It seems as though festivals celebrating the local restaurant scene are now in full force and quite popular. With people looking for a great way to celebrate the Labor Day weekend, there are several popular choices this year from which to pick. In Cleveland, there is both the Ohio Natural Gas Taste of Cleveland (the PR and marketing people need to work on that name, no?) and the Oktoberfest in Berea. If you live closer to Akron than to Cleveland, there is also the Taste of Hudson. About a week ago, I was contacted by good friend and fellow food blogger Kathy from Carano's Cucina and asked if I wanted to join her and her husband, Nick, for a walkthrough of this year's festivities at the First & Main shopping district in Hudson.
Because of our diverse schedules, we drove and parked separately and then met up around 2 PM. Parking was a bit tricky as the parking deck was essentially closed. I ended up finding a parking spot on Atterbury Boulevard, just east of the train tracks. Streetside parking was available for free and I took advantage of it. As I walked toward the area where the festival was being held, I knew that I was heading in the right direction when I saw this sign advertising the festival:
I proceeded to walk to the corner of Library and Park (where the Coldstone Creamery was located) and noticed the first of two booths where money was being exchanged for magnetic striped cards that would then subsequently be used to purchase food. The other booth was located at the corner on the opposite side of the square at the intersection of First and Village Way:
There were actually two lines: one for credit card payments and the other for cash transactions. Needless to say, the line for the credit cards was long and the one for cash was blissfully short. Fortunately, I had brought enough cash with me today that I totally avoided the long lines. I decided that $20 worth of credit ought to be enough to get me all of the samples I would need to write up this entry. The nice thing was that I could always go back for more if I needed it. I didn't specifically ask, but at other festivals similar to the Taste of Hudson, there aren't refunds for unused money at the end of the event, so spend wisely.
After meeting up with Kathy and Nick, we proceeded to walk the entire square, looking at restaurants, menus, and judging whether or not the food looked interesting enough to brave the lines. Instead of trying to write up the twenty or so vendors that were participating this year, I decided to adopt the same tactic that served me so well for the Taste of Akron 2010; I would visit the booths for the restaurants I was interested in doing a proper review at some point in the future.
The initial item on today's culinary agenda was a visit to the booth for Blue Canyon (warning: gratuitous use of Flash) in Twinsburg, Ohio. As it turned out, Chef Brandt Evans had also shown up and was talking with an attendee when we visited his booth:
Both Kathy and I decided to try the Beef Brisket Sandwich with Coleslaw. At only $4, this was a very large sandwich and a very good value:
Here was a shot of the guts of the sandwich, crown removed:
And finally, not to be outdone, the crown of the bun itself:
This was a very tasty offering. The brisket was tender, juicy, and had just the right amount of smoke to it. The sauce used to dress the meat was well balanced between smoke, sweet, and acidic. The bun was fresh and held up to the wet ingredients in the interior. The only real issue I had with the sandwich was that while there were certain bites that contained enough coleslaw to act as a nice foil to the meat, other bites seemed completely devoid of any of the crunchy salad. A simple fix? A bit more coleslaw, please.
Having finished my brisket sandwich, we walked around the square until we came upon the target of my next tasting which just happened to be located directly in front of the new restaurant bearing the same name, One Red Door. They were also serving up a variety of adult tastes today:
One Red Door only recently opened its doors having replaced the much loved Vue Restaurant. While there was around three or four options on the menu, the Macaroni and Cheese with Smoked Brisket at $5 called out to me:
First, the good news. For being held and served out of a chaffing dish, the pasta was in remarkably good shape. It was cooked properly and had a nice chew to it. The smoked brisket was also cooked to the point where it was still tender and easily shredded under the weight of my plastic fork. The sauce on the brisket was assertively smoky, sweet and sour. I do think that Blue Canyon's brisket was a little better, but only marginally so. The bad news was that the cheese sauce dressing the pasta was completely lost in the boldness of the brisket. Even just eating the macaroni and cheese by itself, I couldn't help but think that I would've enjoyed it much more had it been made with a bolder cheese flavor. I enjoyed the viscosity of the cheese sauce, enough that it coated the noodles well, but it was not swimming in a pool of sauce mornay. Overall, while this dish wasn't bad, it was today's last place finisher.
Finally, having made it completely around the entire square and back to where we started, we stopped at the last booth on my agenda today, the North End Restaurant and Wine Bar:
I still had $11 left on my dining card and it looked like I would be rounding out my experience at the Taste of Hudson today with two of North End's menu items. First up, for $4 was the Goat Cheese Stuffed Peppadews:
These were little nuggets of heat, sweet, acidity, and goat cheese flavored goodness all rolled up into one. According to Chef Jeff Jarrett who was working the event today and stopped over to chat with us when he recognized me, these are commonly served right out of the jars in which they are brined. The brine was the reason that each of these little bites had a wonderful hit of acidity. The goat cheese flavor was actually subdued a bit and the mild spiciness from the peppadew rolled around in my mouth as I chewed each morsel.
The final item on my tasting schedule for only $4 was the homemade Potato Gnocchi with Braised Beef Short Ribs:
A combination of potato gnocchi that had been crisped up in a mixture of butter and oil and a braised beef short rib that was so tender it could be cut with only a minute amount of pressure from my plastic fork, the meat literally melted in my mouth. The gnocchi, not to be outdone, had a truly delightful potato flavor to it and the contrast of textures between the soft interior of the pasta and the crusty outer exterior made it a truly delicious bite to eat. Kathy also got the gnocchi and short ribs and she proclaimed her love for the dish as well. Of the three restaurant booths I visited today, this dish was by far my favorite. Then again, I'm a complete sucker for a well executed plate of gnocchi; it's sad that so few restaurants seem to be able to pull off a good version.
As with my experience at the Taste of Akron this year, I know that I can expect some fantastic meals at all three restaurants when I finally get around to officially reviewing them. The Taste of Hudson 2010 will be happening today, Monday, September 6th from 11 AM until 6 PM. While there were plenty of vendors whose food offereings I didn't have a chance to sample today, I would suggest that if you are looking for wonderful food in a fun atmosphere, you make it a point to stop out and pick your own favorites. $20 was enough for me to work my way around the square and it should be plenty for you, too.