Taste the Event is a celebration of the culinary tastes of Durham and Chapel Hill, NC. This was not a single event, rather a series of events, held from April 24th to the 27th, 2014, to showcase the local food scene and to benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC.
I opted for the Grand Taste Experience at the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) on Thursday, April 24th. Tickets were $95, and the price included an embossed wine glass and a large variety of food and beverage tastings.
The event wasn’t nearly as crowded as I thought it might be, but I attribute this largely to being held on a Thursday evening (doors opened at 6pm). I arrived nearly thirty minutes early, and picked up tickets from will call to avoid an additional ticket delivery fee (one could download and print tickets for free as well). I met a lovely couple while I waited, whom I ran into a few times during the event. We compared likes and dislikes- more to come on that later.
Once in the door, I chatted up an event host on where to go and her favorite vendors. She recommended Saltbox Seafood Joint and LucetteGrace bakery. Now, I had a plan.
We headed straight to Saltbox Seafood Joint, where we tasted jerked mahi mahi with plantain-pineapple whip and pickled coconut slaw. I am not a seafood fan, but the fish wasn’t “fishy” tasting at all. The seasonings has a spicy bite at the finish, and the fresh Caribbean flavors were a point of difference amidst the other restaurants featured at this event. To be honest, one could put plantains in anything, and I would eat it. My guest demanded to visit the restaurant, where the menu changes daily based on what is fresh and available, and often sells out.
Next up, LucetteGrace (235 South Salisbury Street, Raleigh). Their name is the middle name of the owner’s daughter, albeit difficult to remember (and perhaps pronounce). Their spread was beautiful and enticing, with multi-colored (and flavored) macaroons, dried cherry cookies, and the evening’s stand-out item…salted caramel brownies. We will be watching for LucetteGrace’s grand opening in order to get a premium spot in what will surely be a long line of folks anxious to get their hands (and mouths) on these goodies.
Amongst my usual favorite local places in Fullsteam Brewery. Stylish owner (or as his business card reads “Chief Executive Optimist”) Sean Lilly Wilson made an appearance sporting a slim fitting blazer and all of his usual finesse. Featured beers for the evening included a springy sour variety made with apples that is comparable to a cider, but not as sweet, and for dessert pairing, a stout with Madagascar vanilla, chocolate, and banana.
A trip to the brewery itself is usually accompanied by several birthday parties, food trucks, pinball, table tennis, and the like. It’s a fun and inexpensive place to enjoy a sunny afternoon with a cold beer…think of it as hanging out in your neighbor’s garage.
Matthew’s Chocolates of Hillsborough was an unfamiliar name to me. Their chocolates are works of art that look too good to eat…almost. I opted for a vanilla buttercream chocolate, filled with sweet icing and ending with a nice salty note. I am not onboard with salty sweets, but it was the perfect flavor to cut the overwhelming sweetness of this treat. Several guests plated multiple chocolates, as they retail for about $3 each in Matthew’s shop. I tried to end the night with another visit, but the chocolates were gone, replaced with bite-sized brownies and such (which I am certain were lovely, but not the prizes I coveted).
Immediately next to Matthew’s Chocolates was Carrboro Coffee Roasters. The young lady there offered us pour-over coffee from Honduras and provided a brief history of the company, which sources beans directly from the growers. The coffee was a perfect pairing with our cocoa-rich treats.
At G2B gastropub, the focus is on house-cured meats, cheeses, and a gourmet pub atmosphere. The best offering here was rabbit, sliced thinly and served with pickled carrot on toast bread. The rabbit was so tender that it was almost pate’. The cold crispness and sweetness of the carrots made for a tasty bite with no gaminess. FOr a sweet treat, there were lime-soaked strawberries made into shortcake, filled with lavender crème. THe cakes were beautiful and simply constructed, and would be enough of a reason to stop by the restaurant. G2B is on my “must visit” list, as the foodie men in my life cant pass up an enticing charcuterie plate and a craft beer (or three).
The most appealing savory dish was served by the head chef of An restaurant, located in Cary, NC. They may have had the most appealing head chef as well, for that matter (Steven Devereaux Greene). The bite was braised beef over grits with cucumber Kimchi.
If there was an award for the most unusual dish, there may have been a tie. Offers included a lollipop of raisin, chocolate, and foie gras, and a savory “shot” from Jujube that was topped with tropical fruit Pop Rocks.
For those looking to end the night on a healthier note, there were vegan cupcakes from Joie de Vegan. If you hadn’t told me these sweets were vegan, I wouldn’t have known. Spiced mini cakes with chocolate chips were a light and lovely ending to an overwhelming gourmet “dinner” experience.
Taste the Event featured the businesses mentioned here, and many more. These were just the highlights. The event was a social experience where guests got to know owners and chefs of local and locally sourced gourmet establishments on a personal level in a casual setting. I am eager to enjoy a similar experience in 2015!