chocolate,” said Henderson. “We’ve been bringing chocolate to this for years, and banana bread seemed like a nice deviation from it. We’re comfort food people and thought this was perfect.”

Pictured below: Vendors stayed busy making sure visitors were well nourished and hydrated.

She added that over the several years she has been participating in HFW, she has enjoyed watching it evolve.

“I love how it’s growing,” she said. “There are so many people that want to come out and eat good food and have great entertainment, and Highlands is perfect for that.”

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Sometimes you have to let the balloon go.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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