Monday, June 13, 2011

This Ain't No Nasty Nacho Cheddar



Heaven.
Nirvana.
Shangri-La.
The other side.
Reunification with the Oversoul.
An unlimited supply of sangria and a bendy straw.

Whatever your idea of the absolute pinnacle of bliss, I found mine on Sunday on Main Street.
It came in an unassuming paper to-go cup of the type commonly found at Washtenaw Dairy.
It came with a white plastic spoon of the type commonly found everywhere.

It was chilled cherry soup with a balsamic swirl.

The sweetness of the pureed cherries was perfectly balanced by the rich, salty zing of the balsamic, and the texture was light and smooth without being frothy.

After the last delicious spoonful was scraped out of the bottom of the cup, I marched straight back to the white tent from whence it had come. Under the banner that proclaimed "Mediterrano" as the purveyor of this little piece of gastronomic perfection stood three people in aprons and baseball caps looking a little warm in the blazing midday heat. The oldest of the three, and whom I assumed was the owner, was a man in his mid-50s with graying hair and sunglasses. I leaned over the counter and, with the intensity of a doctor getting assurance from a pathologist that a test was negative, asked him,

"Is the cherry soup regularly on your menu?"

The man responded that it was a seasonal dish, and that as long as there were fresh, ripe cherries, the soup would be there. I made a promise right then and there that I would visit his restaurant in the near future, and that I would look forward to having that cherry soup again.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what the Taste of Ann Arbor is all about.

First started over 20 years ago as an ethnic festival, Taste of Ann Arbor has evolved into a biannual, strolling fair for serious and casual gastrophiles alike. This year, 38 restaurants set up booths along Main Street between Washington and William and, armed with plenty of disposable silverware, prepared to serve the masses.



The concept of Taste of __________ (there is a famous Taste of Chicago, as well as Tastes in other cities) is brilliantly simple and simply brilliant: what if, instead of trying to decide which restaurant to eat at, you could try them all? This feat is accomplished by serving small, taste-sized portions of signature dishes, which patrons pay for using $0.50 tickets (aka "funny money"). Everybody wins: the restaurants get recognition (note this blog post), the public gets tasty food, and we all get happy.




















Last Saturday dawned hot and sunny as this Damn Arborite made their way to Main Street to meet up with some friends to experience the Taste. We are all self-proclaimed "foodies," and as such were just about in heaven.


The day passed in a blur of shimmering heat, a steady throng of bodies pushing past each other, welcome breaks in the shade to cool off and, of course, the myriad smells, sights and flavors of Ann Arbor. Let's do a quick recap.



Melange Bistro: A shredded sweet potato cake, complemented by a zingy, slightly sour tamarind-ginger sauce.



Cafe Felix: The best carrot cake I have ever had. Sweet, moist cake with a whipped cream cheese frosting that was the perfect balance of creamy and light.



The Black Pearl: Definitely the hottest commodity of the day, their fish tacos sold out before 2:00 pm, and it was easy to see why. Lightly-fried tortilla with a spicy chipotle mayo, grilled tilapia, red onion, red pepper and lime. De-lish.



The Cupcake Station: Of course, any tour of Ann Arbor food wouldn't be complete without the Cupcake Station. Featured were Blueberry, Chocolate Caramel, Bumpy Cake, What's Up Doc (carrot cake) and Party Time (vanilla with sprinkles). It goes without saying that all flavors were awesome.



Grizzly Peak: Finally, the namesake of this blog post, GP's pretzel sticks with cheddar dipping sauce, the taste of which prompted one of my co-tasters to exclaim, "This ain't no nasty nacho cheddar comin' out of a pump."

Well said. Well said, indeed.


Thanks to a fruitful (and meatful and veggieful and dessertful) Taste of Ann Arbor, I now have a list of restaurants that I will be visiting as part of Ann Arbor's Restaurant Week, which runs from today through Saturday and features $25, multi-course menus at over 30 participating institutions. Menus and more can be found at www.annarborrestaurantweek.com.

Looking forward to the cherry soup!

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