Grazing around the Taste of Tacoma could cost you as much as a higher end sit-down restaurant if you put your eyes and gullet in charge of your wallet. That's why my strategy is to graze the cheap eats. Priced $3.75 each, every booth is supposed to offer a dish of something for the reduced "Just a Bite" price. Last year, on opening day, several vendors weren't advertising their cheap eats. So how did the vendors do this year? Read on.
This year, I found every booth I checked, with the exception of one, advertised a $3.75 bite. And something surprising: at least five booths were offering last year's cheap eats pricing of $3.
Add up the collective damage of all those bites, and it's still an expensive dining excursion. For the money, I'd park it at Pacific Grill or Masa for happy hour and savor more sophisticated eats at less than what some of the booths were charging at the Taste, but that's just me.
Buyer beware: A word of warning and a rant about the Taste of Tacoma discount food tickets. While supplies last, you can buy $20 worth of food tickets for $17 at the booth near the entrance (they take cash or credit cards, and military identification will get you an additional discount). The books are a good deal, but there are a few catches,Catch one: No refunds for unused tickets, only buy what you need. Catch two: Booths do not offer change for the food tickets. So if you're buying a $3.75 cheap bite, you either need to use three food tickets and 75 cents cash, or pay four tickets and lose your 25 cents change. Dear festival organizers: That is a terrible way to treat your diners. Please don't make your attendees juggle cash and tickets or make it hard to save a buck or two. Next year, would you please make it easier on us?
A few other tips to help you navigate the festival ....
Covered seating: Under a tent located behind the Washington Lottery and Geico booths. It turned into an impromptu shield for a downpour at lunch today, but otherwise there was seating continually available while I was there.
Skip the flipflops today: It was raining earlier today, which left the grass damp. If you're heading over there today (Friday), bring rain protection.
And now for the eats. Here's what I ate, what I liked, and what I didn't. Please comment below if you tried anything you liked or hated, or if you have tips, tricks or know of bargains:
Kaleenka Piroshky booth: I sampled the small $3.75 potato-cheese piroshky. It tasted like a fried ball of dough. Inside was a near flavorless filling. Pass on this.
Crepe Tyme booth: The lemon crepe was a really decent bargain. The $3.75 crepe was a full-sized crepe with a smear of lemon spread inside. It was puckery tart and light on the sweet. The crepe was tasty, if not a little rubbery. Not a bad buy. The crepe maker, Ron, who was on duty while a group of us were watching, used a metal wand to spread the crepe dough thin. Watching him at work was a bit like watching a live kitchen show. He was chatty, and quite skilled at making thin crepes.
Dancing Zorba booth: The $3.75 tzatziki salad was a delicious break from the fried foods. Chopped lettuce, tomato slices and cukes came covered in a layer of the Greek yogurt sauce tzatziki.
Sizzlin' Phillies booth: The half-sized $3.75 Philly cheesesteak sandwich was the bargain of the day, and also provided one of the tastiest bites I sampled. The steak was more minced than chopped, but it was deliciously beefy. A tangle of onions and a few shards of green peppers made this a big sandwich. Processed cheese was the glue that bound it all together. Gut bomb alert: As is true with most Philly sandwiches, this was one greasy sandwich.
Delicious Asia booth: The steamed barbecue pork bao (pork bun) was bargain priced at $3 each or two for $5, but the pork filling was heavy on salt, light on any other flavor. Pass.
Trophy Spice booth: The $3.75 Elk slider won my favor for its peppery flavor and meaty texture. The slider was a ground elk burger patty with a free add-on of cheese and onions. I would have ordered two of these and made a lunch of it. Tip: The booth was giving away free samples of Elk smokies, which looked to be smoked Elk sausage.
Pico de Gallo booth: $2 will buy you two triangles of breaded and fried mac and cheese. They're crunchy, but lacked cheesy goo or flavor.Chesapeake Crab Co. booth: A single crab cake will cost you $3.75. The breaded, fried disc was more filler than crab. The crab was chopped so finely, I couldn't tell if it was crab with a k, or King or Dungeness.
Bites I wish I had room to try: The $3.75 red beans and rice at the Southern Kitchen and the $3.75 fried green beans at Wings 'n Rings.
****Taste of Tacoma When: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. today and Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday Where: Point Defiance Park, Tacoma Admission: Free Parking: $10 in the Funland lot across from the park Taste Shuttle: The Taste of Tacoma will offer express service every 15 minutes between the Tacoma Community College Transit Center and Point Defiance Park. Fare is $4 roundtrip, although kids younger than 13 ride for free. The shuttle leaves from the northwest corner of the campus at South 12th and South Mildred streets. (Note: Pierce Transit is not offering the shuttle service as I earlier reported, Taste of Tacoma has contracted with a vendor for that service) Pets: None allowed in the food court. Festival organizers ask that pets stay at home. Information: www.tasteoftacoma.com or 425-283-5050Other stuff to do: Four live music stages, comedy club, a wine garden and tastings, a carnival, artisan booths featuring crafts, commercial and vendor booths, picnic areas for dining No smoking allowed: Tacoma parks are smoke free. Smoking prohibited within all areas of Tacoma public parks.