The seventh annual Taste of the Towns appeared to offer the right blend of vendors, entertainment and weather Sunday, as menus were sold out before the end of the day.
“We sold more than 400 menus in the pre-sale, which is more than we’ve ever sold before,” said Dale Perrin, executive director of the Lake Zurich Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber President Bonnie Conte, who co-owns the Avalon Salon and Day Spa, added that tasting menus continued to sell at record rates during the event, too.
At one point, people started asking others if they had any menus to spare.
“I’ve never seen it this crowded this early before,” said Conte.
With a total attendance estimated at more than 900 people in Paulus Park, Conte said more people are beginning to understand the value of the event.
In the years prior to the inaugural Taste in 2007, the chamber hosted a popular Oktoberfest, but chamber leaders aimed to create a new event that showcased its local businesses.
Officials also boasted that the Taste has proved to be a better end-of-summer celebration for families because it celebrates something people of all ages can agree on — food.
This year’s Taste featured 19 vendors. Rossini di Lucca, a new Italian restaurant in Palatine, joined last minute, and turned out to be one of the crowd’s favorites.
Lake Zurich residents Libby and Chris Stachowiak liked the crab cakes that Diamond Fresh Seafood served with Louisiana Remoulade. They also highlighted the guacamole from Trader Joe’s, the pretzel roll angus beef sliders from Scoreboard Bar and Grill, and the Pupusitas Casamiento “marriage of rice and beans” from Pupusita Express.
“This is our fourth or fifth year at the Taste,” Libby said. “This is the first time we’ve had to park across the street, because the lot was all filled up.”
The husband and wife shared one menu for tasting and another menu to grab seconds for home, which she put into plastic containers she brought along in a tote bag.
Joe Schweda, owner and manager of Scoreboard Bar and Grill, only recently joined the chamber, though the bar and grill has been in Lake Zurich since his grandmother founded it in 1923.
“I came back to run Scoreboard after retiring two years ago,” said Schweda, noting that the business was under different management while he worked a different job.
His daughter, Stefani Jerard, was the one that convinced him to join the chamber.
“I think there are a lot of new people in town that don’t know we’re here, so we thought that this would be a great way to get more exposure,” she said.
Just like the food vendors, the event’s musical entertainment and children’s activities have grown and evolved over the seven years.
Lake Zurich High School students Thomas Witte, Eric Breden, Matt O’Connor and Alex Zelasko, who make up the band StarGazer, kicked off the event’s entertainment with their signature sounds: A mixture of psychedelic, grunge and blues rock.
Deja Vu sang the hits to a park full of families on blankets and chairs, some of which were under tents. Dancers from Trilogy School of Performing Arts entertained between musical performances.
A larger selection of alcohol accompanied the food and entertainment this year, too.
Beelow’s Steakhouse and Binny’s Beverage Depot served beer while Julio’s Cocina Latina poured out margaritas. Like Trader Joe’s, Divine Wine and Wines for Humanity, Binny’s also offered up small, tasting cups of wine.
Business partners Jose Hernandez and Fred Robinson brought their new local venture to the Taste. They aimed to get the word out about their whiskey distillery, Copper Fiddle Distillery, which is slated to open in November at 532 W. Route 22.
They sold visors embroidered with Copper Fiddle’s “CF” logo and showed off three bottles of their product: Spirit Whiskey, Fiddle Gin and Barrel Gin. Those that uttered the password “GIN” were given water bottles at their “speakeasy” booth.
After opening this fall, Hernandez said they plan on having a limited release of bourbon, rye and limoncello, which is an Italian lemon liqueur traditionally made from grain alcohol and the zest of Femminello St. Teresa lemons.
Lake Zurich residents Bob and Kim Mackey stopped by to learn more about the fledgling business and, while they were there, grabbed a couple of adult beverages.
“We like our whiskey and we like to support our local businesses,” Bob Mackey said.
Several booths down, Wines for Humanity was teaching people about the “Five S’s” they use to assess a wine’s quality: Sight, swirl, smell, sip and swallow.
Conte said the revenue from the day’s beverage sales benefit the chamber’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy, which will begin its sixth year in October.
As for the children’s activities, the YMCA’s climbing wall attracted more than 100 kids by 4 p.m. The YMCA also brought a bounce castle that was equally as popular.
Casten Body Shop let kids “paint a car” with washable paint. The most popular color used seemed to be yellow.
Because Taste of the Towns sold all of its menus this year, Perrin said that the chamber would likely be upping the number of menus for 2014.