Although the weather closed the 20th annual Taste of Marietta festival a few hours early, by all accounts the estimated 30,000 people who turned out for the day seemed to enjoy themselves.
Taste of Marietta, the annual food festival held the last Sunday in April to showcase the county’s restaurants and caterers, is the county’s largest and longest-running food festival.
Abigail Hyatt of east Cobb and husband, Travis, mother-in-law, Nancy, and daughters, Ginny, 7, and Maddie, who turns five next week, were touring the food booths about 1 p.m.
“We came a few years back and it was raining just like this,” Hyatt said. “We actually have more fun when it’s raining.”
For one thing, it’s not as crowded. And it’s also cooler, she said. Hyatt said her favorite booths were Ocean Fresh Seafood and Dave Poe’s BBQ.
“We sample everything and then we figure out if anything is worth going back for, and so far those are the two that we think we might hit again,” she said.
Marietta Visitors Bureau director Theresa Jenkins said they decided to close the festival at about 5 p.m.
“The fire department told us that more severe weather was heading this way, and the electricity, the rain was so heavy that it kept tripping the electricity, and we could not maintain electricity to the bands and to the food vendors,” she said.
Jenkins said she and the Marietta Police Department estimated a turnout of about 30,000 on Sunday.
“Of course we’re disappointed in the weather, but I’m thrilled that we had 30,000 come out in this kind of weather,” Jenkins said. “That just goes to show you what a wonderful event Taste of Marietta is. People will come out in all kinds of weather because they just love the event so much.”
Beth Sessoms, the city’s economic development director, turned out for the event, saying she enjoyed the popcorn shrimp with remoulade sauce from Henry’s Louisiana Grill in Acworth.
Councilman Philip Goldstein also turned out, umbrella in hand, noting he opted for the House of Lu chicken.
Marietta High School sophomore Tom Buxton recommended Dave Poe’s BBQ.
“It was delicious. That’s my favorite,” Buxton said.
Accompanying Buxton was Marietta High sophomore Ahjaina Beard.
“I had MPC,” she said, explaining that stands for Marietta Pizza Company.
Johnnie Gabriel, owner of Gabriel’s Desserts, said this was the first year she had a booth in the festival. Some of the items people were lining up to buy were salmon cakes and grits, Brunswick stew, and pimento cheese sandwiches.
The salmon cakes and red velvet cake pops were the most popular, she said.
“Everybody really seems to be enjoying themselves,” Gabriel said around 2 p.m. “They’re not packed in. Everybody is having a good time, and when it’s wet, they don’t mind, and when it’s dry, they appreciate it. I think we will be back next year. I hope everybody here is having as good a time as my team is having, because we’re having a great time.”
This is the second year Marc Taft, owner and chef at Chicken and the Egg, has had a booth in the festival.
Taft served slow-roasted pork belly sandwiches with aioli and pickled vegetables, butterbean hummus and banana pudding.
“I think the weather is keeping a few people out, but it’s a good turnout considering,” Taft said.
Gary Leake, owner of Johnnie MacCracken’s Pub, said as far as tasting events, Marietta still holds the record for the highest attendance in metro Atlanta, although other cities are beginning to catch on.
That just means Marietta will have to do even better, he said.
“One thing they did this year at the Welcome Center is they prevent people like the Thai restaurants that are slopping food on the plate, giving you a big plate, they’ve omitted them from being part of this, and had more of the small restaurants that are actually doing a special product,” Leake said. “That’s what people are coming here for. They’re not coming here for a big plate of food.”
Jenkins, who is retiring this year, said this is her last Taste of Marietta event. The festival started 20 years ago when city merchants and members of the Visitors Bureau decided they needed a way to promote the local restaurants and hospitality industry.
“We started off with 14 restaurants,” Jenkins said. “They were all on West Park Square, and it’s grown to the event it is.”
Jenkins said it made her a little nostalgic that she wouldn’t be organizing a 21st festival.
“I’m very sad that my last one ended with such a rainy mess, but when you do an outdoor festival you do it in all kinds of weather,” she said.
This year’s award winners, Jenkins said, are the following:
- Gabriel’s won The All American Award for its double fudge cupcakes;
- Deep Fried Brownies won The Dangerously Delicious Dessert Award for its original brownie;
- Le Café Crepe won The Big Chicken Award for its chicken Florentine crepes;
- Dave Poe’s BBQ won The Grill master for its ribs;
- Grand Champion BBQ won the Finger-licking Good Award for its ribs;
- Keegan’s Public House won The Overall Tastiest Taste Award for its chicken pot pie;
- Hottie Hawgs BBQ won The Most Unique Award for its crispy pig’s ear;
- Taqueria Tsunami won the Best International Dish for its avocado eggroll;
- Henry’s Louisiana Grill won Best Comfort Food for its shrimp and grits; and
- Big Shanty Smokehouse won Best Blazin’ BBQ for its ribs.