Nation’s Second-largest Food Festival

July 12, 2008 at 2:50 pm

If you would have asked me, “Say, Stuart, do you know where the nation’s second-largest food festival is?”  I don’t think I would have ever guessed Buffalo, NY.  Nearly half a million people will crowd Niagra Square this weekend to get their grub on Buffalo-style.  Check this out:

DINING: The Taste of Buffalo returns

By Phil Dzikiy Niagra Gazette
E-mail Phil

Once again, it’s time. Time to make room in your stomach and set your appetite to hungry. Time to take some of the best cuisine Buffalo has to offer, all in one place.

The Taste of Buffalo returns this weekend for the 25th time, starting at Niagara Square and continuing down Delaware Avenue in downtown Buffalo. An estimated 450,000 people are expected to visit the nation’s second-largest food festival, which trails only the Taste of Chicago in turnout.

The Taste of Buffalo had humble beginnings, starting out with a mere 13 restaurants in 1984. This year, the Taste will feature 58 restaurants, a new cooking stage and two musical stages.

The festival keeps on growing for numerous reasons, according to 2008 Taste of Buffalo Chairman Kevin Cavalieri.

“A lot of it is media attention,” Cavalieri said. “We’ve had some luck with large national sponsors. And the word is spreading.”

Media attention and sponsors notwithstanding, the true reason for the festival’s success is obvious.

“It’s the food that brings people down,” Cavalieri said.

Just what that food is changes from year to year. Veteran restaurants are allowed to come back each year, but the rest of the festival spots are decided by the Taste’s board of directors. According to Cavalieri, variety is the spice of the festival.

“Our number one priority is to make sure we have a wide selection ofdifferent types of foods,” he said.

Those foods will range from Buffalo Chicken Wing Soup to a Creole Lamb Chop to something called an “Elephant Sub” this season. About 13 to 14 new restaurants make the cut each year, Cavalieri said.

With all the possibilities for stuffing one’s face, most repeat visitors have a plan for tackling the festival, though it may differ.

“I think everybody has their own style,” Cavalieri said.

One popular agenda for many roving diners is thinking of the festival as a large meal, he said. Start with appetizers, make your way to entrees and finish with a dessert or two.

But even for the hungriest festival patron, this may sound daunting, fattening or expensive, considering many foods go for $4.

Two options counteract these concerns. First, there’s the healthy option, which every restaurant will feature. These foods are requiredto be lower in fat, cholesterol and sodium.

The healthy option didn’t always seem like the best option to everyone at first, as many festival visitors were wary of it. People thought maybe they weren’t getting their money’s worth, or that all the restaurants were suddenly “going healthy,” Cavalieri said. But the healthy samples now seem to be a big part of the festival.

“We heard from some of the patrons that they were nervous about it,” he said. “Now, people love it.”

And for those looking to sample as much food as possible withoutgetting significantly heavier (or lighter in the wallet), the festival introduces the “taste” option this year, which offers smaller portions for $1 each.

The festival isn’t just a nice, relaxing day for everyone. Some restaurants take the Taste of Buffalo quite seriously, as the festival’s annual awards often lead to a boost in business, Cavalieri said.

“A lot of restaurants really promote the heck out of it when they winan award,” Cavalieri said. “It’s a ton of work for the restaurants.”

The Red Coach Inn in Niagara Falls has been participating in the Taste since 2000, Red Coach Inn owner Tom Reese said. Preparing for the festival may be work, but it’s fun work, according to Reese.

“It’s a fun thing to do,” Reese said. “It gives us a chance to get out and show our product to a lot of people at once.”

The restaurant has won an award in the past for its toasted almond and coconut shrimp, which it’s serving up again this year. Reese isn’t sure how much of an effect the festival has on his business, but he thinks it’s a good idea to get involved each year.

“It’s hard to measure (the effects),” Reese said. “But I think it’s good exposure and a great event.”

Pre-sale vouchers for the Taste of Buffalo can be purchases as participating Tops locations or on tickets.com, Cavalieri said. Also, the festival will be accepting both Visa and Mastercard as payment options at the ticket booths this year.

IF YOU GO:

* WHAT: The 25th Taste of Buffalo

* WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday

* WHERE: Delaware Avenue, starting at Niagara Square, downtown Buffalo

* MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.tasteofbuffalo.com

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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."

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