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March festival's perks and attractions add up to
a long weekend to savor on the coast

Special to the Observer

Now in it’s fifth year, the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival is bigger--and better--than ever. This year’s March 4-7 helping still has tickets available to many menu items, making it relatively easy to plan a last-minute trip.

Unlike many American festivals of this kind, Charleston’s recipe for success focuses on Southern cuisine--especially Lowcountry fare--creatively prepared by nationally known local chefs and world-renowned visitors (like Bobby Flay and Tyler Florence in past years and Daniel Boulud this March). From dine-arounds where local and visiting chefs team up to prepare five-course meals paired with wines, to a Culinary Village at Marion Square--the epicenter of the epicurean weekend--Charleston is the place for foodies to be in a few short weeks.

March 4-5

The long weekend starts early with yet another new offering. Thursday’s Perfect Pairing Winemaker Luncheons feature three-course lunches paired with wines at MUSE and 82 Queen. They're followed by the Opening Night Party: Salute to Charleston Chefs, with more than 18 local culinary icons offering small plates from their restaurants--with wine, live music, hand-rolled cigars from Coastal Cigars and more fun included in the new format of this popular (and often sold out) opening event.

Friday brings many other new offerings in which tickets may still be available. They include: Wadmalaw Farm-to-Table Excursion (including farm, winery, and tea plantation visits, along with a farm-to-table lunch); Gullah Tribute Luncheon (honoring local Gullah cuisine and culture); and “Wine Around the Garden” (out at Middleton Plantation). Friday stand-bys also include King Street Sip + Stroll (think wine-plus-boutique shopping); the opening of the Culinary Village, which continues through Sunday; and dine-arounds at the likes of Circa 1886, Cypress Lowcountry Grill, FIG, Fish, Charleston Grill, Trattoria Lucca, Hominy Grill, High Cotton, McCrady’s, Oak Steakhouse, Peninsula Grill, and Slightly North of Broad (most were already sold out at press time, so check the website in the box below for tasty alternates).

March 6

On Saturday of the festival, the Culinary Village heats up with "Iron Chef"-style cooking competitions that pit local chefs against national chefs. Season Five Next Food Network Star runner-up Jeffrey Saad is this year’s master of ceremonies.

The Culinary Village tents fill Marion Square, downtown between King and Meeting streets, on the north side of Calhoun Street.

Other Saturday possibilities include: the new Celebrity Authors Reception (including book signings); several beer- and bourbon-driven dinners; a special Dining for Diversity Dinner at the Culinary Institute of Charleston; and a new version of the sweet-tooth evening end (for most)--Bubbles & Sweet…With a Twist.

Though there are several good seminars and tastings for wine and other beverages Friday and Sunday, Saturday is a big day for sippers. Those who like the festival wine (provided by Charleston-based Stolzle) can find varied options at Whole Foods, Wine Styles, Crushed Fine Wines, and Coastal Cupboard. Foodies will also want to head to East Bay Street’s Charleston Cooks! shop for kitchen goodies, cookbooks, and much more.

March 7

Many festival veterans plan to stay late into the day Sunday or even spend another night (when accommodations rates likely drop). That’s thanks to events like the Lowcountry Gospel Brunch and BBQ, Blues & Brew, as well as the Bourbon Born Spirit Tasting hosted by Julian Van Winkle, a fourth- generation bourbon maker. Locals have also learned that the Culinary Village is less-expensive (and less-crowded) on Sunday--and those who have already been earlier in the weekend know the chef-filled vibe around Marion Square is always fun--and free!

Soon Being Served


*Call 843-727-9998, ext. 4, or visit www.charlestonwineandfood.com for the latest on what tickets are still available. Check the “Travelers” link to help get a room and more.


*Many places are already full, but Charming Inns (www.charminginns.com), Charlestowne Hotels (www.charlestownehotels.com), and Patrick Properties (www.patpropllc.com) have varied possibilities around town that should have vacancies. Some stand-alone properties that may still have space include: the classic Mills House (www.millshouse.com); Hampton Inn Historic District (www.hamptoninn.com); splurge-worthy Charleston Place (www.charlestonplace.com) or Planters Inn (www.plantersinn.com); and Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina (www.charlestonharborresort.com) across the Cooper River in Mt. Pleasant.

Insider Tips

*Last-minute accommodations (and tickets) can also be found at www.wineandfoodpackages.com and www.explorecharleston.com. These links offer festival packages and more, including still-available accommodations and even tickets to some events already listed as “sold out” elsewhere.

*On Facebook, become a festival fan (search for Charleston Wine + Food Festival) to score last-minute tickets and discounts only found on Facebook.

*The free opening ceremonies at Marion Square (11:00 a.m. Friday) include musical performances, special celebrity appearances, and an anniversary giveaway including tickets, wine, and special event seating.

*Friday night’s Restaurant dine-arounds are perpetually popular, making it a great night to try something less known and less crowded (this is also true for other days of the festival). Local and veteran visitor favorites include MUSE, Mercato, Blossom, Magnolias, Hank’s, Hall’s Chophouse, Rue de Jean, La Fourchette, Social, Poogan’s Porch, and Mt. Pleasant’s Old Village Post House.