April 12, 2016
Carowinds kicked off their second annual Taste of the Carolinas event this past weekend. Every Saturday and Sunday from April 9 through May 1, the celebration of Carolina culture and cuisine will be set in the heart of the park alongside the coasters and other attractions. We had the opportunity to visit on opening day to check out what’s new, what stayed the same, and, of course, have a few samples!
The major change between the 2015 event and this year is the consolidation of the food sample booths into one compact area. There are seven different booths featuring cuisine from seven different regions of the Carolinas. Previously, these were divided into the North and South Carolina areas and set up in different sections of the park. This year, all seven have been moved to the area just outside of Harmony Hall, making it much easier to browse the offerings at each booth and decide what you most want to try (or in the alternative, pick up one of everything and set up your own mini-buffet).
Also, paying for each sample has been simplified. At last year’s event, registers could be found at each booth where you could pay individually. While a prepaid card with a bar code was offered, it did not seem very popular as most patrons could be seen paying out of pocket for each transaction. This year, the only payment accepted at each booth is tokens that must be purchased at one of two token booths before beginning your sampling. Resembling old promotional wooden nickels, the tokens can be purchased in sets of 3 to 21, with the best value being found in the 21-token package for $24. Samples range from 2 to 4 tokens each with dessert items typically being 2-3 and savory items at 3-4. Beer and wine samples from North and South Carolina breweries and wineries are 4 tokens each. This is a much simpler system than paying at each booth individually and makes lines move faster. The only downside is carrying around a bag of these tokens – especially if you purchase them in bulk to get the best value but visit some rides between samples. They are placed in just a standard souvenir shopping bag, so if you don’t make sure they are secure in a deep pocket, you could leave a trail of tokens throughout the park to help find your way back. While a small card such as what was offered last year would be more convenient, the tokens do at least ensure that there will be no technology glitches to cause a back up when you’re anxiously awaiting your barbecue slider!
Along with the booths offering samples of regional specialties, specialty wine and craft beer tastings are offered twice per day each day of the event. Wine is featured on Saturdays and craft beer on Sundays. Each specialty tasting is $16 per person (21+ of course), includes a souvenir glass to take home, and is held in the Rose Room with an expert from the features winery or brewery. Of course, there are two booths alongside the regional cuisines offering beer and wine at 4 tokens each, but if specialty tastings are to your liking, tickets can be purchased at the token booths. On this first day (and every Saturday during the event), the featured winery was Childress Vineyards. This winery is owned by Richard Childress of Richard Childress Racing who also happens to own the #3 car in NASCAR. This means you can sip #3 branded wine in the shadow of Intimidator. How apropos.
Each Saturday and Sunday also brings special guest chefs to the Harmony Hall stage for southern cooking demonstrations. On this day, Chef Damaris Phillips, winner of season 9 of FOOD NETWORK STAR, was on hand to show off her skills at shrimp & grits and pie-baking. The TVs surrounding the Harmony Hall dining area display a live shot from a camera above the stage kitchen making it much easier to see what is going on on top of the counter and stove.
If you’re visiting Carowinds in the next few weeks or are looking for a little something extra to go along with your Fury 325, definitely check out the Taste of the Carolinas – the Lady Baltimore cake is not to be missed, and if you want to be a little more adventurous, the sausage, fig and goat cheese popover is definitely on the adventurous side!
Check out our videos from the event below. Have you been to Taste of the Carolinas? Let us know what you thought and your favorite Carolina food below!
Chef Damaris Phillips demonstrates the classic southern shrimp & grits with her own twist:
A quick walk around and look at some of the samples offered in the seven regions of Taste of the Carolinas: