The annual Taste of Ann Arbor event took over Main Street on Sunday, despite rainy conditions.
A ticketed event, Taste of Ann Arbor featured delicacies from more than 40 of Ann Arbor’s well-known eateries such as the Arbor Brewing Company, The Blue Tractor and Silvio’s Organic Ristorante with food types ranging from greasy-spoon to the high-end culinary creations. Several restaurants entered dishes that were considered by six judges for the annual “Best of Show” prize.
Ticket sales for the event were coordinated by volunteers from the Michigan Theater, to whom a portion of the proceeds will be donated.
Mary Kerr, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau, was one of the six judges at this year’s competition. Responsible for the selection of this year’s entrees and Best of Show, Kerr described what goes into a winning dish at the festival.
“The restaurants do a really good job of showcasing their overall business, so from food to presentation, hearing the knowledge about the food, their enthusiasm working at the booth,” Kerr said. “I think it really depends on what really stands out that day, it’s important to talk to the chefs about their ingredients and to have the opportunity to say, ‘I can really taste that.’ ”
Server Kayla Samolewski and pastry assistant Danielle Valentine of La Dolce Vida added hot chocolate to their lineup to combat the cold.
“The hot chocolate was definitely a last-minute adaption. So we had ice cream sandwiches originally and then oh my gosh, it was raining, so we decided to add hot chocolate shooters instead,” Samolewski said.
La Dolce Vida’s pastry chef of two years, Jordan Conn, said the shooters were made of unsweetened cocoa powder, sugar and whole milk. Conn added salt to the mix, giving the drink a bolder taste.
Main Street Association executive director and full-time event organizer Maura Thomson has participated in Taste of Ann Arbor since 2005 and said she has noticed an increasing spike in popularity.
“We have, assuming good weather, doubled in attendance since 2008, and last year’s Taste of Ann Arbor had over 15,000 people,” Thomson said.
Thomson attributes the dramatic growth of the event to that of social media.
“Social media has changed everything,” said Thomson. “So now the exponential value of having 40 restaurants promote their section is what has increased awareness overall of the event.”
Thomson also spoke to the importance of sustainability in the food community of Ann Arbor, and said Taste of Ann Arbor is sensitive to cutting down on waste. “We need to take steps to be a ‘zero-waste Taste,’ ” said Thomson.
“It’s about keeping the downtown area vibrant and healthy. At the end of the day, this event is about our community,” Thomson said. “Our goal is to connect people to this downtown.”
Despite the large portion of the student population having left for the summer, many remaining students attended the event. Rising LSA senior Ben Brenner is a frequent patron to the Main Street restaurants. He said he enjoys the more social atmosphere of the event.
“It was definitely advertised as more of a townie event,” Brenner said. “A lot of the people in my house hadn’t even heard of it.”
Kerr said the community should take advantage of the various eateries available in the Ann Arbor area.
“Ann Arbor is known as a foodie destination — over 200 restaurants are located in the area,” Kerr said. “You may not agree with me, but we’re probably one of the best food destinations outside Chicago.”
Thompson said Taste of Ann Arbor highlighted the growth of the local food scene.
“The Ann Arbor food scene has grown, and continues to grow, over the last 10 years,” Thomson said. “I feel like this is another example of how the Ann Arbor food scene has grown and is shining and that is what’s showcased here today.”