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Opinion

Taste of Westmont to offer food for every palate

WESTMONT – The 21st annual Taste of Westmont kicks off July 13 and runs through July 16.

Transforming three blocks of Cass Avenue north of the railroad tracks into a four-day festival featuring rotating bands, carnival rides for kids, a beer tent for adults, craft and specialty booths for the shoppers, and a nice representation of Westmont eateries, the Taste of Westmont annually draws 25,000 folks to our downtown.

Kicking off on July 13 with Kidzapalooza, the evening features specially priced all-you-can-ride wristbands for the carnival, along with lots of local talent on the music stages, making it perfect for the entire family. The food that night falls into two categories: carnival food from several trailers and a dozen Cass Avenue eateries including J. Fleming’s Absolutely Delicious, winner of the 2016 and 2017 Reader’s Choice Award for Best Patio Dining. Think of it as an oasis after several go-arounds on the Tilt-A-Whirl!

From a food perspective, things pick up substantially as the Taste swings into high gear July 14. It’s nice to see downtown veteran Amber Café return. Last at the Taste in 2004 and 2005, Amber brings two creative dining options to this year’s Taste.

First up – cevapi, which are Serbian sausages. A ground mixture of beef and pork is formed into skinless sausages with the addition of several savory spices. After a nice char on the open grill, they are served in a ciabatta flatbread, which also has been lightly grilled. Dressed with red onions and cilantro, the hand-held pocket is finished with chipotle aioli. While many interchangeably use aioli and mayo, aioli begins life with crushed garlic and brings maximum flavor to any dish.

Amber’s second offering uses the same grilled ciabatta flatbread but replaces the Serbian sausages with grilled chicken thighs. Lightly seasoned and then skewered, chicken thighs are arguably the most flavorful part of the chicken, and these don’t disappoint. Warm from the grill, the charred chicken was juicy, sweet and flavorful. While red onions, cilantro and chipotle aioli also finish the hand-held, the flavor range when compared to the cevapi is totally different!

Our newest installment of Dairy Queen also joins the Taste lineup. Nearing their two-year anniversary, this new DQ, under the watchful eye of operator Nimisha Patel, has vastly improved the overall operation, earning high marks for product, service and cleanliness. As a first-year participant, DQ will field a limited lineup, serving up several crowd favorites.

The iconic Dilly Bar will be available in chocolate, cherry and butterscotch. Think vanilla ice cream bar dipped in one of three flavored toppings – perfect for a walk around the Taste.

Also appearing on the DQ menu will be a Top 3 selection of Blizzards. The Reese’s peanut butter cup Blizzard joins the Oreo Blizzard, with the cookie dough Blizzard, which includes hot fudge and cookie dough pieces, rounding out the selection. Depending on available refrigeration equipment, DQ may have a few other surprises, but this lineup is sure to both sweeten and refresh your Taste experience!

The Taste also means anniversary time for one of Westmont’s “newer” downtown restaurants. Opened four Tastes ago, Neat kitchen + bar celebrates in style. On July 14, Neat hosts a pig roast in their outdoor beer garden constructed just for the event. Join them for pulled pork sandwiches and tacos as the Jimmy Buffet tribute band plays just steps away. Completing the night, Neat will feature Casamigos – George Clooney’s tequila label – margaritas.

As a strong Taste supporter since day one, Neat doesn’t disappoint in the menu selections. Chicken thighs with a Mojo marinade are partially charred on the grill. After a quick chop, a second marinade occurs before finishing to order on the flat top. Crowned with pickled red onions and a tomatillo avocado salsa, Neat’s chicken tacos are delicious.

A highlight for me is the Chicago-based big fork sausage bacon and beer sausage. Pork sausage is married to bacon and infused with Two Brothers Weiss Beer, creating an awesome flavor combination. Topped with grilled onions and house-made beer mustard, it’s served on a Turano Bambino roll.

Embracing the Taste completely, Neat also will sponsor a local band at 3:30 p.m. July 15 on the main stage. The Tim Stop Band, featuring Westmont’s own Michael Tahlier, will perform. A Sirius Satellite featured artist, the band will mix in R&B, along with contemporary rock. Rumor has it that Neat also will be rolling out a dessert option this year. I’m hard at working getting to the bottom of this one!

J. Fleming’s Absolutely Delicious is also back once again with perhaps the broadest menu at the Taste. The crab cakes, Philly cheese steak sandwich (extra napkins please), and mini dogs and brats are all back.

For lighter palettes, John has brought back two of his tastefully choreographed summer salads. The strawberry salad highlights the seasonal freshness of local Midwest strawberries. Topping a mixture of baby spinach and spring greens, the strawberries are paired with toasted pecans and tossed with a balsamic poppy seed dressing.

Spring greens combine with sautéed apples and candied walnuts in the apple orchard harvest salad. Blue cheese crumbles and cider vinaigrette keep rotating sweet, crunch, tart and savory flavors on the tip of your tongue. Both salads are delicious on a hot summer day and easily split between two, allowing room for more sampling.

And of course, no Taste would be complete without 2016 and 2017 People’s Choice Best Sandwich winner, the Cuban. Pressed Tuscan bread envelops thinly sliced roast pork and ham capricola. The press allows the Swiss cheese to melt while mojo mayo, sliced onion, plum tomatoes and sliced pickles complete the flavor profile. This award winner comes in full- or half-sized portions, allowing for more Taste opportunities.

Papa Passero’s also is a returning Taste veteran. Celebrating their 40th year in Westmont, Papa Passero’s second-generation owner Laura Passero Trilla looks at the Taste as an opportunity “to give back to our community, expose a potential new customer base to a southside landmark all while saying thanks to our many loyal customers that visit the Taste each year!”

Following the adage "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," Papa Passero’s returns with last year’s successful lineup of food offerings. Their famous pizza will be available in sausage, pepperoni or cheese slices, as well as their No. 1-requested hot wings.

Italian beef is slow-roasted in house and sliced paper thin. The Italian bread has a nice chew and is prepared to your liking: regular, wet or dipped in Papa Passero’s perfectly flavored au jus. A nice side of spicy giardiniera sauce combining pickled vegetables, oil and red chili flakes rounds out the flavor profile. Hot dogs for the kids come plain, but condiments are available for the sophisticated! Kids also will enjoy the chips and cheese dip.

Another Taste regular, Uncle Bub’s, also returns with his signature pulled pork. Smoked overnight for 12 hours, it’s served up on a feathery soft bun, with your choice of four great Uncle Bub’s sauces. Available sides include cole slaw, baked beans or macaroni and cheese.

Uncle Bub’s always had topped their macaroni and cheese with pulled pork, creating "Mac Mama." This year also brings us the "Mac Auntie," which rotates pulled chicken for the pork. The foundation macaroni and cheese blends three different cheeses to create the rich, creamy base. Chicken quarters are smoked over cherry and hickory wood, creating the Uncle Bub’s signature flavor profile. Topped with Uncle Bub’s Original BBQ Sauce, the flavors combine into a magic dish.

"Nacho Mama" also returns with pulled pork distributed over a bed of tortilla chips. It’s topped with the Original BBQ Sauce, cheese sauce and pickled jalapeños. Great paired with a cold beer or a root beer. And yes, never fear – the humongous barbecued turkey drumsticks will be back!

Other vendors serving the Taste this year will be China Chef, Taco Express, Tropical Snow, A Taste of Taiwan from the Westmont-based Taiwanese Cultural Center, “World Famous Lemon Shake-Ups” from the Chamber of Commerce and roasted corn from the Westmont Lion’s Club.

The Taste of Westmont is a family-friendly and neighbor-centric four-day weekend, with enough food options to guarantee no repeats. Grab your favorite portable chair, set up early near the stage and spend a few hours wandering the streets checking out all the Taste of Westmont has to offer. Remember, The Party’s On!

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If you go

What: Taste of Westmont

When: 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. July 13, 4 to 10:30 p.m. July 14, noon to 10:30 p.m. July 15 and noon to 8 p.m. July 16

Where: Cass Avenue from Naperville Road to the Burlington tracks

Dress code: Casual

Info: 630-829-WEST; westmontevents.com

Parking: Easy

Noise factor: Rollicking

Pricing: $

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Know more

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