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Downtown event showcases burgeoning food scene

By Kristina Jackson

The Taste of Downtown had locals sampling all kinds of new dishes at Manhattan eateries Tuesday night.

The inaugural event, a fundraiser for the Little Apple Optimist Club, was co-sponsored by Downtown Manhattan Inc., and both organizations set out to showcase the new and longtime restaurants on Poyntz Avenue and the surrounding area. The 300 tickets available to the event sold out in less than 74 hours.

“People are excited and curious about the ever-changing environment downtown,” said Blade Mages, a member of the Optimists.

Eleven downtown restaurants participated in the event: Bourbon & Baker, Radina’s Bakehouse, Old Chicago, Karnivore Bar and BBQ, Hibachi Hut, Hazel Hill Chocolate, Harry’s, dellaVoce, AJ’s Pizzeria, 4 Olives and 4 Cakes.

Each stop offered attendees a bite-sized taste of their cuisine.

“We’re giving people the opportunity to try a different culinary experience,” said Gina Scroggs, executive director of Downtown Manhattan Inc. “The restaurants are all bringing something different to the table.”

Bourbon & Baker served shrimp and a biscuit while 4 Cakes offered a choice of four flavors of mini cupcakes.

The selections gave attendees a chance to try something different and maybe find a new favorite, Mages said.

“It’s an opportunity to break your own habits,” he said. “A person going to Harry’s all the time might not go to AJ’s.”

However, the event also promoted the idea of a cohesive food scene, rather than individual restaurants, downtown, said Scott Benjamin, chef and owner of 4 Olives.

“I like the idea of people thinking of us as a group,” Benjamin said.

The dish served at his restaurant on Tuesday was an Idaho smoked trout mousse on crostini, which Benjamin used to represent the seafood he said his restaurant is known for.

Chelsee Thomas stopped and sampled a crostini during the event. Thomas, who said she is relatively new to the Manhattan area, came out for the event to try new spots she hadn’t yet had a chance to visit.

“We really want to experience everything down here, so this is perfect,” Thomas said.

Taste of Downtown had something new for even those who are familiar with popular restaurants, as the yet-to-be-opened Radina’s Bakehouse offered visitors a look inside and a loaf of bread.

“It was fun to get a sneak peek,” said Jessica Falcone.

Falcone said attending the event gave insight into the changes occurring in the area.

“You get to know what people are doing and support downtown,” she said. “I’m excited about the growth.”

Daniel and Kendall Silberstein live near downtown and have also noticed the growth.

“It’s good for the area to showcase everything they have down here,” Daniel said.

The Silbersteins tried the shrimp gumbo, corn bread and bread pudding that Hibachi Hut offered.

“We’re a Cajun restaurant, so those are a lot of our staples,” said Hut manager Shaunasee Wilkinson.

Tarsha Rafferty also stopped at Hibachi Hut and sampled a dish she’d never tried before — a theme for the evening.

“I’ve never tried shrimp gumbo before but it’s been fantastic,” Rafferty said.

Scroggs said the curiosity and excitement for Taste of Downtown was not a surprise to her. It’s a work in progress, she said, but the area has years of growth in front of it.

“I’m down here every day, and I feel the buzz every day,” Scroggs said.

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