Imagine the scene:
You walk up to a gentle clearing in the woods, just off the main road in the town of Highlands, North Carolina. Live music plays from a stage, with a circle of food trucks and beverage vendors ply you with delicious food and tasty drinks. In the center of the woods are high top tables, comfortable couches, and platforms covered in blankets and poofs, leading to a Morrocan vibe.
That was the party happening as part of the Highlands Food & Wine Festival this year, a party 11 years in the making.
With an elevation over 4x the population of the town (4110 ft. versus 924 permanent residents), Highlands is a small town with high-class hospitality. Its downtown features a mix of high-end boutiques, outdoor stores, and restaurants. It seems to be a town you either know or you’ve never heard of.
I had heard of Highlands and had even been once a long time ago, but when I got the opportunity to go to the Highlands Food & Wine Festival, I jumped at the chance to spend a weekend eating and spending time in the mountains.
Truckin’ was the greatest event. I’ve been to my fair share of food and wine festivals, but this one spoke to me. The description online did not do the event justice: you walk up to a wooded area filled with food and live music and the attendees were enjoying themselves and relaxing, and the food was delicious. People were sharing tables and chatting with each other. It felt a little like a mini-Coachella meets the woods.
The food was amazing. We started off at The Velvet Cupcake truck for mini-donuts and coffee. Then we found where Elliott Moss from Buxton Hall BBQ (Semifinalist at the James Beard Awards for Best Chef, NBD) was serving his BBQ with the most amazing grits, greens, and coleslaw.
Our mission was to try a little of everything. Automatic Taco brought out a sweet potato taco that made me feel like I could use any vegetable anywhere, and Bun Intended‘s pork bao tasted so fresh with the most delectable bun. Brined & Cured introduced me to the prettiest chicken biscuit I’ve ever seen, along with so much flavor that I never knew could be in such a simple meal.
Meanwhile, they had the beverages flowing. Tito’s Vodka had set up a spot near the stage where you could choose from a cool lemonade cocktail or warm apple cider mix. You could also pop into their RV for some warmth and to use their charging stations. Being in the woods with no service drained iPhone batteries! (Or maybe it was all the work photographing everything for Instagram.)
Oskar Blues was sharing their beer, and there were wine stations scattered around. Fiji water and Sunshine Energy* drinks, which are now my new favorite energy beverage, offered options for those not looking to imbibe, or trying to stay hydrated. There were mini Tobasco bottles scattered on every table, perfect for spicing up the food if that’s your thing. Matt snagged a few for throwing in our camping bag – apparently, he’s a spicy food fan. Who says you can’t learn new things after 10 years together?
*Sunshine Energy drinks were a surprising discovery for me. The ginger berry flavor was subtle without being bland and it offered the perfect amount of bubbles. They’re based out of Winston-Salem, they have no artificial flavors, and just enough caffeine to re-energize you without making you feel like you could life 1000 lb. weights.
Throughout the clear, sunshiny day, Dawes and Futurebirds played live sets on a stage, surrounded by relaxing living room setups and a row of benches that gave a feeling of summer camp and visiting my most bohemian friend. I loved the focus on local: the food trucks were from Greenville, Asheville, local areas. Oskar Blues beer came from down the road in Brevard. It complimented the ‘out in the woods’ feel for me.
I expected to enjoy myself, I did NOT expect to love it with the intensity that I did. I was literally texting people, “You’ve got to come check this out next year!” This was hands down my favorite event. Guess you know where you can find me next November.
Thank you so much to the Highlands Food & Wine Festival for inviting me to join them for their 2017 event! All opinions are mine.