Taste of Huntsville

Thursday night, the hubby and I consolidated cars and headed over to the VBC for the 2010 Taste of Huntsville. Although this was the 36th annual event, it was our first time attending and I was excited to have such a wide range of restaurants available for sampling!

The South Hall was lined with tables from 56 participants–Buffalo Rock/Pepsi and Huntsville’s Coca Cola squared off across the room, while food ranged from Costco and Burger King to Grille 29 and 801 Franklin. Even in small sample sizes, there was far more food there than I could take in, managing only 14 of the 56 vendors.

Taste of Huntsville

Dreamland BBQ I had heard of Dreamland before, but never quite made my way inside. The pulled pork was meaty, with just a hint of a vinegary tang, and might just inspire me to stop in should I find myself in their neck of the woods.

Cantina Lardeo Faced with an array of choices, I skipped over the guacamole (I already know it’s good) in favor of trying the flan. The custardy treat stayed just this side of solid, winning me over on the texture front, however, the strong vanilla flavor was nothing overly special.

Sage Grill A new name to me, this is the in hotel restaurant at the Westin at Bridge Street. They were offering quite a wide array of dishes, so I sampled several. The grilled salmon was tasty, but a bit tough. The lemon pepper risotto smelled overwhelmingly of lemon but had a surprisingly light flavor. One of the most inventive creations of the night was their butternut squash bruschetta. Sadly, the reality was fairly mediocre, a mashed squash topping on small slices of bread. The flavor pairing was neither good nor bad, but the textural contrast was a bit disconcerting.

Another Broken Egg Cafe This is a place that has been on my “to try” list forever…and it just got bumped to the top. Their take on baked brie–carmelized onion, apples, raisins, and warm brie on a slice of french baguette–was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. The flavors melded together beautifully and despite being loaded with components, everything held together nicely making it a perfect finger food.

McAlister’s Deli Since I haven’t been overly impressed with my dine-in experiences at McAlisters, I was ready to skip their table. Instead, I decided to try their Savanah salad. Featuring dried cranberries, almonds, gorgonzola, and grilled chicken and tossed in a sherry shallot dressing it was amazing. This was another real standout of the evening, proving good food is often found in unlikely places.

801 Franklin One of my favorite spots in town, I was a bit disappointed in their “play to the crowd” selections. The coffee rubbed steak and sample-sized “hot and cold” chocolate cake are some of the most popular items on their menu. Unfortunately, the steak was cold by the time I finished collecting food and the lack of knives hampered easy enjoyment. I was surprised that the coffee rub didn’t seem to impart a strong flavor, though I attributed that to the fact that the sample slices had very little of the cooked exterior. The “hot and cold” cake suffered from the lack of “cold” (ice cream). However, the molten center of each tiny morsel, served in a small candy wrapper, did justice to the “hot”.

Taste of Huntsville

The Melting Pot A fondue restaurant in Bridge Street, they had always struck me as overly pricey for a dinner you cook yourself. We sampled chocolate strawberries which, in true fondue fashion, were served via a dip-it-yourself chocolate fountain. The chocolate was passable milk chocolate, but the strawberries are what sparkled. Lusciously sweet, even out of season, and just the right amount of give. Almost enough to make me consider the painful prices. Almost.

US Space and Rocket Center One of the most surprising participants of the night, they also had some solid offerings. The terriyaki steak over rice was tasty and although the pumpkin seed coated lampchops were a bit of an odd texture combination, the pumpkin cake was outstanding. Moist and just the right amount of pumpkin-y goodness, it was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. (See the image at the top of the post)

Taste of Huntsville

Mei Wei Another happy surprise of the evening, the chicken was delicately sweetened and the egg roll was fabulous–crunchy, warm, and tasty. This one just jumped up on my list of “Places to Try”.

Wild Rose Cafe A small, local cafe, I was excited to see Wild Rose in the lineup. Unfortunately, for a restaurant that also bills itself as a catering company, the food was severely disappointing. The two appetizers offered, both served on crackers, were ham and asparagus cheesecake and asiago chicken sausage with garlic jam. The “cheesecake” tasted to be pureed asparagus blended with cream cheese–mushy and bland. The asiago sausage might have been tasty, but the garlic jam was so overwhelming, garlic fan though I am, that I couldn’t taste anything else.

Ellen’s Creative Cakes Ellen’s has been on my radar for awhile now, so I was happy for a chance to try their wares. Sadly for me, their treats were nothing special. The sticky bun was dry and left an overly strong vanilla taste in the back of my mouth. The “Hummingbird” cake–made with pineapple and banana– was dry, topped with an overly sweet frosting, and also suffered from an overdose of extract.

Taste of Huntsville

On the whole, the event was outstanding. I was able to unearth some unexpectedly good dishes, add a few new restaurants to my “To Try” list and cross a few others off. The atmosphere was one of congenial fun–we had a good time chatting with our table mates (in fact it was them who turned me onto the Space and Rocket Center’s pumpkin cake!)–and with the proceeds going to local charities, it’s an all around win. If you didn’t get a chance to check it out this year, mark your calendar for next fall. I’m already looking forward to it!