The Foodie Report
Ruminations on food, cooking in and eating out in our area.

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Nicci King is an unabashed foodie and the Lifestyle/Food editor in The Enquirer's features department. She loves to discover new food faves, and she's on a daily quest to answer one burning question: What's for dinner? E-mail her at nking@enquirer.com.

Enquirer Weekend editor Julie Gaw tends to order the same dish every time she eats at a restaurant, but periodically ventures out to discover something new and fabulous. After living in China, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Thailand for more than 8 years, she craves tasty Asian food. E-mail her at jgaw@enquirer.com.

Food/dining writer Polly Campbell loves every quirk and secret of Cincinnati's food personality, and is on a constant lookout for something good to eat. Keep an eye out for her restaurant picks, or see how she's progressing toward becoming famous for her apple pie. E-mail her at pcampbell@enquirer.com.

Communities reporter Rachel Richardson is on a mission to prove vegetarians eat more than lettuce. She shares both her graduate work on American food culture and food-related news.. E-mail her at rrichardson@enquirer.com.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Best of Taste

The Best of Taste event has its winners.

2008 “Best of Taste” Awards

Best of Taste: Burbank’s Real Barbeque - Southern Smoked Chicken Tenders
Award of Excellence: Buffalo Southwest Express – Wings & Egg Rolls
Award of Merit: Bangkok Bistro – Crab Rangoon

Soup & Salad
Best of Taste: Indigo Casual Gourmet Café – Black & Blue Tuna Salad
Award of Excellence: Carrabba’s Italian Grill – Mama Mandola Sicilian Chicken Soup
Award of Merit: Market Street Grille – Potato Soup

Best of Taste: Carrabba’s Italian Grill– Chicken Bryan
Award of Excellence: Taz Restaurant – Chicken Kabob Sandwich
Award of Merit: Pit to Plate BBQ – Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork

Seafood Entrée
Best of Taste: Shanghai Mama’s – Seafood Shanghai Noodles
Award of Excellence: Carrabba’s Italian Grill – Grilled Salmon
Award of Merit: La Petite France – Crabmeat Crepe

Vegetarian Entrée
Best of Taste: Arloi Dee – Vegetable Pad Thai
Award of Excellence: Balboa’s Philly Steaks & Pizza – Slice of Cheese Pizza
Award of Merit: Bella Luna – Grande Ravioli

Best of Taste: Buca di Beppo – Tiramisu
Award of Excellence: Bella Luna – Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding
Award of Merit: La Petite France – Chocolate Berries & Fruit Crepe

Best Damn Dish: Chicken Bryan


at 8:27 PM Anonymous TJ Jackson said...


Taste of "Cincinnati". What a joke.

If they had any credibility left, it's gone now. They are absolutely clueless.

Carrabba's. What a disgrace.

at 1:43 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fraking hacks. Carrabas = Chain Restaurant Money. If the Fishwrap were any kind of newspaper they would look at where the money goes, and what chain restaurants give money in order to win High Kudos.

The Fishwrap Sucks.

at 7:25 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's embarrassing that the "best" dish in Cincinnati can also be found in Louisville and Indianapolis. What does that say about Cincinnati? We can't come up with our own best damn dish? National chains should not be allowed to compete in a LOCAL competition.

at 7:37 AM Blogger Cin Twin1 said...

Hmm..I have plans to try the dark chocolate bread pudding at Bella Luna. My new mission is to find the best bread pudding in the city. So far, Palomino's ranks high. M&S is ok....

at 8:21 AM Blogger Julie said...

Cin Twin: Try Dilly Deli's in Mariemont.

Otherwise? Chicken Bryan? Again? Large chains like that should be disqualified. I'd rather see LaRosa's win than Carrabba's.

at 9:00 AM Blogger Polly Campbell said...

I agree that it seems sort of pointless to have a best dish that is also available anywhere else.

I participated in the judging this year, I never have before. This is how it works: There are 7 tables, I think, with six people at each table. They're from various parts of the community: there were some EBN jocks at my table, and a guy from the sherrif's office and so on. Mix of media people and business owners, etc. At my table, we tried 7 entrees (there were two entree tables), told the names of the dishes and the price, but not where they were from. (Chicken Bryan was not one of ours.) Everyone tried, tasted, judged, then turned in the judging sheets after each one. You also had a second chance to list your three favorites. So I think the judging is about as fair as these things can be done.
So there aren't really any "freakin idiots" to blame.

As to who participates, I think if we want a line-up that features smaller, more quirky, more independent places,t he nature of the event simply has to change. it's too huge and too much work for a small restaurant with non-mass-appeal food. Those of you who obviously care so much, do you have some suggestions for a different kind of event that would be what you think "Taste of Cincinnati" should be?

at 9:07 AM Anonymous vudutu said...

This event, like Tall Stacks, have sold out, become a victim of their own success and no longer worth attending. It's a shame, it should be limited to regional players and have a reasonable entrance fee. So called local events where you can't even get a decent beer are my other pet peeve, they sell an exclusive to "Bud Light" or some other swill. The worst thing about Tasteless Cincinnati is wading through the trash, Cincinnatians live up to the local pig theme big time at this event.

at 9:08 AM Anonymous MK said...

I'm not in the restaurant business, so I can't exactly say how to make it easier for smaller restaurants to get in. All I can say is that if it's too much work for smaller, quirkier, and tastier restaurants to get in, the it's not really a "Taste" of Cincinnati. No chains should be allowed, at least nothing bigger than a hometown favorite like LaRosa's. No way will I believe that the best dish in town is at Carrabba's. Bleh.

at 9:20 AM Anonymous TJ Jackson said...

It's very simple

Allow chains to have booths - no serious/major problem with that (tho local booths would remain preferable)


Do NOT allow chains to be eligible for awards


Very, very simple.

at 9:22 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Polly - thanks for your input. I, too, am disappointed that a chain has been awarded with the "Best Damn Dish" award but I understand the size of the event and the effort it takes from the participating restaurants. I will still attend because it's a great event!

at 9:22 AM Anonymous TJ Jackson said...

They remain "freakin idiots" as long as they allow a national chain to win any award, particularly the top award.

at 9:29 AM Anonymous soozycue said...

Carraba's Chicken Bryan won last year. They should have, at least, changed the dish.

And since they didn't, should have not been allowed to compete.

I think it's embarrassing.

at 9:49 AM Blogger Polly Campbell said...

I'm not trying to be an apologist, but they do call it "best of taste" not "Best of Cincinnati"

at 9:51 AM Blogger Polly Campbell said...

Why do you think Tall Stacks has sold out? I looooved Tall Stacks. I think it's a fabulous event. (At least the music is, the only part I paid any attention to.)

at 10:45 AM Anonymous Corey said...

It is pretty said that an event made to support Cincinnati restaurants doesn't, well... support Cincinnati restaurants.
I think the event needs to be completely local restaurants. As another poster said, if it's too hard for local restaurants to make this work, maybe your event is broken.
Just call it, "Taste Of Places To Eat, In Cincinnati, Or Pretty Much Any Place"
Just another example of corporate America killing off any home town identity. Next year a bag of chips from Wal-Mart will win an award.

I blame this on the suburbs.

Also, who lets WEBN judge? They suck as a radio station and as food judges!

at 10:54 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, am disappointed that a national chain restaurant won awards. While I enjoy Carabba's food, I don't think that it should have been in the judging. I want to see more local restaurants win awards.
I don't think national chains should be judged. They can set up at The Taste but not judged.

at 11:02 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who has any knowledge of what it takes to plan an event this size knows that without big money like Carrabas and Bud Light- the event wouldn't happen. I for one, am happy to have an event of this magnitude in downtown Cincinnati regardless of who participates. It brings people downtown to see that it is not the incredibly dangerous place it has been made out to be in the media. Could the event be improved? Sure. But I am grateful to have it all the same.

at 11:11 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't the judging blind (they don't know where the food is from)? The best tasting dish is the best tasting dish, period, and let's face it - that Chicken Bryan is amazing. So it's not the fault of the judges if those are the "freakin idiots" referred to in the original response.

It would be nice if all the winners were smaller Cincy restaurants, but good food is good food and Carraba's does have good food, especially for a chain. It's the best chain out there if you ask me, and you can get it here in Cincy, so I don't have a huge problem with them winning, especially since there will be plenty of foods to try from the smaller places in Cincy. If we need the bigger places at the event to keep it going, we could do a lot worse than Carraba's! Great food, run locally by locals.

at 11:33 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, to everyone bashing Carrabbas food and their eligibility in this competition, maybe you should take some time out of your busy hateful blogging day to enjoy a meal there. While you are dining there, strike up a converstaion with the proprietor and find out all about the events he generously donates his time and food to throughout the entire city. No one complains about the food at the end of a fundraising walk where Carrabbas is serving free meals to the hungry walkers. Or at charity golf outtings when they are there to feed all the hungry golfers...all for free may I add. Name one local Cincinnati resturaunts that is as involved in giving back to the community more than Carrabbas. More than likely those of you who are hating on Carrabbas success in the taste have never dined there and have no idea how much they are involved in community events and making themselves a huge part of this city.
In regards to the best damn dish in Cincinnati being able to be found in other states as well, while that is very true, lets take a quick look online to our good friend Wikipedia and see what they have to say about our "italian hometown favorite" La'Rosa's..."LaRosa's Pizza is a restaurant chain local to the greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio areas, as well as northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana."
If Carrabbas is being hated on for being a chain, then by definition, so is La'Rosa's. Each Carrabbas is locally owned and operated and the only thing they all have in common is the menu and the name. The propietor of the store makes the resturaunt as great as it is and that is a quality you wont find in any other national chain.
Finally if you think it is unfair that the same dish won two years in a row, take this into consideration. If they were able to, Carrabbas could enter a different entree each year and still win best damn dish. The fact of the matter is that a lot of hard work and prep goes into the taste and some entree's are just too complicated to serve. Maybe this year take a minute to stop by the tent, grab a "taste" of chicken bryan (and when I say "taste" i mean a half of a breast) and just maybe you will taste what these so called idoits who continually vote for this dish taste and why it is the best damn dish you can get in Cincinnati, regardless of the status of the resturaunt.

at 11:51 AM Anonymous Corey said...

All those "good" things to talk about Carrabas doing, it's called marketing, plain and simple. They're not doing it out of the goodness of their heart, they're doing it to boost their bottom line.
Think it's kinda sad the fooled you.
Also, LaRosa's was started locally, so it's a local restaurant. I go to the same gym as Buddy LaRosa. If Carrabas was started locally no one would have a problem with them winning.

Also, to the person who said Carrabas is helping keep taste afloat. Um, yeah, they pay as much as anyone to be their, so that's not really a true statement.
One thing I think kinda sucks, is this is turning into an anti-Carrabas thing, and it shouldn't be. It's not their fault, it's the Taste Of Cincinnati's peoples fault for letting them enter.

at 12:31 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record, I was not fooled by Carrabbas helping out in the community and donating their food to charitable events for only the good of boosting their sales, yes that is a factor, but it is a factor in any successful business, if it weren't you'd be a pretty dumb business owner. They truly do help out of the goodness of their hearts, because after working for them for 2 1/2 years, I was able to participate in those events and see the work that went into them and the gratification of those who were benefited from it and that was far more rewarding than any business increase due to the exposure.
Also are you saying that since Carrabbas was started in Texas only those people can call it a local resturaunt but everywhere else in America has to call it a "chain" even though they are locally owned and operated? Isnt it a resturaunt in the Cincinnati area? Isnt this called the "taste of Cincinnati"? I dont believe that there are any rules laid out that in order to be a part of this you have to be founded in Cincinnati, you just have to be operating in Cincinnati. The guy who stands outside of the courthouse downtown could enter his hotdogs from his cart into the competition if he wanted and what if he won? would people hate on him because there are hot dog stands all over the country and it wasnt originated in Cincinnati? People need a reason to complain and a reason to be hateful and when reading the list of winners, Carrabbas name is there the most, so its the easiest target. Maybe we should be angry that chicken wings and eggrolls were named runner up for best appetizer, or that tiramisu from another "chain" resturaunt won best dessert. I can buy tiramisu in the frozen section of Kroger if I wanted. Why not praise the winners for a job well done rather than worry about the status of a place and what makes it a "cincinnati resturaunt"

at 12:33 PM Anonymous soozycue said...

I never said I didn't like Carrabba's. Last year I tried the Chicken Bryan and enjoyed it.

I just think the same dish that won last year shouldn't have been allowed to compete again.

And I don't think chains should be judged along side local independent restaurants.

It might be the "Best of the Taste", but not the best taste of Cincinnati.

at 2:08 PM Anonymous Corey said...

I almost called you out for being connected to Carrabas in the last post, guess I should have.
My point about the marketing was in response to you going on and on about all the good they do in the community. I was just pointing out they weren't doing good, they were just doing good marketing, simple as that.
My answer to "Also are you saying that since Carrabbas was started in Texas only those people can call it a local resturaunt but everywhere else in America has to call it a "chain" even though they are locally owned and operated?" would be a very simple yes, for obvious reasons.
If the owner of Carrabas had started his own restaurant, and not bought into one, then he would own a local restaurant. Now, he just owns a franchise.
If a guy running a hot dog stand on Court Street could win something at Taste, then he must make a really good dog, and of course they should enter.
No one is saying the only thing that should be entered are 3-Ways. Just the restaurants shouldn't be outside chains.
As for your "I dont believe that there are any rules laid out that in order to be a part of this you have to be founded in Cincinnati" the point of a lot of these post are that THERE SHOULD BE RULES!!
As far as you comment about buy stuff at Kroger, that arguement just doesn't float...to can by all the food at Krogers...they sell food, but I suspect you knew that.
Of course Buca di Beppo shouldn't be in it.
As I said in my last post, this really has nothing to do with Carrabas, it has to do with the Taste. (so calm down)
The Taste Of Cincinnati should be about good food being created in Cincinnati, not recipes fax over from Texas or any were.
It's about taking pride in your city.

at 3:14 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, folks? Taste of Cincinnati is a marketing tool itself - for downtown, for restaurants of all kinds and for the city in general (why do you think Blue Ash has one? Same deal). With the exception of Polly and perhaps some other qualified food folks, the JUDGING is a marketing tool - get "names" into the paper/online/on air connected to the festival. It's a miracle to me that the judging is brand-"blind." I'm surprised.

So howsabout calming down and be glad for the locals who do KILL themselves to create, schlep and serve the food as well as keep their restaurants open during the Taste weekend, and who are there as a marketing tool so we'll all visit their restaurants.

While we're at it, let's be glad for the franchisees and the chains who do the same. They provide a broad selection of stuff at the festival and give those of us who don't normally frequent chains a chance to try/enjoy their food for $4, and save our bigger dining dollars for the locals.

It's a festival. Don't worry. Be happy.

at 5:19 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

At least the EBN gourmands did not pass out any awards to Hooters.

at 2:29 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is dificult for a small restaurant to partake in the Taste of Cincinnati. The booth rental fees, electricity, and misc fees come to close to $2,500 to $3,000 for 3 days. More challenging , is to staff two places. So that being said, it excludes a lot of indepenedent restaurants. Also, the "Best of Taste", is generally not the restaurants best dishes. Although, most restaurant submit great dishes it may not be their best menu item. They are working with limited space and cooking equipment. So, you generally have to provide items that are crowd friendly and more importantly easy to make inside of a booth. I will concede that independent restaurants are facing an uphill battle against chain restaurants. But many chain restaurants have great food also.

at 9:46 AM Anonymous vudutu said...

Polly my point is last Tall Stacks it was almost all carnival food vendors and no local beer. It's the "malling of America" I despise, the lack or regional flavor, same with sports bars, you could be anywhere. I am aware of the economics of Tall Stacks, I know the accountant who worked it, we discussed it quite a bit. As to Taste one solution is to lower the entrance fee, or have it on a sliding scale tied to total sales and have another division, chains.

at 3:18 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

the worst part about allowing carrabba's to enter in this i that the location that represented them is out of the mason, ohio location, NOT the cincinnati location... the powers that be are making this city look stupid when the best of the taste goes to a store outside the city area, not to mention a chain that has numerous people coming up with there recipes

at 4:30 PM Blogger Michael said...

I agree with the posters who are for allowing them to have a booth but against allowing chains to be entered.

at 5:41 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Instead of bashing those who sacrificed to enter, why not complain to those wonderful local restaurants you regularly eat at about why they didn't enter. I am sure they would be enthusiastically welcomed to participate. I know there is a fee to get in, but if there dish is worth it's salt they can make a significant amount of money. From what I've read it is getting harder and harder to get participants so let's be glad someone is stepping up or this will be one more piece of Cincy to leave.

at 10:42 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, I have to say that we're participating this year, and yes, I'm an independent cafe, and yes, the fees are outrageous. It's going to be a challenge and a pain, but we thought we'd give it a try this year (we didn't enter anything in the "best of" because we don't have our dishes nailed down yet, but that's another story). I will say that Taste has become somewhat of a culinary joke, and there is something in the works to move a more upscale event inside in the future.

at 9:41 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this entire blog. To think that you people have nothing better to do than to argue about food makes me feel very good about my life.

The one thing I must say to you all is this - no one forces you to go to the Taste of Cincinnati. If you do not like the fact that chains are able to compete, or that the same dish can win an award two years in a row, then DON'T GO! If "those freakin' idiots" aren't doing a good job, then don't go downtown and support it! It's as simple as that.

Also, I would like to defend the fact that Carrabba's does do charity events for the pure fact that they are good people. I know, as a recipient of this charity, that Carrabba's does a lot for their community, simply out of the goodness of their own hearts. If that alone does not make a restaurant worthy of competing in the Taste, then the people of Cincinnati have some serious issues. Also, to call Carrabba's a 'disgrace' or a 'joke' shows how much you people know about the restaurant business. I'm sorry that you are not happy that the restaurant won twice in a row, but that, by no means, makes them a 'disgrace' or 'joke' just because you are not happy about it. Very mature of those of you, by the way.

For those of you that aren't happy about the chains competing in the Taste, why don't you do something about it? Instead of complaining online, set the computer down, get off your butt and go support the local restaurants in Cincinnati so that they have the money to participate next year. Support the change you wish to see instead of sitting at home, complaining and doing nothing else about it.

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