By Olivia Short ’17
In Cincy, every foodie’s favorite weekend is Memorial Day weekend. It’s not for the grillouts… but for the Taste of Cincinnati! Every year, the city closes down about 4 blocks downtown for this 3-day food festival. The Taste gives local restaurants a chance to promote their business– each restaurant chooses 3-5 of their best dishes to sell in small portions. This way, customers can sample cuisines they may be curious about without the commitment of a $15 main course. (And typically, walk away with the intention of going to at least one restaurant for a proper meal in the future.) Also, the prices listed on each booth are exactly that, with no tax.
My family’s been going to the Taste forever. Seriously, we have pictures of curly-q baby Short chowing down on some pizza in a stroller. Of course, I’ve gotten a little more adventurous since the I-only-want-Larosa’s-and-Grater’s days. So as per family tradition, Mama Short and I headed out on Sunday afternoon for the 2015 Taste. (She was beyond excited to download the official Taste of Cincinnati app and planned us a whole agenda. She’s adorable.)
We arrived at Fountain Square near a stage and a sitting area. Local bands always play at the Taste, but two were switching off when we got there. During the hiatus, they played some songs off Blurryface (!!!) while Mom and I looked at the map and got our bearings.
From here, I’ll jump right in with the food reviews. Hang on tight.
This was a warm crabcake served on a sweet bun with slaw. I’m a sucker for anything crab, so I loved it. The mayonnaise and crab together were fatty in a good way. Also: Mama and I ducked out of the crowd to eat this, and ended up right in front of the actual McCormick and Shmick’s restaurant on Fountain Square. (Or “the place with the big metal fish,” as you may know it.) An apron-wearing possibly-a-chef woman looked happy to see we’d chosen her food.
If you’ve ever had a Streetpop, you know why I made a beeline straight there. The business itself is an all-natural popsicle food truck with limited stock, so I wanted to snatch one before the festival got too crowded. Mom tried a Thai Basil Lime pop and I got Pineapple White Grape Ginger. Mine was good– it tasted like white grape juice/wine (surprise!) with just a hint of ginger. But I liked the Thai Basil Lime a LOT more. It tasted refreshing and so much like summer that I got a second one before leaving. (Did we save our sticks as souvenirs? Yes, yes we did.)
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese seafood pancake topped with mayonnaise and shredded seaweed. That might sound like a daunting combo, but fried fish is a pretty universal thing. Maki has a more Americanized okonamiyaki that skips the traditional pancake batter for an all-fish dish. Ours was right out of the fryers, hot, and perfectly crispy. The pancake itself was a simple blend of fish, cabbage, and shrimp. It had a good flavor, and wasn’t overly greasy like some other fried street foods.
Just to note: Brown Dog Cafe came in from 3-6pm on Sunday in the “Taste Experience” section, an alley of tents where fancier restaurants take short shifts. We purposely planned our visit time to come try Brown Dog! They served us seared tuna with fresh mango slaw, whipped avocado, and greens. This was my first time eating undercooked fish– the tuna was rubbed with spices and seared on the outside, but left raw within. The flavor was good, everything was fresh and complimented the tuna well, but I couldn’t get past the raw fish texture. I can still be a baby sometimes, right?
Also in the “Taste Experience” section was Buona Terra, an Italian bakery and gelato shop. They had single-packed macarons for $2, and I just couldn’t resist. I know how hard they are to make (God bless my failed attempts), so I grabbed a salted caramel one. The pastry was gorgeous, with perfect little “feet” (the crispy edge) at the center. It looked like a textbook macaron, but I’m sorry to say that these guys don’t survive heat very well. The cookie was all dried out, and the caramel filling had become chewy. Pour one out for this innocent little macaron who had so much potential… RIP
This taco is in a very, very close tie with the Thai Basil Lime Streetpop for my favorite dish of the day. Red Sesame is a food truck, but their food is just as killer as any sit-down Korean restaurant. They offered a choice of chicken, beef or tofu. Like the purist I am, I went for beef– red meat is a Korean BBQ staple. The taco itself was a flour tortilla topped with shredded Korean beef, chopped greens, and red chili sauce. The beef was ridiculously good; I could tell by the taste that it had been slow-cooked for hours. And when paired with crunchy lettuce? Bye. Bye son. I’m gone and I’m in texture/flavor heaven.
I feel like it’s time for a disclaimer at this point. (I’m only just now realizing that we ate a disproportionate amount of Asian food??) The Taste has other cuisines, too– German, Italian, Caribbean, Greek, and the miscellaneous “Americana” category of burgers, beer, and the like. This year’s catalog will probably give you a better idea of the foods offered than my personal account.
On the way out, we passed a strategically-placed stretch of booths with loads and loads of free samples. For 100 or so yards, I had workers left and right trying to hand me things, ask me survey questions, or ask for my email. But I made it out alive with the following: chocolates, greek yogurt dip, snack cakes, antacid chews, and dairy-free yogurt that I’m honestly a bit scared of. Why must we play God with these probiotics???
All in all, Mama and I had a great day. We got to hang out downtown, support local businesses, and peoplewatch. If you’ve never been to the Taste before, you should go at least once– you might be surprised just how cool and vibrant Cincy is at its core! :~)