Huge crowd turns out for Taste of Charleston

  • Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2013 8:23 p.m., Updated: Sunday, September 29, 2013 8:24 p.m.
Alex McMahan made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to follow in his father’s footsteps in the annual Taste of Charleston waiters’ race on Sunday. He said his father won the race at the first Taste of Charleston 33 years ago. Wade Spees/Staff Buy this photo

The contestants in Sunday’s Southern Living Taste of Charleston’s waiters’ race included 82 Queen’s Jason Alderman, who was defending his title, and Fuel’s Alex McMahan, who was defending his family’s honor.

“My dad won it the very first year, 33 years ago,” McMahan explained on a brief break from pacing the obstacle course — a mishmash of round restaurant tables, swinging doors and hay bales. “I learned a lot from him over the years.”

McMahan, 24, a nine-year veteran of the food and beverage industry, had never before entered the popular competition. And he wasn’t the only first-timer on the Boone Hall Plantation grounds: Although the host Greater Charleston Restaurant Association won’t have attendance estimates available until later this week, thousands of eaters were apparently enticed by the 41 food booths and remarkably pleasant weather.

Restaurant owners rarely have to worry about the weather, leaving it to brides and boaters to obsessively fixate on forecasts, but previous editions of the annual festival have been hampered by overcast skies.

“Everything is wonderful,” enthused Sue Powell, a Rochester, N.Y., resident at the start of a weeklong Isle of Palms vacation. “We had great crab dip.”

Jerry Powell added he was getting his fill of shrimp, joking that the only dish missing from the event’s collective menu was western New York’s best-known contribution to the American diet: “We’re looking for chicken wings. You got any wings?”

For visitors who didn’t qualify for the waiters’ race, the top Taste sport was figuring out the provenance of the bacon-wrapped this or fried that being enjoyed by passersby. “I just saw a fried banana pudding,” first-time attendee Markita Johnson of Hanahan said. “I know I’m going back for that.”

Festival-goers had their pick of tomato pies, collard greens and chicken-and-waffle preparations, but among the most eye-catching creations were Cork’s cheese and duck confit-stuffed fried chicken sandwich and 82 Queen’s peach and blueberry sangria.

At Fuel, McMahan doesn’t have many chances to uncork wine, as the waiters’ race required: Contestants were instructed to don an apron; open a bottle; fill two glasses; carry the bottle and glasses over a set of steps, hay bales and tires pressed into the ground; pour water and then drop off a check before returning to the starting line. Penalties were assessed for spillage or breakage.

Still, McMahan sailed through his qualifying heat, despite emcee Ken French’s prediction that he might be slowed down by his footwear. “Instead of tennis shoes, he’s got on dress shoes,” French told the crowd. “He might fall down on his butt.”

The server McMahan considered his toughest competition, a Tabbuli staffer, was eliminated for “double spillage.” But McMahan’s legacy couldn’t best Alderman’s experience. Alderman won the race for a fourth time, claiming a prize package which included $500 and a three-day trip.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.

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