Local foodie Beth Ann Wolcott remembers a time when food festivals in Chattanooga meant nothing more than funnel cakes, cotton candy and corn dogs. But all that's changed through the years, and now the Scenic City is home to dozens of food festivals. Wolcott, for one, couldn't be happier.
"I love going to food festivals because you get to try so many different foods all in one place," she says.
When it comes to indulging in the pleasures of food, few events are as all-encompassing as the food festival, a gastronomic experience that serves to introduce people to a diversity of cultures and culinary traditions — whether it's the Taco Festival held at Camp Jordan each fall, celebrating the food of our neighbors from south of the border; or gathering at First Horizon Pavilion for Chattanooga Market's Bacon and Barrel Festival, a hoedown of good Southern 'cue and some distilled spirits to sip alongside. Join other culinary enthusiasts as you ignite your palate with a symphony of flavors.
"Food is a common denominator for most people," says Melissa Lail, Chattanooga Market manager. "In many parts of the world, including Chattanooga, it's what brings people together. And I think, as we have all embraced 'local is better,' it's given way to the celebration of local food. We're all looking for any good reason to gather, so why not food and drink?"
Here's a look at some of the food festivals happening around Chattanooga this autumn. So put your stretchy pants on and get ready for a feast of fall flavors.
September 21: Bacon and Barrel Festival at Chattanooga Market. This festival, organized by Events Hatched, a Nashville-based event company, is a benefit for the Chattanooga Market. "Many people don't realize that the market is a nonprofit 501(c)(3)," Lail says. So go hog wild and enjoy an afternoon of 'cue, bacon and distilled spirits from 15 area 'cue masters while supporting the market. Your $44 ticket gains entry to unlimited tastes of barbecue and bacon, as well as 15 whiskey tastings. There will also be a bar if you need another round, with bar proceeds being donated to the Chattanooga Market. Bacon and Barrel happens from 6:30-9:30 p.m. For tickets, go online to chattanoogafestivals.com/bacon.
September 23: Chattanooga Food Truck Festival and Expo. For the first time this year, the Kitchen Incubator of Chattanooga is introducing a new festival that will feature a gathering of at least 40 different food trucks, offering everything from burgers to baked goods. Sample great foods from local chefs, tap your toes to live music, bring the kids to play in the Kidz Zone and don't forget to visit the vendors who will be selling art, local produce and other products from 4-9 p.m. Admission is free. For more info, go to chattanoogafoodtruckfest.com.
September 23-24: Chattanooga Taco Festival at Camp Jordan. The event will feature everything taco — from dozens of food vendors with at least one taco-related dish on their menu to crafters, entertainment and a place for kids with inflatables, pony rides, face painting and a petting zoo. So bring the family and enjoy a day south of the border without leaving town. Saturday's festival is from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free, and so is parking. touchtheskyevents.com/events/chattanooga-taco-festival
September 30: Soddy-Daisy Fall Festival. The town of Soddy-Daisy and Keep Soddy-Daisy Beautiful will celebrate the autumn season with this fun festival, taking place from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. The event brings together the community for live music and family-friendly activities at Soddy Lake Park, along with a feast of food trucks, including:
- Hot Dog Heaven: Order a dog any way you like it: chili and cheese, slaw, with sauerkraut or all the way. They're made to order.
- Destin to Chill: What's a food festival without ice cream?
- Papa G's Food Truck: This homey food truck specializes in delicious soups and sandwiches, like its mouthwatering BLT. Or order up a Walking Taco Salad. And satisfy that sweet tooth with a slice of Cinna-Rose Apple Pie.
- Big Daddy's BBQ Shack: Brisket, ribs, pork, coleslaw, chicken. 'Nuf said.
There's even more than that to chow down on this year, so come hungry. It'll be a great day on the lake. For a complete list of vendors, go to cbaip.org.
October 1: Scenic City Wings at Chattanooga Market. This festival, benefitting the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, is one of the most highly anticipated food festivals at the market — a little spicy, a little messy, with a lot of chowing down on wings from local restaurants. You'll have the chance to pick the best of the best by placing your vote, so be sure to sample them all. No two are alike. Wing it down to the market anytime between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to get your wing fix. Admission is free, but you'll need to buy a $15 ticket for wing samples. Go to chattanoogamarket.com/events/scenic-city-wings.
October 7: Wine Over Water (WOW) at the Hunter Museum. This is the 28th year of this treasured festival, something wine- and food-lovers from around the Southeast anticipate each fall. It's an evening that showcases a variety of wines paired with a number of food offerings from Chattanooga chefs. WOW is held in the modern wing of the museum, overlooking the historic Walnut Street Bridge and the Tennessee River, from 6-9 p.m. Get your tickets ($125 each) at eventbrite.com — they sell out quickly.
October 14-15: VegFest at Coolidge Park. Vegans and veggie-lovers unite for a weekend of fun that includes vendors offering fresh new takes on vegan foods as well as new products. There's also a kids' zone with face painting, a live magician, cornhole and other fun. It happens from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. around Walker Pavilion and in collaboration with the 7 Bridges Marathon. Admission is free. More info available at chattanoogavegfest.com.
October 21-22: Chattanooga Apple Festival at Camp Jordan. This festival is a celebration of autumn's apple harvest, with apples from Mercier's Apple House in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Kids can enjoy face painting, inflatables and pony rides. Apple Festival hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission and parking are free. Check it out at touchtheskyevents.com/events/chattanooga-apple-festival.