My friend Tommy and I attended the 4th Taste of Sanford recently. We had gone to the first one in 2009, so this was our second year. Of course it's all about "taste" and so I'll talk about the food, first and foremost, before I come to some aspects of the event that I had a few questions and doubts about. So on to the food.
The best bite I had that was from a Sanford Restaurant was from a newcomer, the new kid on the block, Breezeway Restaurant and Bar in historic downtown Sanford. They had some firecracker shrimp that were awesome. Over the course of several months, we watched as the space formerly occupied by Two Blondes and a Shrimp was transformed into the Breezeway. We have eaten there three times now and enjoyed each meal. I've even blogged about Breezeway. So i was not surprised to find that their Firecracker Shrimp were good---very good. I know now what my appetizer will be the next time I go there. Only one complaint, Steve: how about a web site? Time to enter this century and get your presence known on the web. But this was the best Sanford bite I had.
However, there was a bite that was even better, but it was not a Sanford Restaurant. Still the best thing I had for the evening was from Shula's 347 Grill located in the Westin Hotel in Lake Mary. They had two bites that were great, but the crab cake was truly exceptional--it was almost all crab. I loved it. Their second bite was tender beef (probably short ribs is my guess) served over mashed potatoes. Again, quite a good bite. Based on this, I have to say that without a doubt, the best of Taste of Sanford was the food from Shula's 347 Grill. Based on that experience, I know I will be going there for dinner some time soon and then writing about it here in my blog. And, they did a great job of promoting themselves. Nice job! I'll be seeing you soon!
There were a number of other bites that I found good, and I'd say most places there brought their "A" game to the table (pun intended). Chef Michael, owner of Corner Cafe Home of Gourmet 2 Go had a great vegetable soup that was rich and velvety with tasty chunks of veggies in it. I have eaten at Corner Cafe a number of times and have never been disappointed. Buck's Restaurant and Catering had a nice smoked fish dip. I have eaten at the restaurant and was not a big fan, but I can say that when I've had some of their food at an event like this or at the monthly Alive After Five, it has always been very good. I think maybe their catering is much better than their restaurant, at least that's been my experience. Then again, you should try the restaurant and make up your own mind! Among the other good "Sanford" bites was Father's Table and the Ale House. There were some good drinks, too, with Tim's wine (yummy Cabernet) and cold beer from Wayne Densch, and even great desserts, like the bite from Empress Sissi (I think that's who had that good cheesecake). Lots of good eats and we sure got stuffed.
There were also a number of other non-Sanford places in attendance and, to some extent, that confused me. I mean, it's called "Taste of Sanford" and yet i was tasting food from as far away as Deland and from the Universal Studios area. What's with that? I really think that a "Taste of Sanford" should be that. I did hear a few words from some of our friends at other places in Sanford, members of the Chamber who did not attend Taste of Sanford. Their take on it seemed to be that the Chamber wanted top dollar from local businesses, and was more interested in promoting out of the area and getting merchants who'd pay bigger bucks, rather than local folk.
The setting for Taste of Sanford was nice, at the Civic Center. The inside was crowded early on, but thinned out a bit later. The evening was very nice and so sitting outside was also a pleasure with the big grassy area right behind, and a few vendors set up in that area. There were no long lines or large waits like there are at other "taste of" events, and that's a good thing. It's nice to be able to walk around, see what there is, talk to merchants and vendors, and get what you want promptly, I like that a lot.
Three years ago, Taste of Sanford cost me $35 for a couple ($20 individual), this year it was a flat $25 per person. So the price has gone up a bit. Given the fact that there were so few real local Sanford restaurants in attendance, I was a bit disappointed. I'd have liked to have sampled something from some other very local places like Marco Dino's, Angel's Soulfood, Cafe Rouge, Hollerbach's Willow Tree, and Riverwalk Pizza, just to name a few. I'm a big fan of local places rather than chains, yet there were a few chains there. Not that they have bad food, but I prefer the fresh ideas that local "mom and pop" places produce. So, for me, it was an OK experience, but just a bit of a disappointment. I mean, the food from Shula's in Lake Mary was outstanding, there was good stuff from the Debary Country Club and from De La Vega in Deland. Four Rivers from Longwood was good (but why is the "pulled" chicken then chopped so fine?) and Mr. Ted's from way down in Orlando on Kirkman had good stuff as well. But for my money, shouldn't the Sanford Chamber of Commerce strive more to promote Sanford and even at least, Seminole County Businesses? But I guess that's a matter for the members of the Chamber to take up.
Overall, this was a nice and fun event, it was a good "Taste of" Sanford and central Florida. Will I go back next year? Probably, probably. But I'd like to see a few more local Sanford places there too!