Park visitors get a taste of both Carolinas at Carowinds

A small portion of Carowinds turned into a taste bud’s tour of the Carolinas this weekend.

Food regions of North and South Carolina were within walking distance at Taste of the Carolinas, the park’s second annual celebration of the area’s food culture.

The event was a hit with regular park-goers and travelers from well outside the Caroli nas.

Mike and Ellen Crosier came from Charleston, W.Va., although not specifically for Saturday’s food festival. The couple has a platinum pass for Cedar Fair Parks, the owner of Carowinds, and are making their way across the country to all the company’s parks.

“We plan to come back for Scarowinds,” Mike Crosier said.

The Crosiers had already made their way from sliders at the Lexington, N.C., barbecue booth to the Lady Baltimore cake from Charleston, but enjoyed two helpings of cinnamon bread pudding and mushroom ravioli from the Asheville region. “This is the best,” Ellen Crosier said, finishing her ravioli.

Tara Cardwell of Hickory was treating her sister-in-law Sarah Cardwell and her boyfriend Brian Barbuti, visiting from New Hampshire, to some local delicacies. Barbuti decided to try the Lowcountry seafood gumbo.

“I like it. I’ve never had gumbo before,” he said. Asked to compare it to his home region’s famed New England chowder, he insisted the chowder was still better, “because it’s New England.”

“It’s super spicy,” Sarah Cardwell said. “New England seafood isn’t this spicy.”

Tara Cardwell was glad Taste of the Carolinas coincided with the family visit, and not only because she enjoyed her chocolate bourbon pie. High winds on Saturday kept most of the park’s famous rollercoasters grounded.

Park visitors could buy tokens and hit all seven booths arrayed around the park’s Harmony Hall, getting a small sampler plate from each – although some said they would prefer to get bigger servings of their favorites. Included in the regional tour was South Carolina’s Upstate and Barbecue Region, and North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

The inaugural Taste of the Carolinas had the booths spread throughout the park, but for the second go-round, park officials kept all the booths in one place to make it easier to visit all seven.

“I think some people forgot to go to the other side,” Laresa Thompson, the park’s public relations manager, said.

Carowinds’ executive chef Kris Siuta planned the menu for each stop, with some help from The Art Institute of Charlotte and Johnson & Wales University. He said the layout change would enhance the experience.

Derha Davila appreciated the change. She and her 14-year-old son Maximus are regulars at Carowinds and visited last year’s more spread-out Taste of the Carolinas.

“I like this better,” she said between bites of some Upstate apple cobbler. “It makes it easier, and you can get something different.”

Bristow Marchant: 803-329-4062, @BristowatHome