Food Feast!
Veteran of the event gives her tips for the 3-day, 51-restaurant, 180-dish Taste of Cincinnati

BY POLLY CAMPBELL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's one of the oldest food festivals in the country. Events Business News says it's the best. It's how 400,000 people are expected to spend at least part of their Memorial Day weekend.

Save room for these dishes, selected by judges as winners of the Best of Taste competition.

  • Best appetizer: Reuben Won Tons (Holy Grail).

  • Best soup or salad: Blackened Scallops with Pecans and Blue Cheese (Sloppy Joe's).

  • Best vegetarian entree: Florentine Focaccia (LaRosa's).

  • Best seafood entree: Shrimp Fra Diablo (Italianni's).

  • Best entree: Ebony Butterfly Medallions (Hotel Discovery).
  • Best dessert: Bittersweet Chocolate Pate with Pistachios and Espresso-Whipped Cream (Riverview Revolving Restaurant).

    -- Chuck Martin

  • It's Taste of Cincinnati, our annual splurge to start summer. With 51 restaurants, some 180 dishes and lots of people, enjoying Taste takes some planning. As an experienced taster, I have some tips for getting the most out of an excursion:

    --Get there early. This is one popular event. The crowds start to swell about 4:30 p.m., peak at 6 and stay until closing.

    If you get there at lunch time, the lines will be shorter and you'll get first crack at the food. By the time the crowds arrive, you may have worked your way from Courtyard Cafe's baked potato soup at Central Parkway and Main down to the BrewWorks' Giant Skillet sausage at Central Parkway and Elm.

    The average visitor stays 31/2 hours, but if you can do it in three, parking at a city garage is only $1.

    --Don't get dressed up. Not every dish is designed for dripless eating. Perhaps the most practical attire would be a plastic poncho. If it rains, you keep eating, plus it keeps the orange and ginger sauce from Riverview Restaurant's Sesame Seared Salmon off your clothes.

    --Try food from an unfamiliar restaurant. Several ''Best of Taste'' winners are from restaurants that didn't exist a year ago, and a couple that won't exist until later this summer.

    Best of Taste in soups and salads is from Sloppy Joe's, which is planning to open by the end of June in Crockett's space on the river.

    An Award of Excellence in the vegetarian category went to Hotel Discovery, which -- until summer -- remains Hotel Mexico in Kenwood.

    Other first-time Taste participants include Arloi Dee, Bravo Italian Kitchen, BrewWorks and J.B. Canyon Grill.

    --If only the best beer is good enough for you, park yourself in the microbrew tent. Take turns with your friends going on forays for oyster shooters, rattlesnake eggs and cream puffs in between trying locally brewed beer from Rock Bottom, Main Street, Oldenberg, BarrelHouse, BrewWorks and Sam Adams.

    --Bring the kids, but make it early in the day or they'll be lost in a forest of adult legs. There's a Kid's Tent at Race and Central Parkway that has Nerf games, ice sculpting shows and karaoke.

    The entire eight blocks of Taste are stroller -- and wheelchair -- accessible.

    --Bring quarters. Dishes are priced at intervals of 50 cents, with nothing over $2.50. Admission is free.

    --Don't bring your dog. Very uncool, though any dog would no doubt have a wonderful time exploring the leftovers on the sidewalk.

    --Load some carbs Sunday night -- maybe chicken mardi gras pasta from Allyn's -- then run in the 5-kilometer Fork in the Road Run, starting 10 a.m. Monday.

    --Don't try to eat a Wine Brat. This is not some kind of upscale Cincinnati hot dog. Wine Brats is a group of young wine lovers working to demystify wine and make converts. The Cincinnati chapter is teaming with the Surreal Gourmet, a k a Bob Blumer, to do lighthearted cooking and wine demonstrations at Reynolds Creative Kitchen at Race Street and Central Parkway.

    --And don't consult The Menus about what's on the menu. It's one of the musical acts scheduled for the Rock Stage.

    There will be continuous entertainment through the weekend at that stage, the Country Stage and the Jazz, Rhythm and Blues Stage.

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