Overheard at Taste of New Paltz 2017, between two young girls: “I have sprinkles all over my shoe!” “I have hot sauce in my shoe.” That more or less sums up the particular genius of this annual event at the Ulster County Fairgrounds. Most chefs wouldn’t serve up hot sauce and sprinkles within the same meal (well, John Novi might); but at the Taste, you can put together a patchwork of whatever cuisines strike your fancy at the moment. One mini-portion might be the specialty of the house of your favorite local restaurant; another might be a sample from the menu of some new place that you’ve been meaning to try. They might be foods from opposite sides of the world, but there’s no law that says you can’t mix them up a bit.
Every year the choice of participating eateries at the Taste varies somewhat, though all are from the mid-Hudson. The 2017 lineup leaned toward the cuisines of the Caribbean and Latin America. There were two Jamaican food vendors, Essie’s Restaurant and Jamaica Choice; three Mexican places, La Cabañita, Eddie’s Churro Factory and El Danzante; plus Ecuadorian and Puerto Rican offerings from La Ruta del Sol. You could go high-end with Mohonk Mountain House, or stick to fair fare like Village Pizza or Noshi’s Coney Island Hot Dogs. For dessert, you might choose tiny cupcakes from Ms. Vee’s Sweet Treats, ice cream from Lakeside Licks or cider donuts from Tantillo Farms.
An enormous beer truck studded with taps dominated the scene, but there were other beverage offerings as well. On the non-alcoholic end, El Danzante was serving freshly squeezed juices from a variety of tropical fruits. Baldwin Vineyards and Whitecliff Vineyard were pouring wine. Tiny samples of hard liquor were available from 1857 Spirits and the Old York Farm Distillery. Packaged food products to take home could also be purchased, such as maple syrup from Tree Juice and handmade cheeses from Casa del Caciocavallo.
Sunday afternoon was likely one of the last days of 2017 with temperatures in the 80s, with bright sunshine flooding the fairgrounds as visitors snacked and shopped and bopped to live music from a lineup of great local bands, including two youth ensembles from New Paltz Rock: Phoenix from Ashes and Daily Special. The bandstand was set amongst temporary landscaping by Kalleco Nursery, with floral displays and a working fountain adorning either side. In his trademark top hat, Carl Welden emceed, stage-managed and drew out the winning ticket in the Great Giveaway raffle: Carolina Dominguez was the lucky winner of the massive prize package.
Meanwhile, small children had fun cutting up their own fruit salad with Kristi Parnell of Story Studios or feeding kibble to live goats at Goodnow Family Farm’s petting zoo. There was face-painting and hula-hooping and Frisbee-tossing, plus live karate demonstrations and a fashion show.
“We’re just happy the weather was good — hot, but good,” said Chris Drouin, a member of the board of directors of the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce. Judging by the 24 kegs of beer emptied and the number of wristbands sold, Drouin estimated attendance at Taste 2017 as “easily 5,500.” “We got a really good turnout,” agreed Chamber executive director Kathy Prizzia. “Everybody nearly ran out of food.”
Luckily, the event was well-staffed with volunteers. Many of them were assigned to clear picnic tables, pick up trash or hover near the trash bins to guide attendees as to which types of plastic could be recycled. As a result, by the time the crowds were thinning and the vendors packing up their unsold product, the grounds were practically spotless. The Chamber’s biggest annual celebration of all things New Paltz had once again been a smooth-running, upbeat and tasty success.