Every year Taste of Atlanta seems to get bigger and bigger. Now in its 11th year, the festival hosts more than 45,000 people across a span of two days. (That is a far cry from 10,000 attendees in 2002!) This year, on the weekend of October 5-7, Taste of Atlanta took over Tech Square in Midtown (an area that can accommodate the larger crowd). The foodie fest included 80 local restaurants, thousands of hungry attendees, three live cooking stages, a Family Food Zone, VIP area, hands on demos in The Kitchen Workshop, Inside the Food Studio panel discussions, a Silent Auction, and The Big Grill: Grills Gone Wild party with grilled food and a musical performance by Yacht Rock Schooner. 100% of net proceeds from the Silent Auction benefited the Share Our Strength Cooking Matters program, which offers adults and teens nutrition, cooking and household budgeting courses. A portion of the proceeds from Friday night’s The Big Grill: Grills Gone Wild benefited Georgia Organics.

Taste of Atlanta founder Dale DeSena said, “Most people hear ‘Taste of Atlanta’ and they think they’ll get lots of great food – and they’re right!” He continued to say, “We love when people discover how educational the festival is. With the addition of The Kitchen Workshop this year and the continued success of Inside the Food Studio, we’re one of the few festivals that really encourages the attendees to engage with the chefs, the food and the programming. We are so proud to serve the city in this capacity and to show the world the amazing restaurants and chefs that help define Atlanta.”

Another festival first this year was the new user-friendly iPhone app. The FREE Taste of Atlanta Festival Guide app allowed iPhone users the ability to make the most of their epicurean experience by planning out their schedule with up-to-date information about book signings, seminars, parking, and cooking stage demos. The app included a map, restaurant guide with festival menu, mark and rate favorites, and connect to Facebook or Twitter.

Taste of Atlanta is a great way to try out new restaurants and talk to chefs or employees at each place about the food, atmosphere, and other topics of culinary interest. The festival works on a taste coupon system (for instance, 10 taste coupons were included with a Saturday or Sunday general admission ticket; 15 taste coupons were included with a Saturday or Sunday VIP ticket; and additional taste coupons could be bought 10 for $10). Most tastes at the featured restaurants ran between two and three tickets a piece. Sodas, bottled water, or alcohol could be purchased for cash. If you bought a VIP ticket, you were privy to free tastes of wine, beer, and spirits; a sheltered tent area with dance music and mingling; and casino games for entertainment provided by Harrah’s Cherokee.

There were so many restaurants present that attendees were sure to find a few bites that excited their refined palates. A few of the bites that I tried included, rabbit rattlesnake sausage, yak, venison, quail breast, blue crab crostini, duck confit, and beer ice cream. Of course, mine were on the more adventurous side because I am curious about new tastes and also to see if it is a dish that I might consider ordering in the future. For those not as adventurous, there were more traditionally loved bites like wings, bbq, sliders, beef, shrimp, and cupcakes available as well. Restaurants spanned different palates and budget ranges, including Waffle House, Taco Mac, Figo, L’Thai, Bhojanic, West Egg, Café Intermezzo, Divan, 5 Seasons, Mi Cocina, Mediterranean Grill, Trader Vics, Melting Pot, Johnny Rockets, Sweet Auburn BBQ, Noche Vinings, Gordon Biersch, Barrelhouse, Surin, and Woody’s Cheesesteaks – just to name a few!

The educational portion of Taste of Atlanta was a nice touch to the festival. I was able to sit in on a live cooking demonstration by Sportsman Channel’s host of “DeadMeat,” Scott Leysath. He cooked and demoed several of the not-so-traditional eats, including the rabbit rattlesnake sausage. I even got a free game-related cookbook for my hunter uncle. I sat in on a VIP hands-on demo in The Kitchen Workshop, “Born in the USA,” with Emily Ellyn, Retro Rad Television Personality, who taught participants how to cook Cornbread Johnny Cakes. Tables were set up so three to four people could share in the cooking experience and socialize. When I went to Inside the Food Studio, where I got to hear wine aficionados and brewmasters battle it out in “Wine vs. Beer.” It was a matchup between 5 Season’s Brewing company’s David Larkworthy and Crawford Moran versus Barcelona Wine Bar’s Gretchen Thomas and Ben McPherson. In the end the audience won because they (21+) got to sample two wines, two beers, and mussels. The Home Plate Main Stage had challenges, demos, and discussions, and the Family Food Zone was equipped to help parents out with their kids nutrition while entertaining the youngsters.

Taste of Atlanta is the best way to get to know a good sampling of top-notch yummy Atlanta restaurants and try bites of different dishes. Who knows, you might even broaden your horizons and palate!