THIS ONE WAS MAGICAL!
When the Rotary Club of New Tampa revived the Taste of New Tampa & Wesley Chapel last year, I was proud to be the restaurant guy who procured 46 food and beverage providers and helped promote the 2017 return of my favorite 20-year-old single-day event in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel in these pages and on WCNT-tv (Wesley Chapel & New Tampa Television on Youtube & Facebook).
Rotary Club president and Taste organizer Karen Frashier — who also ran the show last year when an estimated total crowd (including vendors and volunteers) of about 2,000 people helped the club net about $10,000 for its own charitable foundation (more on that below) and about $1,000 to benefit the Greater Wesley Chapel (now North Tampa Bay) Chamber of Commerce (NTBCC)’s high school scholarship fund — was truly stunned at how much bigger and better this year’s Taste was than last year.
“Based on our ticket sales, we estimate the crowd this year at more than 2,000 attendees and close to 2,500 people overall,” Frashier said only three days after the event. “We don’t have final numbers yet, but we definitely more than doubled last year’s net proceeds.”
Whether you chalk it up to the Rotary Club having a year of experience under its belt, the even better restaurants, the even more outstanding entertainment — everyone loved the virtuoso guitar work of Shaun Hopper and taking pics with Zammy the Giant Sheepadoodle — or the even bigger promotional bump the Taste got from our New Tampa issue hitting mailboxes in zip code 33647 only two days before the event (where the preview started on Page 1), Taste 2018 was pure magic.
Superlative Food & Drinks!
Although I honestly believe that there were at least a dozen other restaurants that planned to be at this year’s Taste, including several of last year’s participants who simply couldn’t get themselves together in time, I have no doubt that this year’s food was the best in the 22-year history of the Taste.
Yes, there were the superlative samples of three different bowls served by People’s Choice 1st-place winner Ciccio Cali, the lasagna, meatballs and eggplant parmigiana from 2nd Place Little Italy’s (which had by far the longest lines of any restaurants all afternoon) and the crispy Brussels sprouts appetizer from 3rd Place Noble Crust.
I also thought that Vesh Catering’s potsticker dumplings and chopped salad were both outstanding, as were Texas Roadhouse’s ribs and steak bites. Canterbury Hall at Grace Episcopal Church served delicious salmon mousse cups provided by Rotary Club member Peter Gambacorta of the Private Chef of Tampa. And, Acai Brazil, Bosco’s Italian-to-Go, Cinebistro, Jon’s Nutrition, Union 72 BBQ and Cappy’s Pizza all offered tasty samples, too.
The beverage competition came down to the three beer providers — The Brass Tap, Zephyrhills Brewing Co. (2nd place), and 81 Bay Brewing (1st place), and wine providers PRP Wine, Time for Wine (3rd place), Vom Fass (which also brought, and quickly went through, a giant tray of paella I couldn’t try because of my shellfish allergy, but it looked amazing) and Chuy’s Tex-Mex (see story on pg. 14), which is opening in our area later this month. Chuy’s only served chips with very spicy salsa for food but everyone who sampled the sangria raved about it.
As for the dessert providers, Happy Cow Frozen Yogurt, Blondie’s Cookies, Leann’s Gourmet Cookies, Culver’s frozen custard and Snowrolls ice cream all deserve high marks, with Snowrolls and Culver’s my favorites, although there were no People’s Choice dessert winners.
Rotary Club of New Tampa president Karen Frashier explained that the People’s Choice food and beverage honors went to the providers who had a combination of the most actual People’s Choice votes and the number of Taste tickets they collected from patrons who sampled their wares. It’s an imperfect, somewhat subjective system, but I have to give major kudos to all 43 of our food and beverage providers who showed up, as well as to Rotary Club members Nikki Smith and David West, who figured a way to donate all leftover food to local food banks and shelters, although there was definitely less food left over than last year.
Thank You, JCs!
I also want to send a big shout-out to this year’s “JC” sponsorship chairs — Rotary Club members James Carner and Jason Contino. Not only did these two hard-working gentleman procure thousands more in sponsorships this year than last, between the two of them, they helped me get about 1/4 of the 40+ restaurants for this year’s Taste.
And, best of all, Carner also lassoed his long-time friend — fingerstyle and percussion-style guitarist Shaun Hopper — into being the headline entertainer for the event. Read more about Shaun on the next page.
When I first heard that guitarist Shaun Hopper was going to be the headline entertainer at the Taste, I honestly had never heard of him, even though he’s toured with several major bands.
But now, I know for fact that not only is the guy a gifted guitarist and performer, he also is a truly caring gentleman. Shaun told me that when he saw Zammy the Giant Sheepadoodle (check him out at #ZammyPup on Instagram) lumbering around the insulated floor at Florida Hospital Center Ice, he instantly started writing a song in his head. Not long after Shaun finished performing, he sat with Zammy for a few minutes and played a happy, lilting little guitar melody that Zammy’s owner Todd Pitner will likely use as Zammy’s theme song for his future videos.
I also really enjoyed the performance of the New Tampa Players, who gave everyone a preview of their upcoming production of “Legally Blonde” during the Taste.
Zammy hung out on his grooming table, next to the free photo booth for most of the event. I apologize for not remembering the gentleman’s name who ran the photo booth, but I did see lots of people taking family pics during the event. Also busy all day was the Taste’s kids area.
I also want to thank each and every sponsor who appeared on page 39 of our last issue. I don’t have room to use pics of all of them in these pages, but without the hard work of James and Jason to get them to ante up money to be at the Taste, the event would never have netted as much money as it did.
I also applaud Jason’s daughter Sophia Contino, for bringing her lemonade stand to the Taste, and for making yet another big donation to the Pasco Sheriff’s K-9 Association.