EatDrinkRI’s 3rd Annual Food Festival: A Celebration of Rhode Island’s Best Edibles

IMG_0512EatDrinkRI wrapped up its third annual food festival on April 28. This year, the festival kicked off on Wednesday night with a brand new event: the “Sommelier Smackdown” at the Café at Easy Entertaining. The ever-popular Food Truck Stop was a success on Friday despite the less than ideal weather, and Saturday rounded off the festival with two major events: The Grand Tasting and Dinner with the Dames.

I had the good fortune of attending the Grand Tasting, which took place at the Rhode Island Convention Center on Saturday afternoon. Upon arrival, I was handed a small tasting glass and a schedule of events. From there I made my way into the tasting room, which was filled with the best food, wine, beer and spirits the Ocean State has to offer.

Everyone brought their A-game that day. Newport Vineyards tasted several incredible wines, the surprising favorite being their merlot. It paired beautifully with the braised short rib crostini they prepared on-site. The chefs from Los Andes brought a cold chicken salad, avocado concoction that didn’t sound too exciting, but the flavors were absolutely stellar. They also offered a generous ceviche with calamari, barramundi and plenty of spice. The chef then mixed the ceviche juice with some pisco to create a unique cocktail. Not sure I could drink more than the small sip they offered, but I appreciated the opportunity to try something new and different.

There was something there for every palate. You like mushrooms? You’re in luck as the RI Mushroom company sampled a tasty bit with sautéed mushrooms and goat cheese on crisp bread. Are sweets more your thing? You could try (and buy) French macarons, gourmet chocolate-dipped pretzels, ice cream, biscotti, waffles, butterscotch and more. Are you more of a bread and cheese person? The Mystic Cheese Company had samples of their incredible stinky cheese as well as a lovely soft brie, both of which went beautifully with some bread from Seven Stars Bakery and gourmet olive oil from Dell’Orto.

If you want to get your drink on, there were more samples than one could hope to try in an afternoon (and remain standing that is): Narragansett, Revival and Wachusett Brewers all brought an assortment of their best beers. Sons of Liberty, Mad River Distillers and Nautical Gin sampled their spirits either straight up or in cocktail form (thank you Nautical Gin for creating a Moscow mule with gin and berries). Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery offered samples of their world-renowned champagne made in the French tradition. Jonathan Edwards, Newport Vineyards and Nickle Creek Vineyards had the full range of tastings from light white to hearty reds. The Wine Brothers distributors from Maine introduced me to a sparkling wine called “Morphos” that was probably the most drinkable sparkling wine I’ve ever tasted; something I could see myself drinking…all…summer…long.

IMG_0509For me, the highlight of the entire event was the cooking demonstration. Two chefs from Basta in Cranston showed the audience how to make ravioli from scratch. I’ve seen this done plenty of times on YouTube and the Food Network, but there was nothing like watching it unfold in person. The chefs allowed us to feel the texture of the dough while explaining the process in detail. The best part was tasting the end product — ravioli filled with fig and a mixture of mascarpone and ricotta cheeses, sautéed in brown butter and topped with arugula and grated grana padano — while sipping Shiraz from the Jonathan Edwards winery.

I apologize to those restaurants, food purveyors and wineries I neglected to mention, but there was just too much to taste at the Grand Tasting, nevermind remember. Everything I did try was incredible; like something out of an episode of “Top Chef.”  What I also loved about the event was its intimacy. Despite the size of the hall, it never felt crowded, meaning there were plenty of opportunities to talk to and get to know our local food experts. Everyone was enthusiastic and friendly; all had entertaining stories to share over a glass of bubbly or a bite of cheese.

After three hours of eating and drinking, I could EatDrink no more. I left with a bag full of coupons, a couple of bottles of olive oil, some stinky cheese and my souvenir glass. The only bummer: going home at 4:00 in the afternoon with a full belly and a pleasant buzz and having to face my children. Next year I’ll plan better, but I’ll definitely be back.

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