Monday, May 23, 2011

Taste of Pinellas: One delicious weekend

Mexican corn, watermelon queens and Bonnie Raitt were among the highlights.

Posted By on Mon, May 23, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Excitement was in the air. News crews, media personnel, restaurant participants and festival volunteers bustled about, making final preparations for Friday’s 5 p.m. kick-off of The Taste of Pinellas. By 4:30, a crowd had gathered outside the entrance of Vinoy Park in St. Pete. This All Children’s Hospital annual fundraiser became a Saint Petersburg institution, beginning 25 years ago with just a few participating restaurants, and this year, that number has grown to over forty.

“Pre-event ticket sales were at an all-time high this year,” said Emily Carbone and Ledora Brown of Paradise Advertising and Marketing in St. Petersburg. “Approximately 7,500 were sold for Friday, 10,000 for Saturday and 7,800 for Sunday.” Factor those numbers in with the number of tickets sold at the gate, and that adds up to a record-high amount of tickets sold.

Fortunately, no setbacks occurred to hinder the kick-off of Taste and everything went smoothly. However, ACH and all involved parties took proper precautions to ensure this. The festival planning began months ago, and the set-up in Vinoy Park began four days prior to the Taste of Pinellas kick-off, on the preceding Monday.

Ann Miller, a 23-year employee and currently ACH’s Media Relations Manager, had much to say regarding the benefits and goals that would become reality, thanks to the proceeds of Taste of Pinellas. “The proceeds will go toward all areas and programs in need. The funds will go into the ‘general account fund,’ which is used for whatever the most important current needs may be. This includes the Specialty Care outpatient centers (eleven locations ranging from Lecanto to Fort Myers), and Community Outreach programs (throughout Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Polk and Pasco Counties).” The new 259-bed hospital and adjoining Outpatient Care Center was completed in January 2010, the result of a $400 million project.

Over 400 volunteers contributed to the success of Taste of Pinellas. “Approximately 300 of the volunteers are ACH employees, or friends and family of ACH employees,” said Angie Kaczor, Marketing Coordinator at ACH. The volunteers contributed in all aspects, from selling tickets, serving food, pouring beer, stocking ice, and handling the massive amounts of trash.

After munching on several of the mouth-watering culinary selections, focus likely shifted to the top-notch musical acts, such as Josh Turner, Chris Isaak, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt and Colbie Calliat. Some chose to stay close to the action and set up lawn chairs or blankets near the stage, while others enjoyed the music as background while gazing out at the picturesque waterfront. In addition to being beautiful, the waterfront provided a nice breeze, and palm trees provided shelter from the sun’s harsh rays.

In the midst of a ticket-required setting, it is always nice to stumble upon complimentary samples. Being a fundraiser, the proceeds are certainly dedicated to a good cause. But at the same time, with hundreds of culinary selections to choose from, the wallet tends to empty out at a lightning-quick speed. Thus, complimentary watermelon slices, juice samples and salsa with tortilla chips were a welcome sight!

The watermelon slices were courtesy of Florida Watermelon Association and Melon 1. “The Florida Watermelon Association travels throughout the United States and Canada, promoting Florida watermelon,” said Debra Harrison, a Florida Watermelon Promotions Coordinator. Distributing the watermelon slices were the beautiful Florida, South Carolina, Indiana and National Watermelon Queens.


The juice samples were courtesy of Cool Juice, a new 100% natural juice. “This juice is different from others because it is 100% juice with no preservatives, dyes or flavors. It is also fortified with Vitamins A, C, D3 and Calcium,” said Holly Elkin, Brand Ambassador for Cool Juice. This delightfully fruity, refreshing beverage is available in four flavors and is sold at Sweetbay and Winn-Dixie supermarkets.

The salsa and tortilla chips were courtesy of ACH. The delicious corn, black bean and fruit salsa is a featured recipe in Yum, Yum Let’s Makes Some, a cookbook created by Fit4allkids and Kohl's Cooks for Kids. This cookbook is available online via ACH’s website ( Complimentary cups of limeade were also served, which nicely complimented the salty and tangy flavor of the salsa and tortilla chips.

Another source of complimentary food was via cooking demonstrations. The demonstration I attended featured Johnny Ciao, “The Culinary Rocker.” He performed on harmonica while preparing Tropical Rhythms Citrus Chicken (sautéed chicken breasts cooked with Cool Juice). He has cooked for the late Michael Jackson, Carlos Santana, Whitney Houston, Dick Clark, Huey Lewis, and several others. He has also appeared on radio and television shows, has written several cookbooks and tours throughout the United States and beyond.


In between scoping the festival scene, speaking with organizers and scoring complimentary samples, I sampled some of the food that has made Taste of Pinellas a staple of St. Petersburg. Being a health-conscious, semi-vegetarian with a sweet tooth, these are the items I chose to indulge in:

Picante’s Lobster Quesadilla — cheesy with nice lobster bits, served with cilantro lime sour cream. (I enjoyed the quesadilla on its own because I do not like sour cream.)
Little Italy Pizza Cheese Pizza — classic thin-crust pizza with a slightly crisp bottom, generous portion of cheese.
EVOS Mediterranean Salad — delicious salad dressing, but no toppings except for an onion slice.
EVOS Spicy Thai Chicken Wrap — great blend of flavors, rice noodles provided a crisp texture, spinach wrap complimented the flavors.
Red Mesa Barbacoa Beef Taco — generous portion of lean beef and fresh vegetables, delicious yet non-overpowering sauce.
Red Mesa Mexican Corn — tender corn, chipotle mayonnaise and Cojita cheese created a nice blend of flavors.
Red Mesa Chicken Quesadilla — generous portion of chicken and fresh vegetables, served with a delicious black bean and corn salsa.
Pipo’s Café Rice and Beans — delicious yellow rice cooked to perfection, nice blend of flavors with the black beans.
Parkshore Grill Mahi Taco — generous portion of Mahi, nice blend of flavors, lots of raw onion.
Texas Cattle Company Sauteed Mushrooms —generous portion of large mushrooms, nicely flavored marinade.
Bella Brava Grilled Vegetable Bruschetta — large variety of fresh, delicious vegetables (lots of raw onion) atop seasoned bruschetta.
Bella Brava Mini Cannolis — fresh, subtle maraschino cherry flavor, crisp cannoli shell with chocolate drizzle.
Pie Factory Vanilla Cupcake — lots of frosting but cupcake was a tad dry. (However, a variety of items were available, all of which looked delicious.)
Bob Evans Strawberry Shortcake — moist biscuit, large strawberries, lots of strawberry juice, tasty whipped cream.
Melting Pot Dark Chocolate Fondue — generous portion of rich, decadent chocolate, served with fresh strawberries, Oreo-covered marshmallows and Rice Krispies Treats.


To sum it up, it was some scrumptious food. Not only that, but I was fortunate enough to experience all three days of Taste of Pinellas experience, and it was worth every moment. It was a party for the taste buds and ears. For those of you who attended, hopefully you feel the same way. At any rate, you can feel good about contributing to such a great cause, the children and programs at All Children’s Hospital. For more information about ACH, visit their website


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