The Taste of Tacoma is a microcosm of things your mother warned you never to eat. Who better to judge the deep-fried fare than a restaurant critic, right? OK, OK, I put away my critical pen today. The Taste of Tacoma is an event designed for bulk grazing. It’s fun. Think of it as a giant food court – a lot of it, and most of it pretty good from a can-I-get-more-fat-and-yum-into-my-mouth sort of way. Keep your expectations of good value in check and wear your Thanksgiving pants because you need to be a professional-level eater to plow your way through this festival.
Don't expect to find Tacoma restaurants at the Taste - only one will be serving. AmeRAWcan Bistro had coconut drinks and brownie bites when I wandered by earlier today. Most of the vendors are local caterers or food companies that travel the summer festival circuit.
About the cost. It’s not cheap. Gone this year are the $3.75 bargain eats. While many booths had nibbles in the $4-$5 range, expect to pay $5-$7 for most dishes. If you're curious about prices, here is a blog post with photos of menus.
For selection, it seems there’s more variety this year – and certainly more deep-fried stuff. I saw everything from deep-fried pb&j (just like mom used to deep fry!) and a booth serving a half dozen varieties of corn dogs, fried piroshky, fried Twinkies and even deep-fried green beans. Here are tasting notes:
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DEEP FRIED PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH Cost: $5 half/$7 wholeBooth: Peanut Butter Goodness, look for the sign advertising fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.I imagine this is the sort of thing Elvis would have loved – peanut butter and grape jelly in white bread that is smooshed together into a pocket and deep fried. Who knew that deep-frying spongy white bread would turn the texture so fluffy – I loved the crunchy exterior that, once broken into, oozed peanut butter and warm jelly. I’d eat this every day if I thought it wouldn’t shave a year off my life.
DEEP-FRIED TWINKIESCost: $5Booth: Frandy I know from the Puyallup Fair that deep-fried candy bars are pretty much the most awesome dessert ever, but the fried Twinkie was a fail for me. It was a salty-spongy mess. The batter was sloppily applied, my Twinkie had an Alien-esque batter tail and a glob of whipped cream that fell over the side of the container. There was plenty of deep-fried disgusting at the Frandy booth – fried pickles, fried Milky Way bars and something called fried Pepsi, which a booth worker told me was a deep-fried dough ball flavored with Pepsi syrup. Sounds dangerous.
DEEP-FRIED GREEN BEAN FRIESCost: $3.75Booth: Wings ‘n’ Rings This is almost health food, right? Take green beans, batter them, then deep fry them. This is what I imagine Southern people eat for dinner every day. I’m a fan. The ranch on the side tasted extra dill-y.
BACON-WRAPPED PRAWNS WITH JALAPENO MAYOCost: $7Booth: Billy McHale’sIf there ever was a perfect meat-on-a-stick combo, it’d be a bacon-wrapped prawn skewer. I was surprised by the portion size – five prawns. The prawns were fresh and snappy, the bacon was nice and smoky, the jalapeno-mayo needed more jalapeno, less mayo. This was a win for the money spent.
JALAPENO CORNDOG Cost: $6Booth: Corn Dogs of the WorldWho knew that Mexico, Germany and Italy exported corn dogs? Just kidding. These are good ol’ American concoctions – fried meat on a stick, of course. I went International and tried the Mexican version – a porky dog stuffed with bits of jalapeno and cheddar cheese. It was encased in a crunchy cornmeal batter. Not bad. Not bad at all.
DEEP-FRIED BANANASCost: $4Booth: Pho Cyclo Café The only thing that would have made these better is if they had been on a stick. Battered and fried banana halves were drenched with a coconut sauce, which softened the coating some. These were like the fried pb&j sandwiches – full of sweet gooiness.
BEEF AND CHEDDAR PIROSHKY Cost: $7.50Booth: Kaleenka PiroshkyYou know those crispy beef burritos at Taco Time? Think of the Kaleenka beef and cheddar piroshky as the Russian dough ball version of that. Hot ground beef and cheddar surrounded by fried, yeasty dough. It makes a nice crunchy noise when you bite into it.
HUM BAO (STEAMED PORK BUN)Cost: $3Booth: Delicious AsiaSalty-sweet pork inside a fluffy white bun– this is a prime example of trashy food that tastes oh so good. This is a carbo-laden meat ball of yum. I’ve had steamed hum bao buns from South Tacoma to New York City – this was a stellar version.
[caption id="attachment_10969" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="If they ask if you want kraut and onions, you should say yes. This is the jumbo polish from Zeiglers."] [/caption]JUMBO POLISH DOGCost: $7.50Booth: ZieglersDo I want kraut AND onions? You bet. And extra, please. I admit to only eating two bites of this kraut-onion Polish dog, I was worried about splitting my Thanksgiving pants. In true Polish dog fashion, this is a porky link with a lot of fat. Eat wisely. How do you tell this one from the regular size? The jumbo Polish is bigger than the bun.
[caption id="attachment_10973" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Half a cheesesteak sandwich at Mario Brothers. "] [/caption]CHEESESTEAK SANDWICHCost: $5 (or $5.75 for half a sandwich with a drink)Booth: Mario Brothers
The booth billed this as a bargain - $5 for half a sandwich (or $5.75 with a drink). I thought it was pretty expensive for half a sandwich. Not much cheese and chewy meat. If you’re going for a gut buster, I suggest you get the jumbo Polish at Zeiglers. More grease for your buck.
[caption id="attachment_11013" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="A tofu and quinoa bowl with veggies is made to order."] [/caption]QUINOA BOWL WITH TOFU Cost: $7Booth: The Quinoa KingAfter all the fat and sugar, this was a palate cleanser – and was quite tasty. The quinoa bowls come with meat or veggies. I opted for the tofu bowl with a really colorful tangle of vegetables – broccoli, chopped greens, red onions mixed with fried tofu cubes (I suppose since it’s a festival, it had to be fried). Quinoa in the bottom of the bowl gave it a subtle nutty crunch. This was as good as you can find at a restaurant – well executed.CHICKEN AND ARTICHOKE CREPE Cost:
Hands down, this booth classes up the entire event. Serving sweet and savory crepes, Crepe Tyme always is one of my festival favorites. This year, I skipped the sweet crepes and instead ordered a savory crepe – an eggy crepe was folded over a saucy filling of chicken and artichokes and a layer of barely wilted spinach. This was a win on every level – flavor, texture and value. If you’re grazing, this is a great item to share.
[caption id="attachment_11019" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Mostly crab meat and no binder, this cake was a win."]
[/caption]DUNGENESS CRAB CAKE Cost:
Half Moon BaySix bucks may seem steep for a crab cake, but when it’s a cake like this, I’m not complaining. A single cake was served with a zippy remoulade sauce – topped with fried onions. You know how crab cakes at some restaurants seem all binder – bread crumbs and veggies – and no crab? Yeah, that’s not this cake. This cake is mostly crab, with bits of sautéed peppers and onions. It’s spendy for such a small portion, but I maintain that the ingredients make up for that.
FISH TACO Cost: $6Booth: Eduardo’s Famous Fish TacosGrilled instead of fried fish would have been a touch more healthy, but Eduardo’s got the texture of their whole wheat fish tacos just right. Cabbage and pico de gallo gave this just the right crunch. It needed a squeeze of lime for a flavor boost. The wheat tortilla made me feel a tiny bit less guilty about all that fried junk I put into my body today.
Taste of Tacoma 2012When: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. SundayWhere: Point Defiance Park, TacomaAdmission: Free, but you have to pay for food.Parking: $10 in the Funland lot across from the parkFree shuttle: Free shuttle from Tacoma Community College Transit Center directly to Point Defiance Park. Shuttle hours are 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. today and Saturday and 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday.Pets: None allowed in the food court. Music: Four entertainment stages. The Bowl Stage with classic rock; the Pond Stage with R&B, folk, gospel and world music; the Roadhouse Stage with country and blues; and the Jazz Stage adjacent to the wine-tasting garden. More entertainment: Comedy club, a wine garden and tastings, a carnival, arts and crafts booths, commercial and vendor booths.
Sue Kidd dines anonymously and all meals are paid for by The News Tribune. Reach her at: 253-597-8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org