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Savoring the culinary adventure Crowds come to sample the area's 'melting pot of different foods' at the 23rd Taste of Buffalo

The Taste of Buffalo is one of the least pretentious events around.

It exists for one purpose -- to allow the estimated 400,000 people who attend the event to stuff themselves in public.

This weekend, the 23rd occasion of the event, lived up to the festival's gluttonous reputation, and thousands turned out despite a brief rain shower Sunday afternoon.

But even with the unpretentious attitude, gigantic Swiss Chalet booths and promotional trailers for new varieties of ice cream, the event is more than a simple street fair.

The 50-plus vendors gave many hungry guests the chance to break out of the rut of fast food and pizza. And some people trekked hours to sample new cuisine.

Elizabeth Gallo came from Fredonia and said she enjoys coming to Buffalo to find new places to eat.

"There are a lot of people from small towns," she said. "This is exciting for them -- almost like a carnival."

Dave McDonald, a New York City native who now lives in Chautauqua County, said he tried everything from Middle Eastern food to St. Angelo's wheat pizza, though he lamented the lack of Anchor Bar representation.

"Buffalo's great for things like this -- you'd expect it in New York, but it's here," he said.

His wife, Teresa, joked, "Today I'm skinny on the inside."

"It's like a melting pot of different foods in the area," said Maureen Portman of West Seneca, snacking on a roast beef sandwich on the steps of City Hall. She also said she appreciated the more hands-on approach to dining out.

"It's like an open-air restaurant where you can watch the food being made," she said.

The festival's offerings included the Mexican food of La Tolteca, various Italian cafes and outposts of restaurants ranging from steakhouses to Jamaican cooking.

Amherst's Tandoori's Royal Indian Cuisine offered chicken wings that had been covered in spices and cooked in the tandoor oven.

"They've been selling well," said the restaurant's owner, Ravi Sabharwal, who came up with the idea.

Some people, however, were content to forgo dietary innovation.

Amy Brigham of Lockport, for instance, described her tastes as "comfort food" like barbecue and cooked artichokes.

And, despite new rules about including a "healthy" food in every menu, people still lined up for greasy favorites.

Rosanna Kutas of the Polish Villa said, "I make 5,000 pierogi every year and end up selling all of them." She said that the new dish on the menu was sweet and sour cabbage.

Vincent Giovannucci of Fat Bob's said they had added Texas chili, which was met with lukewarm success.

"It's sold all right, but not as well as the mac and cheese," he said.

And Celena Hunley, owner of Ms. Goodies, confirmed that people were still clamoring for JunkYard Dogs.

"People ask about it every year," she said. "They come and bark for them."

"It gives people an option, but you come here and kind of expect to eat other things," said University at Buffalo student and Long Island transplant Russell Manalastas, who spent his first Taste of Buffalo eating nachos, Anderson's treats and Thai food.

Other festivities included live performances by Lance Diamond, Beatles cover bands and various other cover groups.

Some took the occasion to gently mock the festival. Cover band Disco Duck, for instance, performed a Taste of Buffalo-themed version of 1979's "Rapper's Delight" in which they bemoaned overeating and "chicken that tastes like wood."

e-mail: kreedy@buffnews.com

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