For 11 years, a Taste of Lewiston drew throngs of people to sample the best food and drink the village had to offer.
Then, after the well-attended 2006 festival in Academy Park, it ended.
"It was a very popular and successful event," said Irene Rykaszewski, executive director of the Lewiston Council on the Arts, which organized and operated the event. "But it was so much work."
This year the Taste of Lewiston is back, with a new partner, new openness to local businesses and even a new Morgan Mule cocktail with historic roots.
"A Taste of Lewiston: A Culinary Art Festival," will be held from noon to 8 p.m. May 27. That day, Center Street will be closed between 7 a.m. and midnight between Sixth and Fourth streets.
The first Taste, in 1995, was "so small we had it at the gazebo," said Eva Nicklas, artistic director of the arts council. Through the years, the Taste moved around, from Academy Park to the waterfront to Center Street. Finally, after 2006, the busy arts council volunteers decided to concentrate their efforts on the many other events and festivals the group organizes.
Several months ago, promoter Corey McGowan approached the arts council with a suggestion that they work together to revive A Taste of Lewiston. His company, Corey McGowan Productions, started operating a Taste event five years ago on Grand Island, eventually adding tastes in Lockport and Niagara Falls, as well as the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Tournament on Grand Island and Octoberfest in Tonawanda.
"He said, 'I'd like to do a Taste of Lewiston, and I know you've done it in the past, so I don't want to step on any toes,' " Rykaszewski said. "He offered to do all the heavy lifting," said Nicklas.
That is how Rykaszewski, Nicklas and Kathryn Serianni, who portrays onetime Lewiston tavern-keeper Catherine Hustler in the arts council's popular "Marble Orchard" costumed history tours, came to be sipping cocktails in Gallo Coal Fire Kitchen one recent afternoon.
The trio was taste-testing two versions of a mixed drink that would evoke the historic event said to have happened at Hustler's Tavern in the early 1800s. The story told in Lewiston is that when the Marquis de Lafayette came in seeking refreshment, Hustler mixed a gin concoction, then used a tail feather plucked from a passing rooster to stir it, prompting Lafayette to exclaim, "Viva le cocktail!"
Whatever the truth of the colorful story, the venue for the taste test was significant. Gallo Coal Fire Kitchen, at 800 Center St., is built at the spot where Hustler's Tavern once stood. The tavern, immortalized by James Fenimore Cooper in "The Spy," is said to be the only building left unscathed when the British burned Lewiston in 1813 in retaliation for the American attack on Newark, now Niagara-on-the-Lake. "She served everyone, without distinction," said Nicklas, and there is a belief that some British officers may have ordered the tavern spared because they recalled enjoyable hospitality there.
Michael Hibbard, who opened the restaurant late last year at the site of a former service station at the corner of Center and Eighth streets, named the restaurant Gallo, which is Italian for "rooster," in a nod to the historic site, which is marked with a sign.
"We thought that if we were bringing back the Taste of Lewiston, we wanted to serve a real historic cocktail," said Nicklas.
After some consideration of two versions mixed and served by Gallo manager Kelly Jaeger, the group settled on one made with gin, homemade ginger beer, hints of citrus, peaches and sugar, poured over ice in a frosty copper mule mug. The concoction will be garnished with a food-safe quill or served with a feather for the Taste, and be offered at Gallo for those who arrive too late to sample the drink at the festival, said Hibbard.
The cocktail, which will be served by the Marble Orchard Players in front of the vacant Frontier House, will be called the Morgan Mule in honor of another character from Lewiston's past. William Morgan, who was believed to be a traitor to the Masonic Order, was abducted and brought to the Frontier House in a coach, then reportedly spirited to Old Fort Niagara. In any case, he was never seen alive again.
Six local wineries and 21 food providers have signed up to offer drinks and food at this year's event. The foods range from Gallo's turkey-chicken meatballs and eggplant Gallo to pulled pork from the Brickyard Pub and Swiss chard pancakes with horseradish cream from Carmelo's Coat of Arms. Lighter bites include gourmet kettle corn from the Kettle Corn Shoppe and mini vegan muffins from 700 Bistro and Cafe.
Tickets, which are $1 each, will be sold at three ticket tents. Every sample is priced between $2 and $6, said McGowan. "Anything that would cost more than $6 is probably too large.
"People want to be able to sample from four or five restaurants. They don't want to fill up at one or two restaurants," he said.
Non-food businesses will include representatives of insurance firms, Tupperware and other kitchen fixtures, replacement windows and companies that offer everything from henna tattoos to jams and jellies.
"The idea is to be a taste of everything that community has to offer, not just food," said McGowan. "We mix the non-food vendors in the street with the food vendors, so everyone gets the same amount of foot traffic."
Cooking is usually done with hot plates or propane stoves, but the geography of Lewiston makes the setup more convenient, said McGowan. "One of the neat things about Lewiston is that a lot of these restaurants are right on Center Street, so it's much more convenient for these guys. Their booths might be right at their front doors."
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