Food Fight

by Brian Clarey

It’s difficult to classify the Taste Guilford event put on for the last 10 years by the Guilford County Hotel and Motel Association. It’s a food-based thing, as its name implies, with 22 vendors culled from the area’s food purveyors and restaurants. It’s also a fundraiser which has in its history collected more than $137,000 for local charities. And it’s also… how do I put this? It’s also kind of a scene, with free booze flowing in the way only free booze can and hundreds of well-heeled Guilfordians lapping it up.

I come to these things strictly for the food – where else can I sample fare from so many restaurants within a couple hours? And at this year’s event, held last week at the Downtown Marriott, I used my time and stomach capacity wisely, sampling just about every ware I could get my hands on, save for the ones I have already tried. It took discipline and determination just to stay away from all the free beer and wine being poured in the upstairs ballroom, and even more pluck to stop myself from gorging on favorite dishes in the quest to try them all.

Taste is also a bit like a pageant, with many worthy entries vying for notoriety and hundreds of judges, though with no clear-cut winners save for the Victory Junction Gang Camp, this year’s charity of choice. That’s where I come in: As a service to my readers, who may not have been able to make it to the gig, I will run down the best food at Taste 2007.

Here, then, are my picks.

Best cold dish: This one goes to M’Coul’s Public House, and not just because I am a fan of manager Steven Cardello’s sinister mustache. The pub’s signature herbed goat cheese spread with kalamata olives and roasted tomatoes atop pita points is a great dish.

Best chicken: This was a tough call, but after careful consideration the nod goes to the apple cider chicken drummies presented by Joseph’s, a stripped-down mini drum with notes of pepper and fruit in a crunchy batter.

Best steak: The best steak was a toss-up between Liberty Steakhouse’s top round London broil with horseradish sauce and Longhorn Steakhouse’s sliced sirloin with bordelaise mushroom sauce.

Best fish: Props go to the Bonefish grill which this year offered its saucy shrimp dish – with a lime tomato garlic sauce, kalamata olives and a hint of feta – and a beautiful plate of black-and-white sesame seed crusted ahi tuna with a trio of sauces.

Best vegetarian: Chef Jay Pierce of Lucky 32, a genuine New Orleanian, crafted these black bean cakes with mustard seed and a sweet/spicy voodoo sauce.

Best dessert: The Spring Garden Bakery offered a host of homemade delectables, including turtle brownies and an assortment of truffles.

Most creative dish: Backstreets made the grade with a slow-roasted pot roast served with Portuguese cornbread and honey butter. Wow.

Best dish I didn’t like: Sous Chef Kier Chandler of the Airport Marriott was grilling up salmon sliders, a gourmet take on the classic fast-food mini burger, layered with fontina, sweet onion, sautéed mushrooms and remoulade. The problem is that I don’t care for salmon and rarely, if ever, put it in my mouth. It says something that I tried to enjoy this dish.

Best variety: Ganache Bakery & Café offered sushi rolls and also mini chocolate éclairs and Key lime pies.

Best overall food: Best in Show goes, without hesitation, to Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. The menu was a simple affair – a carving station with dry-roasted beef tenderloin seasoned only with salt and pepper and shrimp cocktail with big, firm and succulent fruits of the sea peeled and flayed and served with a dynamite cocktail sauce. An informal poll of attendees bore this out.

The event was a rousing success, particularly for me – I left with a grossly distended belly and a list of restaurants and chefs that I’d like to know more about. Also, I’m pretty sure they raised a bundle for Victory Junction.

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