By Marion Filler
Wondering where to go for lunch or dinner? If you attended A Taste of Morristown on Monday, you would know in a flash.
Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Morristown and Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, the event has been going strong for 17 years for good reason.
It has evolved into an ever-expanding food lovers’ fantasy. This year, 37 local restaurants, wineries, bakeries, and chocolatiers served a smorgasbord that filled two large ballrooms at the Westin Governor Morris .
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click / hover over image for captions:
Merle Johnson, president of the Morristown Rotary, said Monday might have been the organization’s biggest and best Taste so far–despite a snowstorm in the wee hours.
“This is one of the largest locations we have ever had as well. Two years ago, we had a crowd of 400 in the large ballroom, but it was so tight that we added a second ballroom so we can now accommodate 600,” Johnson said.
Although the numbers were not all tallied, she anticipated the event was close to sold out. And there never is a shortage of exhibitors.
“Many of the restaurants have been coming for years and years. We actually have a waiting list now and many sign up right after this event for next year,” Johnson said.
She expected the revenue from A Taste of Morristown to approach $40,000, and said most of that will be “ploughed back” into the Morristown community as charitable grants. Tickets for the fundraiser ranged from $65 to $100.
While there were several newcomers to the show, it was hard to find a vendor who had been in Morristown longer than Wendy Taffet of Enjou Chocolat. She stood behind a mountain of dark chocolate sea-salted caramels that were rapidly disappearing.
“I’ve been at 8 DeHart St. for 36 years,” said Taffet. “I used to be a pharmacist, always mixing things, and I always like to bake. A gentleman started Enjou for his wife who didn’t want to do it, and I came in. The rest is history.”
A very new newcomer, Fig & Lily Garden, is opening soon at 2 Cattano Ave. Erhan, a Turkish chef, was on hand to serve Mediterranean dishes such as rice pilaf and paklava, which will be featured in his restaurant.
A crowd was snapping up the pulled pork tacos at Hot Rod’s BBQ, a restaurant in Wharton also making its first appearance at A Taste of Morristown. “We’re only 15 minutes away,” said chef Anthony Sibona. “They don’t have BBQ like this in Morristown.”
Not everything was decadent. Eugene Onishkevich of Green Point Juicery, from Speedwell Avenue off the Green, was serving his signature fresh cold pressed juices and organic cupcakes to the crowd.
Born in Russia, he came to America but “after the first year, I almost wanted to move back because I couldn’t find good food,’ said Onishkevich. “But then I started juicing.”
After gaining experience working in various restaurants, he decided “to do something healthy for people and start a business at the same time.”
And of course there was Gary Fisch, who started his first store with his brother in Madison in 1987 and has expanded Gary’s Wine into Bernardsville, Wayne, Closter, and Hillsborough.
His expertise has earned him national media attention on CNN, the Food Network, and Bloomberg radio and television. Gary’s has participated in this event for “six or seven years,” and hosted several tables in both ballrooms on Monday. “There are a lot of different wines and beers. You have to have a variety,” Fisch said.
Perhaps the most notable was a $260 bottle of 2008 Cristal champagne which, according to Al Hatami, the company representative, is unique because it is the only French champagne made in a clear bottle.
It was created in 1876 for Czar Alexander II, who wanted clear glass because he was paranoid about poison and explosive devices. Unfortunately, he only got to enjoy it for a few years before his assassination in 1881. (But we still can savor it!)
The crowd seemed happy. Mayor Tim Dougherty wouldn’t be pinned down to a favorite dish, but First Lady Mary Dougherty thought Chef Fredy’s tuna tartare was “outrageous — it’s wonderful. ”
Tricia Pongracz, director of the Macculloch Hall Historical Museum, tasted A Taste of Morristown for the first time and loved chatting with the vendors, many of whom she knew. “It’s a beautiful event to see a lot of friends,” she said.
Katja van der Loo of Papyrus Home Design said she donates a design consultation every year to the Taste of Morristown auction because “I know the Rotary does such amazing things.”
Even though they were busy working the coat check, Alexis, Brendan and Jason from the Interact Club, a branch of Rotary in Morristown High School, had enough down time to enjoy the food. The lobster bisque from H2Ocean was an overwhelming favorite, a 10 out of 10.