Sunday, May 26, 2002

Taste kicks off summer of festivals

By Susan Vela,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A large bustling village popped up in downtown Cincinnati Saturday, letting tens of thousands enjoy the diverse tastes, sounds and politics as the 23rd annual Taste of Cincinnati began.

        Grills sizzled and bottle tops cracked open as 40 restaurants served up some of the best that Cincinnati's culinary community can offer — bratwurst, gumbo, corn on the cob, chocolate tartlets and Cincinnati chili, to name a few.

[photo] Justin Napier, 2, licks every last bit of a Bittersweet Chocolate Tartlet from his hands Saturday at the La Normandie booth at Taste of Cincinnati.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        Surveying the bustling scene, which included four music stages, festival organizers predicted that Taste's good vibes will keep Cincinnati's summer festival season humming through Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati in late September.

        “We always say Taste of Cincinnati is the official kick-off for the summer,” said Patrick Sheeran, vice president of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. “You can tell by the thousands ... here that people are ready for the summer in Cincinnati.”

        Taste of Cincinnati continues today and Monday. The three-day event is expected to draw 500,000 people. About 25,000 had arrived in the event's first two hours.

        While rain sent people scurrying for cover Saturday night, sun should prevail for the remainder of the festival.

        “This is the way it's supposed to be,” said Henry Warman, a co-owner of Cafe Cin-Cin, as he grilled shrimp. People were queuing up at his booth even as two separate groups of protesters marched past.

        Each group numbered about 20 and carried banners as they walked through crowds. One chanted “Boycott Cincinnati!” Another held signs protesting Procter & Gamble's treatment of animals.

        Protests were down slightly from last year, a month after riots raged downtown.

        Earlier this year, the African-American Chamber of Commerce canceled its Ujima festival after the city took away $150,000 in funding. But executive director De Asa Brown said Taste of Cincinnati is the jewel of the Queen City's festival season.

        “It provides opportunities for all citizens of Cincinnati,” she said. She said she expects strong attendance at the Black Family Reunion Celebration in August and the Indiana Black Expo.

        As Saturday's crowds milled past, 2-year-old Justin Napier was oblivious to everything but his Bittersweet Chocolate Tartlet from the La Normandie booth.

        With a fork in one hand and a spoon in the other, he tackled the rich dessert with glee. Afterward, he licked his hands clean.

        “He's having too much fun!” said his grandmother, Judy Keeney of Milford.

        Meanwhile, Phil and Therese Bower of Mount Washington kept their children busy with french fries while they tried shrimp tempura from Shanghai Mama's and a tenderloin sandwich and almond trifle from De Sha's.

        Their children — Will, 2, and Charlie, 9 months — wailed. The Bowers dug into their food, eager to get the kids home for their afternoon nap.

        “For me, it's an institution,” said Mrs. Bower, a Cincinnati native. “This is a way for us to still be in the game. It's nice to have a nice weekend and to start thinking about going to the pool and doing everything you do in Cincinnati in the summer.”


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