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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sampling Charlotte's finest foods at Taste of the Nation

Posted By on Thu, Apr 17, 2014 at 2:23 PM

After an evening filled by visiting 18 local restaurants, a massive silent auction and a trip to the mixology station, my night was now complete - and quite satisfying... OK, there were several trips to the mixology station.

Executive chef Mike Suppa of Uptown Kitchen and Bar.
  • Photo by Nikki Wilson
  • Executive chef Mike Suppa of Uptown Kitchen and Bar.

At last night's Taste of the Nation event, guests took over Uptown's Wells Fargo Atrium and indulged in food including the bruschetta trio from Mama Ricotta's, roast baby beet skewers topped with robiola and chervil from Ilios Noche, and pulled pork sliders - literally pulled right off the roast pig laying tableside - from the new Uptown Bar and Kitchen set to open this spring.

The food and drink serves as the main entertainment for the event, rightfully so as I was wristbanded and dived into the first restaurant, with drink in hand, within 15 minutes. But the jazz band was a delightful touch to the evening and the photo booth is always a good time. Each of the featured eateries offered a variety of flavors - a quick way to obtain a true taste of Charlotte cuisine in one easy stop. And yes, I visited all 18 stations.

A few notables of the night included Gallery restaurant, located inside the Ballantyne Hotel, which served up massive chocolate-covered caramel dessert bites. With a crispy inside layer and rich outside, this "bite" took four chomps to take it down - but that's not at all a complaint. And compliments to Village Tavern as well for serving up pork belly tacos topped with Asian slaw, toasted sesame seeds, onions and cilantro. At this point I was quite stuffed, but there's no way I was turning down pork belly.

Stefan Huebner of Heist Brewery mans the mixology station.
  • Photo by Nikki Wilson
  • Stefan Huebner of Heist Brewery mans the mixology station.

It's not only the food that makes a true foodie event. Like many others, I love the option to pair my bites with crafted sips and experience an entirely new taste. I was ecstatic to see local favorites Andy Maurer of SOUL Gastrolounge and Stefan Huebner from Heist Brewery, once again manning the mixology station. Each trip here is an experience with recipes changing throughout the evening so chances are you won't be holding the same cocktail twice. The drinks are made before your eyes, not only offering a fresh taste but also a chance to nab the recipe if you so desire.

My last libation of the evening was by far my favorite and a recipe straight from the mind of cocktail sensei Huebner. This drink, found on Heist Brewery's menu as the Horny Toad, combines tequila, fresh lime juice, jalapeno agave syrup and Cholula. Garnished with a freshly-cut jalapeno, the drink was light, hid the tequila punch quite well (which could make this a dangerous drink), and heated up the longer I allowed the jalapeno slice to marinate in the top of my glass.

The ratio of savory to sweet was quite off as I only found three bite-sized desserts to top the evening off but those with a strong sweet tooth most likely ended up in VIP, with a private dessert and champagne bar for their liking.

All in all, Taste of the Nation once again pleased palates all around the city while raising funds for Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina and the Community Culinary School of Charlotte. See you next April, TOTN.

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