“The water was colder than I thought it would be,” said Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers as he emerged dripping wet from the Dunk Tank at the Taste of New Paltz food festival last Sunday. One of nine elected officials, business-owners and other local “celebrities” who volunteered for the Dunk Tank, the mayor said that he got the plunge “at least 20 times” during his half-hour shift. “My daughter sunk me, so I’m disappointed in her.” Another who succeeded in hitting the target was five-year-old Asher Libolt, who didn’t seem to have any political axe to grind; “I dunked Mayor Rogers because I thought it would be fun,” he said, proudly wearing his “I Made a Splash” sticker.
Luckily for Rogers — not to mention the Taste’s vendors and organizers, the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce — Sunday was as fine and warm a day as could be expected in mid-September, with temperatures topping out in the upper 70s, partly cloudy skies and no wind. “I’m loving it,” said newly installed Chamber director Christopher Short of the perfect weather conditions that graced the first Taste event to occur on his watch.
It was a particularly good day for an aerial tour of the Gunks ridgeline, supplied at a price of $60 per passenger by Independent Helicopters. “This is our first time for this particular event,” said Sean Howley, whose sister Heather Howley owns the company. “The clouds have mostly cleared up, and the view is great.”
Emerging all smiles from one flight were Dave Dennison and Cindy Steele of Kingston, who had never attended the Taste of New Paltz before but were tempted by the new feature of helicopter rides. “We did it once before in Kingston and wanted to do it again,” said Steele. “I recommend it.” “It was a nice ride,” Dennison agreed. “You’re going 90 miles an hour, but it doesn’t feel like it. It’s smooth, and nothing to be afraid of.” Steele described spotting a hiker, “so tiny-looking” from the air, as the whirlybird took them “really close to the Tower” at Sky Top. The pair had praise for the food at the event as well, especially the “awesome” burritos. “Now I’m hungry again,” Steele joked after their exciting skyride.
Those burritos might’ve come from the booth of Poughkeepsie-based La Cabañita Cocina de Oaxaca; this reporter can attest, based on personal research, that the marinated pork tacos on offer there were excellent. But it was New Paltz’s own Jamaica Choice that won the day in the Restaurants category when it came time to hand out the Best of the Taste Awards, based on audience voting. Hurley-based Off the Hook’s seafood offerings took the prize in the Food Trucks category, while Liquid Altitude of Gardiner’s Freefall Sangria dominated the Wineries & Distilleries category.
There was plenty to do at the Taste besides taste tasty things, of course. New to the event this year was the Taste of New Paltz Car Cruise, organized by the Lakeside Licks Cruisers of Highland. Vintage car hobbyists congregated along the fence of the Ulster County Fairgrounds nearest the County Pool; a little further south, shoppers perused the wares at a cluster of crafts booths. A Business Expo occupied the 4-H Youth Building; out front, Lisa Carino touted the wares of G. Kontos Roofing Specialist, handing out free balloon-sculpture dogs who, she said, would bark “Roof! Roof!” It was a bit of a hot day to be wearing Carino’s pink plastic unicorn costume, but she said that she didn’t mind much: “I’ve got these little fans on my hips that keep the suit inflated,” she pointed out. “I get a constant breeze!”
Nearby, yoga mats were laid out for classes in the shade of a big tree next to the Wellness and Recreation Tent, where visitors could also get a mini-massage, learn about nutrition, acupuncture and physical therapy or try samples of CBD products — hot items at this year’s Taste, with several vendors touting the benefits of the non-psychoactive hemp derivatives. Next to that tent were several pet-rescue groups with animals to adopt. The Kids’ Activities Tent was packed with little ones stringing bead necklaces and making paper puppets at craft tables or doing preschool gymnastics in a padded play area. Other attendees gravitated to the main stage near the south end of the Fairgrounds, where Yard Sale was cranking out tunes in a rural, roughhewn Americana style evoking the Band.
In short, a good time was had by all, and visitors were exposed to the enticing products of many New Paltz-area restaurants and businesses. May the weather always be as favorable for future editions of the Taste of New Paltz as it was for the 29th!