By Debbie Gardner
WEST SPRINGFIELD It was the calm before the storm a sunny, sultry mid-day when eight of the restaurants featured in the 2011 West Side's Taste of the Valley served up their specialties to selected guests at the annual Chef's Preview on June 1.
From the wafer-thin pancakes stuffed with fruit and chocolate created to order by Taste newcomer Crepe's Tea House to the spicy veggie curry served up by perennial exhibitor Pintu's Indian Palace, there were plenty of choices to tempt the palates of the sponsors, town officials, Rotarians and other invitees who stopped by the Springfield Country Club.
Also on the menu were samples of fried dough with powdered sugar or marinara sauce from Carol's Concessions, plates of ziti with chicken and broccoli from Mamma Mia' Pizzeria, pork or chicken barbecue on a bun served up by The Ultimate BBQ, pan-fried pierogis from Millie's Pierogi's and scoops of ice cream from Moolicious and Ben & Jerry's. Williams Distributing provided beer and wine samplings to accompany the tastings.
Stephen Lang, vendor coordinator for the West Springfield Rotary, said taste-goers would see these vendors as well as other longtime favorites such as B'Shara's Catering and Samuel's Sports Bar on the Town Common again this year from June 9 through 12.
"Most of the regulars came back," Lang said. "Some we wanted back that couldn't do it this year [but] we picked up four new vendors. We're pleased with the mix we have this year."
Among those restaurants also participating this year are Angelo's Fried-O-Licious, Local Burger, Thai Taste and Tokyo Asian Cuisine.
Lang said the beauty of the Taste is that it gives attendees a chance to sample the dishes from an unfamiliar restaurant, such as the Russian-inspired Crepe's Tea House or the Istanbul Mediterranean Grill another newcomer this year without committing to a full meal.
"Pintu did the same thing when he started," Lang said. "People didn't know about Indian food ... now his tables are filled."
It's also an opportunity to snack on everything from sushi and gyros to such truly American fare as hamburgers, hot dogs, milk shakes and pizza all at the same time.
Food purchases which range in price from $3 to $5 a serving are cash only; beverage sales are by ticket, which will be available at the event ticket booth.
"I'm looking forward to a great four days," Mayor Edward Gibson said as he thanked the Rotary for its decade-long commitment to producing the town's annual Taste. "I'll be down there to chow down and have a few beers."
Longtime vendors such as Maria Alfarone, owner of Mamma Mia's Pizzeria, said it is that kind of attendee loyalty that has kept her participating in the Taste for the past six years.
"They ask me ... all my customers ask if I'm going to do the Taste," Alfarone said.
Beyond the food, attendees will find plenty of entertainment for the whole family during the Taste's four-day run. Music acts will range from Merrick Section and the Lynyrd Skynyrd Experience on June 9 to June 12th's "Jazz Sunday" featuring performers such as the West Springfield High School Jazz Ensemble and FlavaEvolution, sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center.
On June 11, visitors will be treated to a "cruise" showcasing antique, classic and special interest cars from 1 to 5 p.m., while on June 12, Mercy Medical Center will sponsor the Taste's second annual Jazzy 5K Fun Run and Walk. That event will step off at 10 a.m. from the Senior Center.
In addition to these attractions, Rotary President Stella Kalaramakis said there will be entertainment geared specifically toward children and families, including a petting zoo, amusement rides and a BMX bike show.
"The BMX bike exhibition is on Friday night," Kalaramakis said. "The teens and kids all come down for that."
Bob MacDonald, Rotary Director at Large, said the best part of the entertainment is that "it's all free."
MacDonald said with the state of the economy, not to mention the price of gasoline, the Rotary sees the close-to-home entertainment value of the annual Taste as a big plus for not only West Springfield residents, but people from surrounding communities.
He said it's an opportunity to listen to music and, with minimal charges for beverages, "drink, eat and socialize with your neighbors."
With the added pluses of free parking and four days of entertainment to choose from, he added it's an event where visitors can "come more than once."
Hours at West Side's Taste of the Valley are June 9 from 4 to 9 p.m., June 10 from 4 to 11 p.m., June 11 from 1 to 11 p.m. and June 12 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Taste is presented by the West Springfield Rotary and Town of West Springfield with assistance from platinum sponsor Chicopee Savings Bank and major sponsors the West of the River Chamber of Commerce, Agri-Mark/Cabot Creamery, the Bertera Auto Group, Eastern States Exposition, First Niagara Bank, GAR Electric Inc., Hampden Bank, Hampden Inn, Professional Drywall Construction, Inc. United Bank and Westfield Bank.
For complete Taste information, including Jazzy 5K applications and maps, musical acts and menu prices, visit www.westsidetaste.com.
Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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