Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Highlands Food & Wine

For over a century, Highlands NC has provided a mountain respite for visitors from all over the country. The resort town is located at an elevation of 4,118 feet, making it one of the highest towns east of the Mississippi; the surrounding mountains feature an abundance of recreational opportunities including hiking, fishing, waterfall photography and golf. In the postcard-perfect town of Highlands you’ll find a thriving arts scene (including the renowned Bascom Center), antique shopping, upscale boutiques, and fine-dining in a wide selection of restaurants. However the peak of foodie-delight comes in November, during the annual Highlands Food and Wine Festival.

Formerly known as Highlands Culinary Weekend, the festival celebrated its eleventh anniversary this year. Attendees were encouraged to explore nearby trails and waterfalls in between events, and local restaurants hosted individual dinners in partnership with the culinary and wine talent in town for the festival.

Truckin’, Friday’s food truck event, brought a wide array of food trucks from all over – including Greenville and Asheville – to complete a food-triangle-of-fame of sorts. The four hour event took place on Old Creek Circle, amidst tall trees decked out in autumn colors, on a chilly yet sunny Saturday, and proved that once again, the Highlands Food & Wine Festival is worth the trip!

On hand from Asheville was James Beard nominee Elliot Moss with his signature Buxton Hall Barbecue, chipotle cheese grits, collard greens and slaw, the pulled pork bbq bringing back memories of Greenville’s food festival euphoria that recently brought them down our way. Other highlights included Farm to Fender (also Asheville) with their Flying Goat BLT: smoked bacon, fried green tomatoes & local goat cheese, complimented by a side of Tabasco honey cauliflower wings.

A third vendor from Asheville was Bun Intended, the traditional Thai steamed buns and bao truck. Their Pork Belly Bao (with seared pork belly, cucumbers, pickled carrots & daikon, herbs, green onion and apple BBQ sauce!) and the Vegetable Bao are on my personal Truckin’ best-of list.

Greenville favorites Automatic Taco also had pork belly, theirs prepared Korean style with kimchi, cilantro and cashews. Despite worrying about stomach capacity and my ability to try everything, I admit that I couldn’t skip them, even though the Pork Belly Taco is what I usually order when I catch up with them here in town. (Very professional of me, right, making sure they were up to standard up in NC!?)

To complete the Asheville-Greenville-Highlands triangle, multiple local chefs participated during other festival events, including Adam Lewis of Mountain Fresh Grocery and Wolfgang Green of Wolfgang’s. However for Truckin’ we got lucky with a couple of food trucks from within the triangle - Backwoods Bakery and The Velvet Cup – and BrineHaus all the way from Raleigh! It was my first time trying BrineHaus, but the Tabasco sweet potato wings absolutely amazing, especially when paired with an IPA from Oskar Blues.

Beverages included cocktails from Tito’s Handcrafted Vodka, beer by Oskar Blues, and four wine distributors: Ecovalley Wines, Meeker Vineyard, Merry Edwards and Schug Winery. Tito’s had brought the bus, and I wasn’t the first (nor the last) festival-goer to take advantage of the comfortable leather seating to digest and recharge before the next course!

Backwoods Bakery with a mobile pizza oven

In addition to the cream of the culinary crop, this year’s Highlands Food & Wine Festival brought a spate of musical acts to western NC: JJ Grey & MOFRO, Love Canon, Liz Vice and the iconic Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans. The Futurebirds put on a great show before the Truckin’ headliners, Dawes, took the stage; it wouldn’t surprise me if folks came to Highlands just as much for the music as they did the food.

Between the Sip & Shop wine adventure on Friday, the Main Event that takes over Main Street on Saturday, various wine tastings throughout the weekend, Gospel Brunch on Sunday and a Generous Pour (concert) with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Highlands Food & Wine Festival was really the “Height of Happiness” for food and music lovers, allowing total immersion in food, wine, music and mountains.  And if you’re around for the festival, maybe I can suggest a few other stops while you’re in town…? 
Sunset Rock, Highlands
Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, Highlands to Franklin (4 waterfalls!!!)
Whiteside Mountain, between Highlands and Cashiers

For more on the Festival, checkout the website You can also follow on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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