Thousands Throng Uptown for Taste of Charlotte

By Graham Moore
Charlotte Area News Reporter
Restaurants know the advantages of being featured at Taste of Charlotte. With crowds exceeding 100,000, the exposure is undeniable. Both new and old restaurants were featured at the festival June 8-10, but it was obvious that it is an exciting opportunity to be one of the few that are featured Uptown during the annual food festival that is growing in popularity every year.

The three-day food festival took place on South Tryon Street between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Sixth Street. With 30 restaurants featuring a variety of food, local wine and beers as well as sponsors, live music, and street performers, this year’s festival offered something for everyone. The medium of exchange at the festival is coins, which could be purchased at a few convenient places. The best deal was to get the big basket of 15 coins for $20. Most food items were one to three coins while beverages were priced at two to four coins.

Mert’s Heart and Soul knows the advantages of the exposure. While featuring three menu favorites, the Soul Roll (similar to a spring roll with chicken, black eyed peas, and collard greens) with spicy honey mustard, Three Cheese Mac, and banana pudding, they were sure to get some new customers. It is the goal of all the restaurants to have new people fall in love with their food. Tia, a representative from Mert’s, said that they “always get someone who will try and sample, then turn around and walk to Mert’s to get a full meal.” This is why Mert’s will keep coming back after already being a staple at the event for over six years. It doesn’t hurt that the banana pudding won best dessert this year either.

E2, Emeril Lagasse’s new uptown restaurant, was making its first appearance and was excited to be a part of the event. Jeff from E2 said, “Just about a week ago a spot opened up and we were thrilled to be able to take the spot” and be a part of the festival. As a new restaurant, this was a great opportunity for new people to try some food at a place they might not have known existed yet. They featured a shrimp etoufee over rice, muffaletta sliders, and almond Cheerwine pudding. The shrimp and muffaletta sliders were both big hits, Jeff said.

A third local restaurant that really enjoyed the Taste of Charlotte experience and saw benefits from their presence at the festival was Ri Ra’s Irish Pub. They offered a Freuben (deep fried Reuben), Irish potato cakes, and chicken wings with a Guinness sauce. All three are popular items on the menu, and the wings were so popular this weekend that they ran out Saturday afternoon.

There were nationally known restaurants there such as Hooters and Tony Roma’s as well as local chains such as Fuel Pizza and Hickory Tavern. But it’s the unique, locally owned restaurants which make the annual festival so special and which makes people come back every year for another taste.