Wow Guests With Next-Level Comfort, Kitsch and Nostalgia

By Karlie Justus Marlowe

If food is a love language, the perfect place to turn up the volume is at a wedding reception. Brides and grooms are planning menus meant not only to fill guests up, but to introduce visitors to local specialties, entertain them with one-of-a-kind experiences and even share their history as a couple.

What’s new and next? Wedding industry veteran Lorin Laxton, vice president of the Triangle-based Catering Works, offers up a few tips and tried-and-tasted suggestions.

Locavore Love
“Brides now demand food made with local ingredients not only for freshness and environmental reasons, but also to introduce guests who have traveled in from different locations to local specialties,” said Laxton, who counts local cheese tables, barbeque with both eastern and western sauces, and meats braised in beers from North Carolina breweries like Aviator and Big Boss brewing companies as popular local choices.

“These options give weddings a farmers market feel,” said Laxton. And don’t stop with the food – consider sending guests home with locally grown favors like a peck of North Carolina apples, a jar of local honey or a mixed six-pack of favorite backyard breweries.

What’s Old is New Again
Blame it on #ThrowbackThursday – traditional dishes once considered stuffy and dated are making their way back onto menus with a wink and a twist. Think duck a l’orange phyllo bites, crab claws with pink lemonade butter or an old-school Baked Alaska with salted caramel gelato.

Vintage cocktails also make the cut, often crafted with specialty bitters or sweetened vinegars known as shrubs for a Gatsby-era feel. Laxon suggests the Pippin Aperitif, a refreshing cocktail made with apple shrub, dry vermouth, lemon juice and club soda, or the Fitzgerald, made with gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and orange bitters.

“These drinks really reference that Cotton Club era with a classy twist,” said Laxton.

Mini Mania
Small plate stations are a modern riff on old-school buffets, and an opportunity to have fun with comfort foods. Think donut holes with a shot of milk, half-dollar sized grilled cheese sandwiches in a spoonful of tomato soup and crunchy taco bites served with a mini-margarita chaser.

“Mini-sized foods are still on trend and are a great option for cocktail hour because they travel well around the room,” said Laxton, who also suggests sliders as an easy riff on full-sized burgers and sandwiches. Use them to play up geographical areas important to the bride and groom, like North Carolina pork sliders or Catering Works’ Nashville hot chicken sliders with pickles.

Interactive Stations
Intriguing live presentations amp up the reception experience and add excitement. Try a s’mores bar that trades in a campfire for a creme brulee torch, fresh guacamole mixed on demand or oysters shucked to order and served with specialty hot sauces.

Another way to highlight North Carolina seafood in an unforgettable fashion: Catering Works’ smoked scallop with roasted tomatoes and mashed potatoes is presented in a sealed, miniature Mason jar to preserve its signature smoky flavor. When guests open the jars, the smoke is released before the first bite.

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