Want to start with dessert? No one will mind if you do.
By JOHN BENSON
For decades, Labor Day weekend has meant many things to many people -- summer is ending, football season is beginning and school is in session. But now, there's an added dimension to this three-day weekend that has northeast Ohio stomachs growling with anticipation. This year marks the 10th annual Taste of Cleveland event, which takes place Friday through Monday at the Tower City Amphitheater. It's time to loosen the belt, get out the Tums and start sampling some of the area's best cuisine.
Naturally, live music is part of this annual event. While this year's musical lineup has plenty of familiar names -- LeAnn Rimes (Friday), Michael McDonald (Saturday), Michael Stanley (Sunday) and Rick Springfield (Monday) -- the Taste of Cleveland's real appeal stems from the list of restaurants setting up shop alongside the Cuyahoga River. This includes everything from Dave & amp; Buster's and Don Pablos Mexican Kitchen to Hot Sauce Williams, Otani Japanese Restaurant, Pappau's Restaurant Pierogi Palace, the Transylvania Bakery Shop and Woo City Ice Cream.
"See food and eat" will be the mantra heard at the Taste of Cleveland, but don't forget about the Culinary Showcase tent where intimacy between chefs, their food and the audience is the key.
"We have a demonstration every two hours or so where up to 100 people can come watch a chef do a demonstration," said American Culinary Federation member Michele Gaw. "It's a 15-minute demonstration, where they can learn some techniques on how to prepare that dish and it could be something that is actually being sold at the festival, too. And they get samples at the end of it."
It's the latter tidbit of information that could sway the kitchen-challenged person of any household into attending this chef-unplugged event of sorts.
"I think it's a great place to learn little secrets and it gives you more than just sampling food," Gaw said. "It's an opportunity to meet chefs. Over the last three years, I've had people who come back every year and they're like, 'I still make the same dish you made two years ago and it's so much fun.' They almost become like regulars, if you can have such a thing at the event."
One of the celebrities scheduled to entertain and edify in the Culinary Showcase tent this year is "Cleveland Ethnic Eats" author Laura Taxel, who will be showing off her special knowledge from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Friday.
Trying new things
For the creatures-of-habit eaters who have ordered the same dish at the same restaurant for decades, the Taste of Cleveland offers a relatively inexpensive way to expand their horizons.
"In the years past, there's been everything from corn on the cob to fried veggies to tuna and sesame noodles," Gaw said. "There's the whole gamut of things like ice cream and custard. So, there is something there for everybody."
Remember conventional dinner table rules don't exist when it comes to eating at the Taste of Cleveland, which means food rebels are encouraged to do the unthinkable.
"It's never wrong to start with dessert first," Gaw said. "I think you should just eat what you enjoy. Sometimes you need to. I wouldn't do it every meal, having dessert first, but I think it's just fine to start with it at the Taste of Cleveland."