GET IN NOW: ST. PETE WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL
Last year, the highlight was Il Ritorno's 4,500 mezzaluna stuffed with braised short rib, which chef David Benstock napped with truffle fonduta and topped with shaved truffle flown in from Italy. But, man, the first St. Pete Wine & Food Festival was warm. Shuttling between the two massive tents in North Straub Park, I was shvitzing as I interviewed festivalgoers, wine vendors and the event founders, Dawna Stone and her husband, Matt Dieter. The couple previously owned a large running event company before selling it in 2012, but nearly immediately began missing putting on large events. And thus the first St. Pete Wine & Food Festival was born.
This year, they are back, pushing things forward from those sweltering days of September to a much more convivial early November. They have added a slew of new restaurants, breweries and wineries to the mix, expanded the number of events and even gotten bigger tents (12,000 feet each!) for this year's festivities. We're telling you all about it early because tickets are limited for all but the Grand Tasting days, and they are selling fast. Visit stpetewineandfoodfest.com swiftly to purchase tickets.
HELP THE ARTS
Things start off with the already sold-out Charity Wine Pairing Dinner on Nov. 2, a six-course dinner paired with specially selected estate wines. Benefits the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance.
The next night, Nov. 3, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., a new event will debut in North Straub Park with the Tacos & Tequila Festival ($65/$85 VIP), where guests enjoy unlimited tacos hosted by the Red Mesa restaurant group, top-shelf tequila and specialty cocktails under the white tent along the waterfront.
The next night, Nov. 4, will reprise Beer Night St. Pete ($65/$85 VIP) from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., with more than 100 craft beers and cider selections including hard-to-find and "one-off" brews from local, regional and national breweries and all-inclusive food from area establishments. And for extra coolness, Stone says they are doing a specialty beer with 3 Daughters called Beer Night Blonde Ale for the event, and even if you can't attend, it will be available at local Publix stores.
The festival concludes with the two-day Grand Tastings ($95/$125 VIP) on Nov. 5 and 6 from 1 to 5 p.m. in North Straub Park.
"This year we're at 21 partners for food sampling, including two food companies, Alessi and DelGrosso," Stone says. "There are quite a few newcomers, from FarmTable Kitchen to Grey Salt, the Lure, Castile, Stillwaters and Buya Ramen, and many of the others from last year are coming back."
According to Dieter, perhaps the biggest change this year is with the upgrading of the quality of the wine: "This year we're working more closely with our partners. Now we are having wineries approach us, and the selection will be improved over last year."
With more changes like rentable private cabanas on beer night and for the grand tasting, at core the festival is still about one thing, Stone says. It's a celebration of the local food scene.
"It's amazing to us that the culinary scene continues to grow. It's still increasing."