The Skinny (or not-so-skinny) on Eat Drink RI’s Grand Tasting

wineI never fail to surprise people with my enthusiasm for food. When my editors told me I’d be covering Eat Drink RI’s Grand Tasting event, I believe I squealed with joy. I think I even said, “This is the best early birthday present EVER!” (this undoubtedly was not part of their agenda. Not to mention my birthday is in July.) But I knew this event would not disappoint, and it was an honor to be chosen to report back to you about the wonder that is The Grand Tasting because it was, in fact, grand.

Forty-nine booths from local food artisans and regional craftsman of beer, wine and spirits overtook the Biltmore’s 17th floor ballroom in a seemingly endless supply of samples and flavors and presentations. I harangled a fellow food lover into joining me (it didn’t take much convincing), and we arrived just after the start-time, 12pm, on a much needed sunny weekend day. I was actually afraid that the warm weather would drive people outside into downtown festivals rather than inside into hotel ballrooms, but I needn’t have been worried. The sold-out event had already accrued a line at the registration table and food booths were wafting fragrant smells of bacon toward the elevator to lure us in as quickly as possible (as it turned out, it was Preppy Pig BBQ making melt-in-your-mouth pork belly atop polenta cakes with a touch of fire roasted jalapeño and garlic sauce).

At check-in, we were informed there were not only one, but two rooms full of booths, and there was a sign detailing the presentations taking place upstairs at 12:30, 1:30, and 2:45. Immediately, my friend and I were pulled trancelike to our right, into the Grand Ballroom, where we were assaulted with colorful displays of the Narragansett cheeses atop blue tablecloths, the sounds of talented oyster shuckers opening delectable treasures, and the smells of pork belly and aiolis, lobster chowders and Peruvian potatoes. “Where…to…begin?” I wondered aloud.

Silly question. OBVIOUSLY, one must move expediently toward the smell of pork belly, which happened to be the second booth to the left, and we worked our way along the periphery after that. We tried Los Andes’ whipped potato filled with avocado puree, shredded chicken, drizzled with yellow cream sauce, which was assembled before us as we waited in hungry anticipation, the chef explaining each ingredient as he went. The texture and combination of flavors was exquisite, and I had to confirm several times the name of the dish because I plan to order it the next time I go (Causa Limeña, an appetizer).

We continued our way around the room. Dave sampled a salad with a homemade ginger dressing; I sampled a New England Lobster Clam Chowder and a cup of Peach White Zinfandel Vino Gelato. (Clearly, I have priorities.) I acquiesced to try “healthy” cuisine, too, including ghee from Farm to Gold Ghee. The ultra-refined form of butter (essentially, the parts of butter that promote digestion and increase good cholesterol) looked a little like wax, but tasted smooth and light when spread on a piece of bread. It was distinctly non-greasy, and is actually recommended daily for heart health. I also tried bite-size blocks of Shri Bark’s health bars (proceeds from their products support local outreach) and Gerb’s allergen-free homemade granola mixes and pumpkin seeds, learning that the latter make a great snack because they’re full of fiber and will stave off hunger in between meals. (Something to note on any other day.)

Continuing around the room, we found Rhode Island classics like Yacht Club Soda and Olneyville New York System, where I had the fortunate experience of asking for a RI Weiner “all the way.” Sticking with the hotdog theme, we came across the Backyard Food Company, which embraced the “backyard” theme by giving out mini hotdogs, hamburgers, and cups of macaroni made with their different flavors of tomato relishes. I was in the midst of telling the co-founder that I slather their apple butter on cinnamon pita chips and pretend like I’m eating apple pie when he said, “Wait till you try this!” He handed me their version of a pie-less apple pie, made with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, rolled in a gram cracker crust, topped with a dollop of their apple butter. It tasted like heaven. This is what the ball players in Field of Dreams were escaping to when they went into the cornfields. Dave and I gave them an enthusiastic two thumbs up.

As a palate cleanser, we sought out alcohol, and after multiple samples of red wine, we moved to the second room. We were greeted with familiar faces from Hope and Main, including Fox Point Pickles, Spicy Penguin and Biggest Little Popcorn Company. Dave and I were split on the Popcorn Company’s latest flavors: I was a fan of the Mexican Vanilla and he was a fan of the Curry. (The traditional English classic flavor of banana, surprisingly, is still my #1.) Meanwhile, Essentially Coconut went out on an experimental limb and created coconut butter cups, similar to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups but made with various flavors of coconut butter.  To quote Dave, “My mouth just had an orgasm.”

“Can you sell bags of these?” I questioned, greedily taking another sample.

“Well, they would need to be refrigerated, so bagging them would be difficult. But they’re super easy to make on your own.”

Pinterest people: Please make these, and then invite me over!

We ended the afternoon with a cake-making presentation by Gracie’s Chef, Melissa Denmark, Ellie’s Bakery‘s Chef, Sara Reilly and Baffoni’s Poultry Farm‘s Don Baffoni. Seeing a four-tiered wedding cake become slathered in meringue and buttercream put me in kind of a happy hypnosis, and by the time it was over, I was ready for a second round in the Grand Ballroom.

I may have overdone it. But it was worth it.

Congratulations, David Dadekian, on another successful event!

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