While the Midlands of South Carolina offers easy access to many Lowcountry havens along our coast, a surprise awaits with an easy, five-hour ride south to the charming town of St. Augustine, Florida. I was lucky enough to make the trip, where food, wine, and beverage connoisseurs convene from around the country to indulge in the decadence and deliciousness that make up the St. Augustine Food + Wine Festival.
Our culinary adventure began with the Winemaker’s Dinner at the World Golf Hall of Fame. This is a collaboration among some of the country’s most famed winemakers and chefs, who team up for a six-course meal. We sampled beautiful wines paired with amazing dishes, such as an amuse-bouche of spicy albacore tuna in a sesame cup from famed Beverly Hills chef, author, and television personality Cat Cora, paired with a delicious alcohol-free Hand on Heart chardonnay from Miller Family Wines.
Other offerings were a Cajun shrimp and smoked gouda grit cake, presented by another well-known chef, author, and television personality from Atlanta, Jernard Wells. This was paired with a 2019 J Wilkes Pinot Blanc, also from Miller Family Wines. We also dined on a bourbon barrel, soy-braised pork belly with pickled ramp salsa verde and a butterbean and boiled peanut succotash with breakfast radish. This dish hails from culinary nobility William Dissen of Asheville. This was paired with a 2019 PROVIMA-March IGT Rosso, courtesy of Jan Stephenson Wines.
Saturday, the festivities continued with the festival’s main event — a gathering of purveyors of fine cuisine, wines, and spirits. We feasted on cow head and pork tacos with Southern tropical slaw, hot brisket burnt end bao buns, and grilled pineapples with spicy rum caramel sauce. We also sampled some of the many wines and spirits available, including Rivulet artisan pecan liqueurs and small batch handcrafted Bulrush Gin.
The festival runs each year in May, and the dates for 2023 are May 3 - 6. For those who don’t want to wait for a visit, check out the upcoming Nights of Lights that runs November through January, listed among the top 10 holiday light displays in the world by National Geographic.
Where to Stay
The Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens — This award-winning boutique hotel is waiting for you only a few blocks from the main hustle and bustle of St. Augustine Old Town. Four hundred and fifty-five years of history, antiques, art, and romance beckon from behind the walls at The Collector, where lush foliage and charming, fully updated cottages welcome guests home after a day of exploring. Upon your return, have an evening cocktail at The Well, the hotel’s cozy, outdoor gathering spot.
What to Do
The St. Augustine Distillery — No visit to St. Augustine would be complete without a trip to the Spirit of Florida Tasting Experience at the St. Augustine Distillery. The distillery uses local and regional agriculture in the creation of its award-winning spirits. The Distillery, also one of the festival’s sponsors, offers a peek behind the curtain into the production and aging of its crafts. The tour includes a lesson and sampling of their spirits, and, if you are lucky, the fun and knowledgeable Clark Gilmore, the “Bourbon Baron” and a certified bourbon steward, will be your tour guide.
Historic District — St. Augustine is well known for this area, so make sure to spend time here. A plethora of people, food, and fun make up the area. Stop by Catch 27 for fresh, locally prepared seafood. Try the deviled egg BLT with Southern fried oysters with house-made tomato bacon jam. The lush courtyard vibe is fun and relaxed.
Moonlight Cruise — After dinner, take a moonlight cruise on a gaff-rigged topsail schooner, the Schooner Freedom, for a sail on the Matanzas River. Locally owned by Captain John Zaruba and his wife, Admiral Sarah, the experience offers a friendly crew who love what they do and who chat amiably with passengers as they lovingly hoist the sails.
World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum — Lucky for us, the festival was held at World Golf Village where golf enthusiasts are in for a treat. Take a journey back in time to see the history of golf and the first foray into the creation of golf balls and putters. The stories, history, and memorabilia of the most famous golfers in the world are housed here.
Founded by Spanish explorers in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in North America, even before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Make sure to visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, the Castillo de San Marcus, the Lightner Museum, and Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park.