Over 18,000 hungry and thirsty people crowded Robinson Street near Lake Eola for a delicious afternoon.
The Downtown Food and Wine Fest, presented by CBS Radio in partnership with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, brought 35 restaurants and 11 wines distributors last Saturday and Sunday.
With food from Hooters’ “Nearly World Famous” chicken wings to Anatolias gyro sandwiches, participants in the event had to come up with special tactics to cover each tent. Miriam Jenkins has attended the event two years in a row and knows to go on reconnaissance of all the selections before making a decision where to eat.
“I scouted first, then came back to get something,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins’ friend Lydia Taylor reaped the benefits from looking at different items first. Taylor settled on gumbo from Terrace 390.
“I would definitely go back there,” Taylor said. “The gumbo was great.”
The cost of the event was $15 for people who did not pre-order their tickets. Once inside, food and drink tickets could be purchased for two dollars each. Food and wine tastings ranged from one to four tickets.
The amount of food and drink tickets people purchased depended on how much they wanted to experience. One woman purchased $40 worth while her two friends bought $20 worth of tickets each.
“If someone wanted to experience the majority of what the event had to offer, spending $50 would probably be a reasonable amount,” said Mark Abrew who heard about the event on Real Radio 104.1.
Graze at Harmony made an impression on Abrew.
“It is a bit far but the food is good. It’s a good wedding spot,” Abrew jokes to his girlfriend who responded, “Uh-oh. Is this my queue to run?”
The atmosphere at the event was casual and fun. The majority of people at the event made it clear that a drink was essential to the experience. Whether it was a red wine to couple with a plate of braised beef or a refreshing white wine to cool off, participants found some reason to enjoy what the festival offered.
Making sure the wine didn’t make the event too crazy, Emily Morris enjoyed a shrimp in garlic sauce mofongo dish from Guavate.
“This is what you call ‘soakage’,” Morris said. “This will help soak up the wine I’ve been drinking.”
Restaurant vendors were told by event coordinators to expect up to 30,000 people total for both days. Jason Wolfe, sous-chef at K Restaurant and Wine Bar, prepped for 5,000 potential customers.
“We figured we would do good, easy stuff, so we decided on pork belly sliders,” Wolfe said. “We cooked it at the restaurant and all we have to do is assemble them here.”
To gauge how much exposure from they receive from the event, Tommy Bahama passes out “bounce-back” cards to people who redeem them at the restaurant for a discount on their meal.
“The restaurants are thrilled,” said Colette Ferrell, CBS Radio spokeswoman. “These are the types of people they want at their restaurants.”
Along with food and wine, the festival offered entertainment in the form of live music and feature chefs making different recipes for spectators to take home and try themselves.
Lindsay Autry, a Bravo Top Chef chef’testant, made ricotta gnocchi for a crowd of about 50 people. Spectators said they enjoyed being able to see the dish being made in front of them.
A portion of the proceeds from the event went to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association Educational Foundation, according to the press release. Scholarships are also distributed to hospitality majors at UCF Rosen College and Valencia, Ferrell said.
“Planning for next years event will probably start next week,” Ferrell said. “We plan to need eight months to a year to get everything in order.”
CBS Radio worked with the FRLA to choose the eligible food and wine vendors. Each vendor has to be a member and apply to certain criteria such as proper certificates and participation in FRLA education courses. From there, the FRLA made sure there were a variety of food types represented, according to Ferrell.
“It’s a fun event and it goes to charity,” Abrew said. “You pay 15 bucks and get a good mix of everything.”