Junior League Offers Taste of Montgomery

By on 3 October, 2011 in Food, Fun, Kate and Stephen with 1 Comment

Super Suppers' highly addictive pimento cheese

When I was a youngster growing up in South Alabama, it was a summer tradition to pile into the family minivan and truck northward up I-65 to visit the grandparents just outside of Chicago. In addition to Cubs baseball in Wrigley Field, a big allure for my brother and me was to go to a festival known as Taste of Chicago. I did not know at the time that it was one of the world’s largest food festivals, but it was clear that this event, held in Grant Park, was an example to my childhood self of what a great city could be.

I didn’t really know what a bratwurst was, or what made Chicago-style pizza so magical. I only knew that we couldn’t get food like this back where I was from — and that this bustling festival showcased the finest that a gigantic city could offer. Not only were the restaurant owners proud to be advertising their food — letting the product speak for itself — but there were all kinds of people eating all kinds of stuff, not to mention there was live music and the beauty of the Chicago summer.

Fast forward a few years, and Montgomery is now home. I have actually been back to Chicago during Taste, and it retains almost all of the charms I remembered from my childhood. I’ve stopped eating meat since those childhood days, but the food in Chicago is so diverse, that vegetarians have no problem finding world-class things to eat.

We weren’t really sure what to expect from Montgomery’s “Taste of” festival. But as lovers of food (and our city), we had to check it out. It was at the Convention Center attached to the Renaissance, in that big room where sometimes they do the exhibit halls for vendors when the conventions come to town. The place was set up nicely, with a number of big round tables in the middle and 33 vendors arrayed all around the edges of the room. Once you walked in, you were offered plates and utensils from volunteers – the first of many, many disposable food conveyances we would be offered during our stay. Folks made a big line that basically snaked all the way around the room in both directions. They were frequently eating as they walked, finishing the previous station’s food before sidling up to the next one.

Obviously, we passed on many of the items because we don’t eat meat. And the non-meat items being offered were few and far between. If there’s one dish that personifies the Taste of the River Region, it might well be chicken wings – it seemed like every third or fourth place had them, which made sense from the perspective of folks wanting to hand out finger food. Wings are not native to Alabama, but are highly popular and they are highly portable. Other people were dishing out other meats, including several kinds of barbecue. What seemed like it must have been most of the staff of Wetumpka’s Ox Yoke restaurant rolled in with several kinds of meat and a full cutting station. They were not messing around. Wintzell’s had its trademark gumbo in giant vats, complete with rice. Hampstead’s Farmhouse Kitchen provided some tasty butter beans – the only vegetable on display, if you don’t count Roux’s blue cheese potato salad. Which would probably be just as awesome without the bacon. There were two kinds of pimento cheese – the chunky and highly addictive Super Suppers variety (the best we’ve ever had) and the Ham and High variety, heavy on cream cheese and served with tasty caramelized onions.

Other restaurants mailed it in a little, offering only chips and salsa or cheese or trays of biscuits. There were also many sweets on offer – Liger’s was in full effect, and a new catering business called Blue Moon Solutions had a killer strawberry cupcake with cream cheese frosting. There was tiramisu and banana pudding and pie and cookies and frozen yogurt (the folks from Kalifornia Kraze approached us with a coupon, asking, sort of hilariously, if “we’d ever had frozen yogurt before”), and on and on.

Your ticket also bought you free drinks. There was beer, of course – whole bottles, not stingy pours, and it warmed our hearts to see how many people had brought their own coozies, even while wearing five inch heels. There was a little wine, not much to write home about, but the really strange thing about the drinks on offer was how much weird liquor was being poured. Seriously weird, like who knew there were several kinds of booze with whipped cream flavor? And “apple pie” flavor? And blueberry tequila? Jose Cuervo, this time you’ve gone too far!

There was a live jazz band and the surprisingly dressed up crowd seemed to be having a nice time. We also had a really nice time, although we do wish more of the food had been representative of our local and regional delicious traditional foods. Red Lobster’s cheese rolls are good and all, but nobody was there repping collard greens, forging the same sort of associations between River Region food that linger from those Taste of Chicago festivals so many years ago.

The event is a collaboration between the Junior League of Montgomery and the Restaurant Association. We didn’t know much about the Junior League before the event, but it turns out that they raise and give out hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money every year while donating tens of thousands of volunteer hours. Our friend recently joined up, so she was able to give us a bit of the inside scoop – she’s one of nearly fifty new members now going through their “Provisional Year,” which seems a little like an incoming class. The new members work really hard to make the JL events happen, and in return they are allowed to pick what charities will receive the money from the event proceeds.

If this event was any indication, they are excellent at what they do. It was well run, well attended, and likely made a good pile of money for the charities selected by the Junior Leaguers.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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  1. Debra jones says:

    I want info

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