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Achieve culinary euphoria at Greenville's food festival

If you’re looking to achieve euphoria (or close to it) during your next dining experience, then pack your bags for a Fall weekend getaway to Greenville, S.C.

This time of the year the city’s “rapidly and aggressively growing” food scene takes center stage hosting one of the most talked about food, wine and music festivals in the South.

There is no better way to see how far the city has grown on the culinary national scene than by its annual Euphoria food and wine festival.

Since 2006, Euphoria has been celebrating food, wine and music of the South. This past weekend marked the seventh Greenville festival, showcasing more than two dozen award winning chefs and sommeliers from across the country.  

Without question the high note of the four-day event is also the toughest ticket to get: The “Sunday Supper,” is served family style inside an open-air brick pavilion set along the Reedy River that runs through the city’s downtown, creating a truly magical setting.

“This is the second year we've done it and the word got out real quick... it's a really special setting where the chef is cooking right up on stage,” says Euphoria’s co-founder and restaurateur Carl Sobocinski. The intimate dining experience is limited to150 guests and featured a mouth-watering menu by Chef Joseph Lenn from the luxury resort Blackberry Farm in eastern Tennessee and Chef Gary Mennie from High Cotton in Greenville.  

The three main courses featured cedar planked wild salmon, squash casserole with sweet and spicy fried chicken and oak roasted pork with brown butter spiced sweet potato puree. “It’s an honor to come here and do this event,” says Lenn. 

“This is traditionally like our garden dinner menu that we serve in our garden (at Blackberry Farm)…but the fried chicken you have to come to an event and stay really, really late and drink a lot of whiskey and you might get that fried chicken, its very rare… so it’s a special treat.”  

The memorable meal ended with blue cheese cake topped with blueberries soaked in moonshine and spiced plum strudel with ginger caramel.  The whole idea behind the Sunday Supper is to “get back to the roots and enjoy time together as a family” says Sobocinski who came up with the idea for Euphoria after sharing a meal with platinum-selling singer and songwriter Edwin McCain, a Greenville native.

“What Edwin and I hoped is that people would discover Greenville and travel for this (event). Last year we had every state but one - east of the Mississippi (River) represented.  This year I’ve talked to people from San Francisco, New York, a couple from Michigan who said they read about it and like to go to food and wine festivals and this looked like fun,” says Sobocinski.

It comes as no surprise the city attracts plenty of transplants from cooler climates considering it’s consistently ranked as one of the best places to retire and to raise a family. Greenville offers Southern hospitality at its finest. A place where people greet each other with a smile and a ‘hello’ while walking down the city’s picturesque Main Street lined with trees draped with white twinkling lights.

This year’s Euphoria drew close to 5,000 people at various events throughout the four-day festival.  The biggest crowd by far showed up for the annual Sunday Jazz Brunch. For only $45 per person, the all-you-can-eat and drink buffet-style menu included roasted pork with drunken applesauce and sweet potato biscuits, bananas foster French toast, Bayou shrimp macaroni & cheese, beef tenderloin with bleu cheese grits and poached quail egg. 

Of course it wouldn’t be brunch in the South without the ultimate southern staples: shrimp & grits, crab cakes and gumbo. One brunch-goer who relocated to Greenville from upstate New York admits it’s not only the food that keeps her coming back year after year. “I love the live jazz music so I never miss it,” she says. The family–friendly atmosphere makes it the best option for parents with young children who want to take advantage of Euphoria.

Saturday’s Euphoria daytime events ranged from cooking demos, to extensive wine and beer tastings to smaller wine seminars led by master sommeliers.  In the evening, the Guest Chef Dinner Series paired visiting chefs with chefs from roughly a dozen of Greenville’s best restaurants. Five course menus were planned weeks in advance and involve serious preparation. Korean influenced barbeque included tamarind glazed pork breast with corn pudding, a creation from visiting Chef Edward Lee from 610 Magnolia in Louisville, KY, who – after spending all night prepping - joked, “I’ve been Euphoric all weekend long.” Dinners include specific beverage pairings of wine, beer or bourbon.

Friday night’s highlight event was the “Taste of the South” featuring smaller bites from fourteen of Greenville’s finest restaurants and live outdoor performances from artists Edwin McCain and Shawn Mullins.  Stella’s Southern Bistro got rave reviews for its “red neck picnic” concept: a fried bologna sandwich, mini-moon pie and RC Cola shooter.  The idea came from Stella’s chef and owner Jason Scholz. “I think I was standing in line at a gas station and noticed a few things, we thought we'd make a run at it and see if we could make it into our own thing. We ran out (of food) before anybody else (here) did!”  Other creations included Korean barbeque pork tacos with kimchee and bacon loaded brownies from Nose Dive, a gastropub, to satisfy any late night sweet tooth cravings.

Ask locals to describe the Greenville restaurant scene and they beam with pride. “We have something for everyone.... no matter what your tastes, we're on the cutting edge. It’s beautiful," says Claudia Wise, small business manager with the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. "That’s what us foodies love, right? What this (Euphoria) does for the community, it brings awareness to the dining destination that Greenville has become.”  

Which is exactly why Evan Gatti and her husband make a special trip to Euphoria every year from their hometown in North Carolina. “All of our friends in Raleigh or Greensboro are always surprised to hear about the food in Greenville, and they are really blown away when we talk about the food experiences down here. It’s amazing and I think Greenville just surprises people,” says Gatti.

IF YOU GO:

Next year's festival is already slated for Sept. 26-29, 2013 and tickets are on sale now.  In addition to amazing food, great performances and a relaxing environment, you might be happy to know that all profits from Euphoria ticket sales benefit area charities.