Taste of Ann Arbor 2013: My Judging Adventure

So I scored one of the sweetest gigs ever this weekend, as a Community Choice Judge at the 2013 Taste of Ann Arbor event! I quickly learned that if you ever need to look “official,” just carry around a clipboard! Also the red “judge” ribbon helped too.

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In case you’ve never attended, Taste of Ann Arbor is an annual event at which dozens of local restaurants set up booths downtown, along Main Street, and serve sample-size portions of various foods. The dishes are purchased using tickets that cost $0.50 each, and items cost anywhere from 1-8 tickets each. Here is Firehouse Subs’ booth:

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As the Community Choice Judge, it was my job to visit all 44 booths and try the item (or items) that each restaurant wanted to enter into the category. There were a few other teams of judges for other categories, such as Best Dessert, Best Entrée, and Best of Show.

In my category, I was joined by my plus-one for the day, the huz, and also the Vice President of the Main Street Area Association’s Board, Angela Pierro. We made a great team and all had quite similar tastes in food! It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!

Winking smile

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Sunday morning, with empty bellies, we hit the pavement in search of food.

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I can’t possibly show everything at the event, or even everything we tasted, but I will give you a “taste” of the event, and highlight a few of my favorites along the way!

Black Pearl’s never-fail, always-amazing fish tacos (with lots of chipotle mayo – my favorite!), a crab cake, and watermelon gazpacho. The Fish Taco won the Best Entrée Award.

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Amadeus’ yummy spicy chicken salad and a sinfully-rich and delicious dill salmon mousse.image (7)-2

One of the huz’s favorites was Marnee Thai, for a solid trio of items; shown here are their Thai Iced Tea (my first time tasting it – loved it!) and a cashew chicken dish with rice and veggies.

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Conor O’Neill’s vegetarian shepherd’s pie and fish & chips with a bangin’  creamy malt vinegar sauce.

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Gratzi had a standout item with their wonderful portobello mushroom slider with smoked mozzarella on a delicious soft, moist bun. Such a tender and meaty mushroom, and lots of flavor!

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The Produce Station had another of our favorite dishes, with their eggplant caponitina with a wonderfully tangy goat cheese dollop. As Angela suggested, this would be wonderful to purchase from The Produce Station for entertaining. We also tried a gazpacho and a bacon caramel popcorn.

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Don’t worry, we tried plenty of sweets too. I’m definitely a ‘craver’ of savory items, but I can throw down some desserts too. Carson’s had a lovely light orange cake with whipped nutella and berries. Achatz Pies offered up a slice of cannoli pie, while La Dolce Vita served a chocolate peanut butter bomb.

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More gazpacho! But that is a good thing. It’s a dish I enjoy eating but never to go the trouble of making myself at home, and also it was a terrifically warm, sunny day for it. My very favorite gazpacho of the day was at Real Seafood, which included a generous dose of Tabasco sauce – right up my alley! Real Seafood also served freshly-grilled swordfish skewers with a sweet mustard glaze.

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And yes, there’s more! Lots more.

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Another delicious offering was Shalimar’s Tandoori Chicken. Yum sauce.

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At Kuroshio’s both, we sampled a creamy shaved ice with dainty and delicate orange bubbles.

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There were plenty of grills fired up on Main Street and it smelled amazing! We also enjoyed hearing some great live music from several different Michigan bands throughout the event.

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I’ll always have a place in my heart for Cupcake Station. You’ll never find a better cupcake.

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By mid-afternoon, there was a great-turnout downtown and it was nice to see so many people gathered downtown, all in celebration of FOOD!

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A briny sardine was sampled at Vellum.

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Vinology offered a couple different plays on chicken and waffles, both a pork and a chicken version, and we tried both. Picture below is their play on Chicken and Waffles, which included a really delicious tangy, savory slaw on top. There was definitely a sweet, maple element in there somewhere too.

Café Felix served hot cream-filled beignets, while Blue Nile offered a selection of several dishes, all served atop injera, which is an Ethiopian bread. Blue Nile’s foods really piqued my taste buds’ interest, and sparked a desire to return again soon, since it’s been a long time since my last visit.

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By far, the most clever and unique dish of the day was Ravens Club’s black pepper panna cotta, with a rhubarb compote, candied kalamata olive, and a light sprinkle of fresh tarragon. Such a crazy combination of flavors, but it worked and I adored it.

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Carlyle served some nice saucy ribs, and at Jazzy Veggie (a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try for so long) offered a delightfully spicy black bean burger.

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One other dish that I didn’t get to snap a picture of but LOVED was Lena’s ecuadorian humitas, an incredibly delicious, most corn cake dish. This won the Best Appetizer Award.

And, my very favorite item of the day was Frita Batido’s aromatic pulled pork sandwich, topped with a unique and flavorful slaw, and served atop a buttery brioche bun. Mmmm! Despite my nearly full stomach, I couldn’t stop going back for more of this amazing sandwich and I’m still craving it tonight!

Aaaand the winner:

Frita Batidos was the winner of the People’s Choice Award, the category for which I was a judge.

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And… the “after” shot. Me feeling very, very full!

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Overall, judging at Taste of Ann Arbor was an absolute blast and I’m so happy and grateful that I was able to join in the fun! Become a fan of Taste of Ann Arbor’s Facebook page to stay posted on future event happenings!

I love living in Ann Arbor. We are SO lucky to have so many amazing restaurants and passionate foodies in this town.

15 thoughts on “Taste of Ann Arbor 2013: My Judging Adventure

  1. Wow What a great time for you! You would be the best judge! Wish I could have been there! You looked beautiful!

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  3. Remember when your aunt took you to Gratzi for lunch freshman year? I like to believe I helped spark this passion of yours. 😃

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