published Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Side Orders: Riverside festivals serve up tasty fare

You can't put on a good festival without good food, and three spanning the next two weekends should give you reasons to eat while you're out.

The popular 3 Sisters Festival, two days of free bluegrass concerts at Ross's Landing, kicks off Friday night at 6. Headliners are Dailey & Vincent and Yonder Mountain String Band on Friday, Steep Canyon Rangers and Travelin' McCourys on Saturday.

You'll find Southern Burger on-site making its great burgers. Or you can stop by the neighboring Blue Plate diner, 191 Chestnut St., for great upscale Southern fare and a full bar.

Or you might want to spend part of your time Saturday at Wine Over Water. The Walnut Street Bridge will be flowing with food and wine in support of Cornerstones, an organization dedicated to saving historic buildings from ruin. This year, the preservation of Engel Stadium will be added to the list of historic structures receiving proceeds.

Several of downtown's best restaurants will be represented, each serving small plates of favorite menu items for a nominal fee (typically $3-$6). Wines are poured at no charge and come with the purchase of each $65 ticket ($70 at the gate, if available). This year's restaurants are 212 Market, Bluewater Grille, Broad Street Grille at The Chattanoogan, Cafe on the Corner, Easy Bistro & Bar, FoodWorks, Niko's and St. John's Restaurant.

"It's a really nice selection of foods from regional restaurants," said Cornerstones' executive director, Ann Gray. "And we'll have a remarkable selection of wines once again, giving people a nice chance to taste as many as 400 varieties. It's an interesting process of learning about wine."

More information can be found at www.wineoverwater.org. The event will happen from 5 to 8 p.m., rain or shine.

RiverRocks, Chattanooga's salute to outdoor adventure, gears up Friday, and there are dozens of events throughout the week. One of the best for foodies is The Big Picnic, planned by chef Eric Taslimi on Oct. 13. Taslimi is co-owner of Chattanooga Food Ventures catering company and the guy in charge of RiverRocks' food.

Taslimi will be cooking burgers, hot dogs and Link 41 sausages on a 15-foot grill at Coolidge Park, serving them with potato salad, grilled veggies and coleslaw. All of the picnic fare will be made using local produce, meats and breads from area farms, as much as possible.

Local brew from Big River Grill will be on tap for those wanting an adult beverage. But this is a family event, so there will be plenty of drinks for the young ones, too. Virginia's Silver Jalapeno will be doing its great smoked-butt sandwiches as well.

Picnic tables will be set up in a newly created patio beneath the Walnut Street Bridge. Prices for The Big Picnic are $10 for adults and $7 for kids 10 and younger. That includes a burger, hot dog or barbecue sandwich, plus one of the sides. Drinks and desserts, such as freshly made doughnuts, gelato and cupcakes, will be sold separately. The Big Picnic will be served during lunch and dinner hours, and you can participate in a number of games, such as cornhole, while you're there.

Have you been to the new Market Street Tavern yet? It recently moved across the street to 809 Market St. from its old location at Miller Plaza. I had lunch there not too long ago and came away very impressed.

If you're looking for the old menu with fried chicken tenders and pickles, go somewhere else. The new menu is smaller but still features some of the old favorites, such as the tavern's shrimp and grits, its award-winning wings and burgers.

The move, though, has given co-owner and chef Aaron Long a chance to create a new concept for the restaurant that focuses on foods in season. Using whatever's available allows him to serve the freshest dishes possible. Nothing goes to waste either.

When I was there for lunch, Aaron sat at our table and told me what he was making for one of his dinner specials. Using the delicious cheddar biscuits left over from the previous evening, he planned to make individual savory bread puddings that included local bison ribs he'd been cooking for the past 14 hours.

It's this kind of creative edge he's added to the menu. You'll also find such treats as heirloom tomato salad with candied walnuts, house-made chips with a trio of dips, a fried green tomato po' boy and fresh Brussels sprouts with bacon from Benton Farms.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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