Taste of the Carolinas at Carowinds 2015
Taste of the Carolinas in 2015 was the first year for the event for Carowinds. It seems like every regional theme park is jumping on the Food and Wine bandwagon. Epcot’s annual foodie-festival generates such buzz and attendance in the fall months, that local parks want to cash in, as well. I attended the Carowinds In Bloom festival in 2014 and it seemed a bit lackluster.
How well did the 2015 event fare? Read on!
Carowinds opened in 1973 by E. Pat Hall, a Charlotte (NC) business man. He intended to create an East Coast Disneyland, but due to the recession of the mid-1970s, Carowinds struggled. After going through a few owners, it was finally bought by Cedar Fair Parks in 2006. In my opinion, the new owners kept an eye on Carowinds before making an impressive $50 million plan to upgrade the park. This included a brand new entry complex and the award-winning Fury 325 coaster.
The entryway is much more impressive, although I will miss the charming southern-style mansion that graced the area before. It’s much quicker to enter and offers a turnstile-less entry.
Taste of the Carolinas
This month-long festival ran on Saturdays and Sundays only, from April 18 to May 17. Based on the press emails I received, the event was easily going to surpass 2014’s festival. Based on the weather and other commitments, I wasn’t able to attend the opening weekend, but I did get to experience Taste of the Carolinas on Sunday, April 26 with my 11 year-old in tow.
The festival is divided into North Carolina and South Carolina, with at least four booths in each state area. Similar to the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot, small buildings have been erected for the different regions. At both areas, you’ll find a Welcome Center & Sales Booth that offers brochures and a place to purchase pre-loaded cards.
There were other events offered at different places in the park, inc case you wanted to do a wine tasting or cupcake decorating. Don’t forget that Carowinds has two amazing coasters in Fury 325 and the Intimidator!
Throughout the day, I noticed that each booth had 2-3 employees that were more than eager to help and serve.
We stumbled into the North Carolina section first. It was still quite chilly and overcast outside.
Clearly delineated queues and helpful employees made this year’s festival much better. Each booth had a very colorful and geographically-representative sign. The signs really were a nice touch and made it fairly easy to see that each taste was only $4.00.
There were several cafe tables located at each booth, to allow you to enjoy the food and share with friends.
The colors of the booths fit the area very well and did lend an air of sophistication to the event.
Taste of the Carolinas: Lexington Area
- Beer Basted Pulled Pork Sliders
- Barbecue Chicken Slider with Lexington Dip
- Barbecue Ribs over Ketchup Slaw
- Moon Pies
Each booth offered four selections, with one being a dessert.
There were also well-designed mini-kiosks that emphasized each region.
Taste of the Carolinas: Asheville Region
- Smoked Trout Rillette Flatbread
- Appalachian Cheese Plate
- Mushroom Ravioli with Smoked Turkey and Wild Herb Butter
- Pecan Cinnamon Bread Pudding with Cream Cheese Icing
The Carolina Cobra raced by every few minutes behind the Asheville/Mountains area.
The servings were a decent size and easy to share with other people. Hands down, the Pecan Cinnamon Bread Pudding was our favorite of the tastes.
Each booth had colorful signage on the side that shared the regions of the state. The graphics for the whole event were really quite impressive.
Taste of the Carolinas: Outer Banks
- Seafood Cocktail
- Fried Green Tomato Soufflé
- Hatteras Clam Chowder
- Outer Banks Honey Gelato
Since we are not big seafood fans, we did shy away from the coastal booths that offered seafood. But we’re okay with that!
Taste of the Carolinas: Calabash
- Seafood Gumbo over Carolina Rice
- Fried Amberjack with Calabash Hushpuppies
- Grilled Corn Pudding
- Vanilla Coke Boiled Peanuts over Ice Cream
There were several employees on hand to help promote the event and offer suggestions.
It’s really hard to see the Lexington booth, since it is located farther away.
The background of the park added a lot of energy to the event.
As you make your way closer to the front of the park (depending on where you start your day), you’ll run into the South Carolina section, which is just outside of and on the way to Harmony Hall (a very well-designed restaurant).
Taste of the Carolinas: Piedmont
- Broasted Chicken with Drip Pan Potatoes
- Creamed Leeks and Butter Beans over Biscuit
- Neese Sausage, Fig and Goat Cheese Turn Over
- Strawberry Flan with Wild Berry Glaze
The booths in the South Carolina area used the complementary colors from the Taste of the Carolina logo. The North Carolina booths used the purple and the South Carolina booths used the green.
Taste of the Carolinas: Low Country
- Fried Oyster Flatbread Po-boy
- Coastal Carolina Crab Soup
- Frogmore Stew
- Shoofly Pie
Taste of the Carolinas: Charleston
- Sweet Tea Glazed Chicken over Cabbage and Beets
- Shrimp and Grits
- Chicken Perloo
- Sweet Potato Dumplings
Taste of the Carolinas: BBQ Region
- Pulled Pork Spring Roll with Carolina Mustard Sauce
- Carolina Gold Hash and Rice
- Hickory Smoked Chicken Wings
- Red Velvet In and Out Cupcake
The Red Velvet In and Out Cupcake was another hit with my son. I imagine that the children will be more interested in the dessert offerings.
Taste of the Carolinas: Upstate South Carolina Region
- Jalapeno Pimento Cheese Balls with Cranberry Jelly
- Brunswick Stew over Carolina Rice
- Beef Corn Pone Pie
- Sour Cherry and Fig Smoothie
My youngest wanted something more substantial than the offerings at the booths, so we popped into the new Harmony Hall restaurant for chicken strips. While we were in there, one of the other events was going on. There was a cooking demonstration on the stage featuring a cook from South Carolina who showed us how to make lasagna with kale using locally sourced ingredients. It was an unexpected, informative and humorous presentation.
Taste of the Carolinas: Ice Carving
Colin Henderson of Rampid Ice was on hand to demonstrate how to create ice sculptures. It was pretty impressive to see how he worked and the truly ephemeral works of art he creates. You can see more of his work at https://www.facebook.com/rampidicesculptures.
Thoughts on the Taste of Carolina
This event was an incredible improvement and really tied into Carowind’s unique position of being a local park to residents of North and South Carolina.
The food choices were fairly diverse and seemed to be a wide representation of the different areas.
The portions were large enough that if you managed to spend $25.00 or so, you’d feel like you’d eaten a meal.
At $4.00 a taste, it seemed reasonable compared to the prices of similar festivals.
Having it spread out was kind of strange, but would work well on a more crowded day.
The color choices and booths were very well done. The graphics were top-notch and very professional.
The staff was super friendly and eager to make it a success.
This would be a great experience for a group of adults to do in the evening.
That being said, Carowinds is still going to have to work to find the audience for this event. At some points this past Sunday I was the only person approaching the booths. Most of Carowinds’ regular patronage is going for the coasters, chicken fingers and burgers; this type of menu just isn’t what most people expect. Many people looked at the signs above the booths and kept walking. I assume that’s because the folks who might be most interested in the festival don’t know about it yet.
Carowinds has recently hired Executive Chef Kris Siuta and he’s made the park take tremendous leaps in food and menus. Even after my visit last year, I could see the difference in the quality and offerings of restaurants and food stands. The Taste of the Carolinas Festival is a wonderful addition and I hope that the locals in Charlotte and Rock Hill will take advantage of this unique opportunity.
This is a festival that is geared to regular visitors that want to experience something a little different and much better than normal amusement park food.
Kudos to Carowinds and Cedar Fair for offering an amazing experience. If you’re planning a visit to Carowinds before Sunday, May 18, then I urge you to spend some time truly enjoying the offerings of the Taste of the Carolinas festival.