Restaurant News & Reviews

Bull City Food and Beer ushers in food festival season

In its third year, the Bull City Food and Beer Experience continues to grow.
In its third year, the Bull City Food and Beer Experience continues to grow. NOAH ROSENBLATT-FARRELL

Now in its third year, the Bull City Food and Beer Experience continues to grow.

The culinary festival, which occupies sizable Durham venue DPAC, is up to 35 restaurants this year (from last year’s 30). The event has suffered growing pains along the way, but mostly from trying to squeeze in so many representatives of local food culture.

“Twenty minutes before the event started we had some power issues, overloading different circuits,” Thorne Daubenspeck, DPAC’s director of sales and a Bull City Food and Beer organizer, says of the 2014 event. But they made it work, says co-organizer and Tyler’s Taproom owner Daniel Kulenik, and the power snag taught them to check with restaurants and fire marshals beforehand to make sure it didn’t happen again.

This year, organizers feel ambition and logistics are in balance.

“You gotta roll with the punches,” Daubenspeck says. This year’s fest is bigger and the organizers feel even more prepared to showcase local food and beer creativity.

The Triangle, after all, has become a nationally recognized culinary destination, with celebrated restaurants, breweries and farms. Accordingly, there are festivals – of which Bull City Food and Beer is only one – ranging from beer fests to celebrations of international culture and cuisine. The idea is to celebrate the food and the feel of the region – both for locals and folks who come from out of state to find out what the buzz is all about.

“Look at Durham getting picked ‘Tastiest Town in the South’ two years ago in Southern Living,” Kulenic says. “We’ve got multiple James Beard nominees in the area. The bottom line is (our festival) reinforces the unbelievable food culture that the Triangle has.”

And people do travel to experience that culture: Kulenic also organized Raleigh Rare and Vintage Beer Tasting, which took place February 4. Attendees came from all over the country.

The idea with Bull City Food and Beer, though, was to provide a catchall for the local scene: “Instead of having just a regular beer festival, we wanted to highlight the food component and showcase how unbelievable these talents are we live around,” Daubenspeck says.

Yet there’s also an element of conservation, as some proceeds from Bull City Food and Beer go to benefit Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, of which Kulenik is a board member. The creek itself wends through Durham, with some spots remarkably quiet for the urban setting, and the association aims to keep the watershed clean and in good shape.

“We chose Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association because of the full-circle connection,” Kulenik says. “You can’t have great beer without water – it’s one of the main ingredients.”

Food and beer festivals

We’ve collected a partial list of upcoming events in and near the Triangle.

What: Bull City Food and Beer Experience

When: 4-8 p.m. Sunday (March 8)

Where: DPAC, 123 Vivian St., Durham

Cost: $75

Info: bullcityexperience.com

Why go: This 21-and-up food and beer fest offers a broad smattering of North Carolina food and beer, with experts on both on hand. It’s also indoors, making it less susceptible to inclement weather.

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What: Beer and Bacon Fest

When: Noon-6 p.m., March 28

Where: Koka Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Parkway, Cary

Cost: $29-$196 (tickets go fast)

Info: beerandbacon.com

Why go: Bacon.

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What: Wake Forest Dirt Day

When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. April 4

Where: South White Street, downtown Wake Forest

Info: nando.com/-j

Cost: Free

Why go: While not a traditional food festival, Dirt Day features demonstrations on organic gardening and composting – that is, methods to grow your own North Carolina food.

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What: Lebanese Festival

When: Noon-7 p.m. April 4

Where: City Plaza, 400 Fayetteville St., Raleigh

Cost: Free

Info: tlanc.us

Why go: Come for the tabouli, stay for the shawarma.

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What: World Beer Festival

When: Noon-4 and 6-10 p.m. April 11

Where: Moore Square Park, Raleigh

Cost: $50-$100

Info: allaboutbeer.com/craft-beer-events

Why go: Now in its 10th year, the 21-and-up World Beer Festival has added a handful of features – more Belgian-style beers and a showcase on beer using naturally foraged ingredients – but has also decreased the number of overall tickets. Buy yours early in case this sells out. (Note: Coming to Durham on October 10.)

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What: Wake Forest HerbFest

When: April 17-19; 24-26

Where: 525 S. White Street, Wake Forest

Cost: Free

Info: herbfest.net

Why go: To buy organic herbs, perennials, and heirloom vegetables either native to North Carolina or suited to our climate.

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What: Great Grapes! Food and Wine Festival

When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. April 18

Where: Koka Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Parkway, Cary

Cost: $28-$49; kids 12 and under are free

Info: uncorkthefun.com

Why go: Because there are beer fests aplenty but not many focused on wine – and there is a healthy wine industry in the state.

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What: Brewgaloo

When: 2-10 p.m. April 25

Where: City Plaza, 400 Fayetteville St., Raleigh

Cost: Admission is free; beer tokens are five for $25

Info: shoplocalraleigh.org/brewgaloo

Why go: It’s a big, free party with food trucks, bands and dozens of N.C. craft beers (OK, so the beer isn’t free) that takes place once it’s finally warm enough outside for that sort of thing.

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What: North Carolina Persian Festival

When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. April 25

Where: Kerr Scott Building at N.C. State Fairgrounds, 1025 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh

Cost: $2; children 6 and under are free

Info: ncpersianfestival.com

Why go: An impressive variety of Persian dishes, not to mention intriguing drinks like pomegranate juice and sour cherry sharbat.

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What: Got to be NC Fest

When: May 15-17

Where: N.C. State Fairgrounds, 1025 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh

Cost: Free, though some events within require paid admission

Info: gottobencfestival.com

Why go: Love the N.C. State Fair? This is like its little cousin.

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What: East Meets West Festival

When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. May 16

Where: Town Hall Drive, Morrisville

Cost: Free

Info: eastmeetswestmorrisville.org

Why go: Morrisville is an incredibly diverse town, and this fest draws on that widespread heritage. The featured foods are international in origin, but come from local restaurants – how cool is that?

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What: Peak City Pig Fest

When: June 19-20

Where: Downtown Apex

Cost: Free

Info: peakcitypigfest.com

Why go: North Carolina barbecue, in all its varieties, has a worthy history and deserves celebration.

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What: Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival

When: July 31-August 1

Where: Koka Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Parkway, Cary

Cost: $29-$99; kids 12 and under are free

Info: beerandbourbon.com

Why go: Why indeed? So many of these fests celebrate and honor food traditions and the local region, while this one opts instead for a Miss BBQ Babe contest in which “entrants must be properly costumed as a Daisy Duke-ish hillbilly girl.” With its beer-belly contests and bottomless beer and bourbon glasses, this is likely your speed if other local fests seem too tame. Kids, for some reason, get in free – though the event itself doesn’t encourage you to bring them.

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