It’s a sunny, crisp day in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, DC. You’ve got a drink in one hand and fork in another, music is drifting over the heads of the chattering crowd, and delicious scents from over 50 of DC’s finest restaurants fill the air. That’s the scene at one of the most anticipated events of the fall: 2012’s Taste of DC.
The Taste of DC, which originally ran from 1989 to 2003, was on an eight-year hiatus when Taste of DC, LLC decided to reinvent the event in 2011. Last year’s event was a hit, and organizers expect this year, sponsored by Ford, CityEats, and PNC Bank (among others) to be even more successful.
There’s one major difference between 2011’s Taste of DC and 2012’s: organizers decided to do away with food and drink tickets. Rather than waiting in line to buy tickets, redeemable for drinks and food, attendees can use cash at all vendors. Organizers hope this strategy will cut down on lines, thus maximizing your eating and drinking time. The festival’s ten dollar entrance fee includes a drink of your choice, and tickets are available online for only $8.99 (a 10% discount).
The year will also see the addition of a Farm To Fork Zone. Jake Dougherty, communications director for the Taste of DC, explained the special section, “We really want to promote sustainable, local, healthier eating in the DC area.” Sponsored by the Natural Food Association, the Farm To Fork Zone will feature local free-range foodie favorite Local 16, as well as food from Ulah Bistro, Logan’s Sausage and other eateries.
The diverse eats offered at Taste of DC reflect DC’s rapidly growing restaurant scene. Over 50 restaurants are participating this year. Dougherty commented that most restaurants serve their signature dish at the Taste of DC: “Some will be cooking sliders. Others will be selling chocolate parfaits. There’s a huge diversity in the food offered.”
Luckily, restaurateurs are just as excited about the Taste of DC as eaters. Santosh Tiptur, the chef at Co Co Sala said: “Since we’re located in the Penn Quarter, we really like to participate in neighborhood events. We worked with the event last year and it worked out really well, so we wanted definitely to do it again this year.”
It’s up to the eatery as to whether or not to cook onsite, but you might catch some chefs making like Bobby Flay over the grill. What can you expect to eat? Co Co Sala is dishing up samples of decadent macaroni and cheese with chocolate covered bacon, served in a tart shell. Massimo Giannetti, owner of Trattoria Nicola, is pulling out all the stops for the Taste of DC: his restaurant will serve spicy Italian meatballs in tomato sauce, made from his grandmother’s top secret recipe. You can expect other delicious bites from favorites like Blackbyrd, The Brixton, Wicked Waffles, Chupacabra, Pho Wheels, Station 4, Teak Wood and lots more. Shake Shack will be dishing up sample-size burgers, as well (Saturday only).
The tastes will be three dollars, but some restaurants will offer additional menu items for an additional fee.
It’s not just food you can taste at the Taste of DC: samples of beer are also available for three dollars, with choices ranging from local breweries to international imports.
Taste of DC’s Beer Garden is sponsored by Stella Artois, and will feature over 30 different brews. Gluten-free beer is also available. If you’re not a beer drinker, there will be wine and soft drink vendors, as well.
The best thing about drinking at this year’s Taste of DC? If you’re enjoying a brew, you won’t be confined to the garden. The Taste of DC is designed so that attendees can circulate freely with drinks; organizers changed the set-up based on feedback from last year’s event.
Dougherty and fellow organizers made sure the event has more to offer than just food: “The whole event is packed with really great programming from our sponsors, as well as the main stage, the culinary stage, and of course, the 2nd Annual World Chili Eating Championship, sponsored by Ben’s Chili Bowl.”
Nizam Ali, co-owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl, is pumped about the chili eating championship, held for the second time at the Taste of DC: “We’ve always wanted to do some kind of annual eating contest. We thought DC should have an eating championship and there’s no better place to do it than the Taste of DC, [with] the Capitol and Pennsylvania Avenue as a backdrop.”
If you want a chance at the title of chili-eating champion, the amateur competition is on Saturday. To pre-register, visit www.thetasteofdc.org.
Make sure you come back on Sunday to see the professional eaters compete for the top prize: Virginia native Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas and Joey “Jaws” Chestnut will both be there. Chestnut ate two gallons of chili in six minutes to win the 2011 world championship. This past summer, Chestnut won his record-tying sixth title by consuming 68 hot dogs (and buns) in 10 minutes. Chestnut said of the upcoming Taste of DC, “I’m excited. I hope to get an invite to the White House after I create [a] new chili eating record…I’m not holding my breath”.
For more food-related entertainment, you can also visit the culinary stage, where chefs and other culinary types will perform demonstrations. Highlights include Warren Brown, the chef behind popular area bakery Cakelove, who’ll share some of his baking secrets on Sunday afternoon.
The main stage showcases both local and national performers: Saturday will host the stylings of reggaeton favorite Sean Paul. On Sunday, eaters can enjoy Andy Grammer, best known for the upbeat pop song “Fine By Me.”
The three-day celebration of area eateries takes place October 6 to 8 from noon to 7 p.m. daily at Pennsylvania Ave. NW from 9th to 14th Streets. Taste of DC will take place rain or shine. Visit www.thetasteofdc.org for more information.