Organizers of the 19th annual Taste of Marietta, presented by Tums on Sunday, say the food festival attracted one of its biggest crowds.
They estimated that between 80,000 and 90,000 people crowded onto Marietta Square to sample some of the tastiest dishes from around the county and metro area. More than 80 vendors were on hand, selling samples priced up to $5. But parking proved to be especially difficult for many who attended.
“I think we’ve had a record crowd,” said Theresa Jenkins, executive director of the Marietta Welcome Center & Visitors Bureau, which organizes the event in conjunction with the city of Marietta.
“We have 25 more restaurants and I think there are as many people this year than last year, if not more.”
This year, the one-day festival was expanded to encompass the entire Square to accommodate the big crowds. Festivalgoers could sample dishes ranging from seafood to barbecue. There was also live music and children’s activities. Admission was free.
“It’s a lot more crowded than I thought it would be and parking was horrendous,” said Jamal Brown, 55, of Kennesaw, who returned to the festival with his wife’s family. “But now that I’m in the mix, it’s nice. We found a shady spot where I can sit and eat.”
From the very beginning, parking was a challenge for those who drove directly to the festival. Some were lucky to find spaces in public parking lots and decks. Others parked several blocks away and walked to the Square. Bolder motorists parked on private property reserved only for official visitors, such as banks and churches.
Organizers had suggested that visitors park at Marietta Middle School on Winn Street and be shuttled for free to the Square by the Historic Marietta Trolley Company. But Jenkins acknowledged that parking has become a problem.
“Next year, maybe we need to have a parking lot on the east side and have them shuttled from there too,” she said.
Once visitors reached the Square, however, it became all about the food.
Yanni Kutner of Sugar Cakes Patisserie said the Marietta Square restaurant’s chicken kabobs, which have won previous contests at the festival, were particularly popular.
Lee Small, owner of Lee’s Handy Delights, was pleased at the attention her red velvet cake, cotton candy and chocolate zucchini cupcakes and tea received.
“People have been great and the vendors are nice and cooperative, and very good competition,” said Small, who opened the Marietta-based company in January 2011.
Across Glover Park at the Henry County-based Finger Lickers booth was McKenley Bien-Aime, who was busy cooking Philly cheesesteaks, polish sausages, hotdogs, hamburgers, funnel cakes and fried Oreo cookies.
“We cook everything from scratch,” said Bien-Aime.
Temperatures, which climbed into the low 80s, sent a crowd of festivalgoers to the Glover Park fountain, where they sat side-by-side with their legs in the water. A couple of children were even seen swimming.
But the food remained the event’s biggest attraction.
“If I could take it all home I would,” said Elizabeth Johnson of Marietta.
The Taste of Marietta’s 2012 Dish of Distinction Awards, as decided by several judges, went to: A Delightful Biteful, All-American Award; Chocolate and Spice Eatery, Dangerously Delicious Dessert Award; Hottie Hawgs BBQ, The Big Chicken Award; Dave Poe’s BBQ, The Grillmaster Award; Grand Champion BBQ, Finger Lickin’ Good Award; Fusco’s Via Roma, Most Unique Award; Taqueria Tsunami, Best International Dish Award; Keegan’s Irish Pub, Best Comfort Food Award; and Sam’s BBQ 1, Best Blazing Barbecue Award.
The overall Tastiest Taste Award went to Chicago’s for its shrimp and grits.
(Reprinted from the MDJ, April 30, 2012. Written by Marcus E. Howard.)