Taste of D.C. Returns

After an eight-year hiatus, the Taste of D.C. is back. Returning to the Federal Triangle on Pennsylvania Avenue this Columbus Day weekend, the three-day festival will take over Freedom Plaza.

The festival was last held in 2003. Although the next festival was a scheduled for Memorial Day weekend in 2005, but the time conflict with other major events that weekend, left the city concerned about the ability for emergency response with so many large outdoor gatherings, and the Taste was canceled.

It took a veteran from the television show “The Apprentice,” Steuart Martens, to revive what was once one of the largest culinary festivals in the region. Himself a fifth-generation Washingtonian, and owner of the On the Fly line of “green” food trucks, Martens is enthusiastic about showing off D.C. as a culinary capital as well.

In its prime, the Taste of D.C. drew more than a million people to its three-day fetes. Organizers are hoping to exceed such attendance numbers while offering even more vendors and activities between the 9th and 14th Street intersections of Pennsylvania Avenue.

In partnership with its title sponsor Groupon, the Taste of D.C. will bring more than 60 local restaurants, eateries, wineries and even food trucks to Federal Triangle this weekend. Newer restaurants like Co. Co. Sala and BGR the Burger Joint will be on hand, along with city staples like Armand’s Pizza and Etete.

“Whether it’s 10 people or half a million, we are happy to be there,” said Alex Tsamouras, head chef and owner of the local food truck Feelin’ Crabby? “Although, for half a million, that’s quite a bit of crab,” he said.

Although it is his truck’s first time at a festival this large, Tsamouras said they are prepared. After getting an email about the festival, he knew that he wanted Feelin’ Crabby? to participate. 

Although his truck has only been open about 4 months, Tsamouras has been cooking for more than 10 years. “It’s hard to project how much we will need, but I’d say probably a couple hundred pounds of crab,” he says. “We are only charging one ticket for a sample, because we really want everyone to get a taste.”

Sonya Ali, family member, manager and co-owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl, says that they, too, are excited about the restaurant’s first time participating in the festival. “With this being a three-day festival and not just two, they are expecting a huge amount of people to come out. Plus, the weather is supposed to be great too.”

Ben’s Chili Bowl is a local favorite in D.C., having been a staple in the U Street neighborhood of Northwest D.C. for over 53 years. This is a busy time for Ben’s, as they are preparing for the festival while the restaurant is undergoing some renovations as well. They have a lot of half-smokes to prepare as well, since Ali estimates that besides chili, this will be their most popular offering at the Taste of D.C..

Another first for Ben’s Chili Bowl is that they are sponsoring the two-part World Chili Eating Championship, created especially for the Taste of D.C.. They partnered with Major League Eating, the governing body for all professional eating contests, to present an amateur session on Saturday and a professional competition on Sunday.

“We are supposed to have about 5 or 6 of the top 10 eaters in the country, like Joey Chestnut and Sonia Thomas, the ‘Black Widow,’ says Ali. “They are estimating that the top eater will consume gallons of chili.”

Both contests will be hosted on the main stage, but the pro competition boasts prize payouts of $1,250
for first place, $1,000 for second place, $500 for third place, and $250 for fourth. The winner of the amateur contest will get to compete against the pros on Sunday. The registration for this event has already closed due to the large number of applicants. 

Four local charities are set to benefit from this monumental event as well. D.C. Central Kitchen, Bread for the City, Luke’s Wings, and the American Red Cross North Capital Region will all be receiving a portion of the proceeds from the Taste.

The event is free to attend, but many of the best areas including the Main Stage, the Bier Garden, and some demonstrations at the Culinary Pavilion will be ticketed To take advantage of all the great food and drinks available, tickets will be sold as well. A discount is available for purchasing tickets online. For more information visit http://www.thetasteofdc.org/ or call (202) 618-FOOD.

Event Dates and Times:

October 8-10, 2011

Saturday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Sunday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Monday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.