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TASTE OF BUFFALO PREVIEW DRAWS RAVE REVIEWS

There won't be any rebellious computers plotting to murder hungry Buffalonians, but "2001: A Taste Odyssey" does promise an out-of-this-world experience for the city's taste buds.

On July 7 and 8, more than five blocks of Main Street -- between Chippewa and Church streets -- will be transformed into a culinary paradise. From classic custard and pizza to frilly slices of tiramisu and eggplant rollatini, this year's giant food festival will offer a tasty bite to satisfy everyone's palate.

The 100 folks who were fortunate enough to snag a bite to eat during Tuesday's Taste of Buffalo Preview Party in Dunn Tire Park guarantee it.

Dan Mescall, a Town of Tonawanda resident, had his cut of the Red Coach Inn's rack of lamb cleaned just 15 minutes after the event opened. The Red Coach Inn is in Niagara Falls.

"This was just delicious," he said. "Absolutely amazing. They've never had it before, but it's great."

Buffalo's diverse ethnicities also help make the Taste a success, said Judy Tucker, a former festival chairwoman.

"There's something for everyone, and all these great family recipes," she said. "Buffalo really is like a giant melting pot."

Another first at this year's festival will be the international beer garden, which will feature a variety of imported and domestic brews, said Frank Sardina, the festival's general chairman. The beer garden will be sponsored by Labatt's. Other major sponsors include Adelphia Communications Corp., Tops Markets and Pepsi-Cola.

"Without the sponsorships, the Taste would never go on," Sardina said. "We'd be bankrupt like the other food festivals all over the country."

It's not just a sea of Styrofoam plates and massive vats of pasta that tug on the festival's purse strings. Security costs and entertainment fees for the festival's four stages boost expenses to more than $250,000 each year.

The Taste is the nation's second-largest outdoor food festival -- trailing only Chicago's event, which runs for 10 days -- and this year will feature 53 locally owned or operated restaurants. More than 500,000 visitors are expected.

As usual, all food items will be priced between 50 cents and $3, which Sardina noted can quickly add up when eyes grow bigger than stomachs.

"You can feed a family of 30 for just a couple thousand dollars," he joked.

Proceeds from the festival will benefit more than 13 charities, including the Heritage Oak Foundation and Shea's Spotlight Committee. Five scholarships also will be awarded to promising area culinary-arts students.

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