The Tasty Season: Bull City kicks off run of food and beer fests

CorrespondentMarch 6, 2014 

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    What: Bull City Food and Beer Experience

    When: March 9

    Where: DPAC, 123 Vivian St., Durham

    Cost: $75

    Why go: Dozens of restaurants and even more breweries are involved, but there’s also an onstage specialty beer tasting during bluegrass-ish band Mipso’s set.

    Info: bullcityexperience.com

In a way, Sunday’s Bull City Food and Beer Experience marks the start of the Triangle food fest season; after all, it’s finally warming up after what’s been a particularly long and miserable winter. “Everybody wants to get out,” says Thorne Daubenspeck, DPAC’s director of sales and an organizer of this weekend’s extravaganza in the upscale theater’s multi-story lobby. “They want to go outside and do something.”

In another way, though, the season never really quits. Food fests like Chapel Hill’s TerraVITA happen in October, while Raleigh Rare and Vintage Beer Tasting was a month ago. Even outside the warm-weather heart of the season, the phenomenon never really dies down – particularly in culinary hubs like the Triangle.

“It seems like it’s getting bigger and bigger each year. It’s very similar to everyone sort of has a music series, too,” Daubenspeck says. “Everybody has their own way of wanting to put on an event.”

A chance to show off

This leads to rich variety, where the experience can range from a celebration of bacon and beer to a Lebanese or Persian festival. With events like Sunday’s, many chefs and brewers are in it as much to showcase their products as to make new professional connections – kind of like LinkedIn, only with specialty sauces and pint glasses.

Unfortunately, not everyone can make it.

“We’re obviously faced with limitations, because a lot of these restaurants might not be able to participate for whichever reason, but we try to represent Durham in its entirety,” says co-organizer and Tyler’s Taproom owner Daniel Kulenic.

Some restaurants – including one which participated in 2013 but had to pull out this year – simply don’t have the staffing for it. “We’re asking them to come on a sacred day, which is Sunday,” Kulenic adds. “Historically, that’s the big rest day in the industry.”

Food, beer and tunes

Still, Kulenic and his partners aim for a multisensory experience – food, beer, and music by stand-out Carrboro string trio Mipso – so that the benefits outweigh the potential irritation of working on a Sunday. And the food comes from established foodie spots like Mateo, but also area food trucks with storefronts in the works. All said, there are 30 local restaurants – up from last year’s 20 – and 50 breweries.

For the participating chefs and brewers, though, Sunday is only the beginning. The heart of the festival season lies ahead.

“The brewery guys always kind of come in exhausted,” says Kulenic. “I always know when it’s festival season because they come in and they look like they got out of a 10-hour test.”

More festivals

Beer and Bacon Festival

When: March 29

Where: Koka Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Pkwy, Cary

Cost: $25-$69

Why go: One word: bacon.

Info: boothamphitheatre.com

Lebanese Festival

When: April 5

Where: City Plaza, 400 Fayetteville St., Raleigh

Cost: Free

Why go: Stuffed grape leaves are divine. Plus, there will be Lebanese beverages – including arak, a distinctive Middle Eastern liquor.

Info: tlanc.us

World Beer Festival

When: April 5

Where: Moore Square Park, downtown Raleigh

Cost: $45-$90

Why go: The sheer number of breweries – 250 – and the location. Moore Square proved to be an excellent event hub during the popular, though defunct, Raleigh Downtown Live music series.

Info: allaboutbeer.com/craft-beer-events

Great Grapes! Wine and Food Festival

When: April 12

Where: Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary

Cost: $20-$49

Why go: Not to be confused with the Cary wine shop of the same name, the Triangle incarnation of the Great Grapes! festival includes North Carolina vintages ranging from traditional sweet scuppernong to cabs and pinots.

Info: uncorkthefun.com

N.C. Persian Festival

When: April 26

Where: State Fairgrounds, Kerr Scott Building, Raleigh

Cost: $3

Why go: Kabobs, lamb dishes, pomegranate juice, and yogurt and cucumber tabouli? Yes, please.

Info: ncpersianfestival.com

Brewgaloo

When: April 26

Where: City Plaza, 400 Fayetteville St., Raleigh

Cost: Free

Why go: Just a few weeks after World Beer Festival, this event focuses more on local brewers – and it’s free, versus the relatively steep price tag of its Moore Square cousin.

Info: shoplocalraleigh.org

East Meets West

When: May 17

Where: 200 block of Town Hall Drive, Morrisville

Cost: Free

Why go: Some North Carolina families’ ancestors lived in this state, while others lived a hemisphere away. This respectable event celebrates the culinary histories of both.

Info: eastmeetswestmorrisville.org

Farm to Fork 2014 Picnic

When: June 8

Where: 4909 Walnut Grove Church Road, Hurdle Mills (rural Orange County)

Cost: $100

Why go: This showcase of small and organic agriculture pairs local chefs with farmers – kind of an heirloom crops version of a beer-and-food pairing – all in an appropriately rural setting.

Info: farmtoforknc.com

International Festival

of Raleigh

When: Sept. 19-21

Where: Raleigh Convention Center, 500 South Salisbury St., Raleigh

Cost: $5-$19

Why go to it: There’s an absurd amount of food from all over the world - particularly for the price - at this flagship celebration of the dozens of cultures that call the Triangle home.

Info: internationalfestival.org

Beer, Bourbon, & BBQ Festival

When: Aug. 1 and 2

Where: Koka Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Pkwy, Cary

Cost: $25-$199

Why go: Not many of these events have a stated bourbon focus, which is the obvious draw here. The use of underdressed “country girls” as eye candy (alas, there’s even a Miss BBQ Babe Contest) throughout the festival site seems a bit reductive and tactless, particularly compared to the rest of festival season.

Info: beerandbourbon.com

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