It’s just past 7 p.m. on the second night of TomorrowWorld, America’s largest 21-and-up dance music festival held in Chattahoochee Hills near Atlanta, Ga.
Thousands of dancing fans are gathered around the massive, yet ornate main stage as Bingo Players wraps up his evening set.
Off to the side on a raised viewing deck, we’re taking in the final moments of the performance while waiting to be seated for a special 10-course meal inside a pop-up restaurant branded as “Tomorrow’s Table.” The restaurant is the result of a partnership with acclaimed Atlanta restauranteur and Top Chef finalist Kevin Gillespie.
On the other side of the roped off seating area for this Saturday-only dinner are numerous tables open to all attendees (not just VIP ticket holders). Reservations are required and even to-go picnic baskets are available. Menu items from Gillespie’s three area restaurants — Terminus City, Gunshow, and Revival — are showcased throughout the weekend.
Yes, the idea of a fancy dinner — priced at $50 per person — with a table full of strangers in the middle of a massive party seems bizarre, if not unreasonable. But for this festival veteran who’s always hungry for something new, it turned out to be the most unique and memorable experience of the weekend.
Making new dinner friends
Our gracious host escorts us to two remaining spots at a 9-person table near the back. After a short awkward moment, the introductions begin.
Seated with us are a young couple from Beijing visiting on their honeymoon, a brother-sister duo from Dallas and California enjoying their first dance festival experience, and the local Chattahoochee Hills Fire Department chief and his wife who bring a local perspective to the table.
Add in two music enthusiasts from Missouri and you’ve got yourself a melting pot of stories and personalities that literally span the globe.
Our wine glasses are filled and the culinary marathon begins, featuring multi-cultural creations inspired by Gillespie’s Gunshow restaurant in nearby Glenwood Park, Ga.
One by one, courses are delivered to the table on heaping shared platters. Our servers attempt to explain the contents of each dish, but we mostly nod and smile as we pass around the platters and happily ladle small portions on our plates.
It’s tough to hear voices across the table over the blaring main stage speakers, but we do our best to strike up conversation with our new dinner friends.
The brother-sister duo, who call TomorrowWorld their first dance festival, say they didn’t expect the carnival-like experience but that they’re happy with the genuine attitudes of attendees.
“Everyone is so nice,” says the sister. The brother adds that he thought the music would be louder and the outfits even more revealing.
Fire chief Greg Brett and his wife mention they’re still shocked their little city of Chattahoochee Hills — which has a population of only 2,600 residents but spans 62-square-miles — is host to such a high-caliber festival with international appeal.
Mrs. Brett says the community is generally supportive of the event given the economic impact to the area (valued at over $85 million in 2013). Local schools even cancel classes on Thursday and Friday to help reduce traffic congestion and allow residents to take a vacation if desired. TomorrowWorld provides free tickets to nearby neighbors who do stay and offers a private tour of the grounds before attendees arrive.
But for some residents, the inconveniences outweigh the economic benefits. “Some people are going to complain regardless,” she says.
What’s this dish called, again?
Chef Gillespie occasionally emerges from the kitchen to personally deliver courses and briefly greet diners. Local fans — including the city mayor, who stops by to greet the fire chief — are eager to take photos with the chef.
The ten course spread includes:
1. Southern mezze platter
2. Kung Pao sweetbreads and Brussels sprouts
3. Spice roasted catfish with charred scallions grits and Funions
4. Grilled octopus panzanella with fried bologna
5. Pork skin risotto
6. Smoked chicken thighs with mushrooms and Alabama white barbecue sauce
7. Grilled pork loin with smoked apple butter and fried okra
8. Churrasco beef with chile toreados and chimichurri
9. Asher bleu cheese with truffle honey pears and walnuts
10. Tasting of Callebaut chocolate
I enjoy my fair share of Food Network and often prepare my own simple dishes at home, but I’m far from any sort of food critic or foodie. But I find each of the courses to be as tasty as they are unique and interesting, especially considering the constraints and challenges a pop-up kitchen and restaurant naturally present. The grilled pork loin with smoked apple butter is an all-around table favorite, and this is the first time I can admit I’ve enjoyed catfish (that’s a huge win, chef!).
Over two hours have passed as we near the final dessert course. Day has turned to night, our stomachs are full, our (many) wine glasses have run dry, and we’re anxious to revisit the dance floor now commanded by Adventure Club. As if on cue, stilted costumed performers casually appear to greet our tables while bundles of Bud Light-branded glowing tubes are distributed to help us blend in as we rejoin the general festival population.
Is it worth it?
This is far from your typical dining experience.
The concept of a seated dinner from a pop-up restaurant in the middle of a festival presents challenges to both diners and kitchen staff alike. Some might call it strange, uncomfortable, and simply unnecessary.
I’d call it an out of this World experience. (…see what I did there?)
The food is new and fresh, the table conversation is fascinating, the music is obviously on-point, the price is reasonable (considering the amount of wine alone), and the view is second to none.
And that’s exactly why I’ll be among the first to secure my seat at Tomorrow’s Table next year.