By Tina Alvey
The focus was on food on a beautiful autumn Saturday in Greenbrier County as the 28th annual Taste of Our Towns street festival got under way.
Tourists were snapping photos of the “Battle of Lewisburg” historic marker on the lawn of Academy Park, while youngsters queued up waiting their turn inside the “bouncy castle” in the Kids’ Zone.
“Isn’t it a gorgeous day?” said Annie Jeffus, who was clad in a cardigan covered in a colorful autumn leaf design as she and her husband, Jeff, enjoyed bowls of The Greenbrier Sporting Club’s shrimp and grits.
Seated at the same communal table set up in Stratton Alley next to City Hall, Karen Guills marveled at how the T.O.O.T. festival has grown in terms of size and popularity.
“I come to T.O.O.T. every year,” Guills said, noting she even attended the first version of the festival nearly 30 years ago. “They only had fried chicken made by the Bolling Alumni and pumpkins that a church group brought in to sell. Now, it’s enormous, but there wasn’t anyone here for the first one.”
Guills planned to sample as many as possible of the tasty treats offered at the nearly 50 vendor booths, but said she prefers to just “wing it” rather than plan out a strategy ahead of time. She’s not one of those who get a vendor map in advance and circle the target booths, she said.
“I look at the map, but then I just walk around and see what looks interesting,” she said.
Guills said her early favorites this year included the shrimp and grits and pumpkin cheesecake from The Greenbrier Sporting Club and Draper’s chicken pot pie from The Greenbrier.
Area restaurants participating in the 2012 T.O.O.T. festival included Food & Friends, Bella Casa, Stardust Cafe, Stuart’s Smokehouse, The Livery and Stella’s.
Bella Casa had the advantage of setting up a booth right in front of the restaurant’s garden dining space, and employee Ann Croom was delighted with the placement.
In between dishing up sample sized portions of some of Bella Casa’s Italian favorites, Croom explained why one of Lewisburg’s newest restaurants was participating in the T.O.O.T. event, which is designed as a fundraiser for Carnegie Hall.
“It’s a great community involvement opportunity,” Croom said. “Plus, we’ve only been here for a about a year-and-a-half, and people are still finding out about us, so this is a good way to introduce ourselves to more potential customers.”
Croom, who also works at one of Bella Casa’s owners’ restaurants in Beckley, said working at a T.O.O.T. booth has only one drawback: she wouldn’t be able to stroll around the festival and sample even more food.
“I’m hoping someone will bring me something to try,” she confided.
Booths featuring the food of The Livery and Stella’s, which are owned and operated by siblings, stood side-by-side near Cooper Gallery.
“We want to help contribute to the community in any way we can,” said Nancy Stewart of Stella’s, which featured slices of pumpkin roll as a lighter alternative to The Livery’s hearty pork belly with brown beans and cornbread.
Described by restaurateur Reed Van Den Berghe as “lightly smoked pork, softer than bacon,” the pork belly is also on the menu at The Livery, a fine dining establishment that only recently opened its doors across from the post office in Lewisburg.
Those just starting out in their culinary careers also had the opportunity to feed the multitudes at T.O.O.T. Saturday, as the Greenbrier East High School ProStart students dished up lamb stew over cheese ramp grits, apple crisp with cinnamon cream, mini cinnamon donuts and lemonade.
Richard Boykin noted the students had prepared 200 cups of lemonade and six trays of apple crisp for the festival.
“The (ProStart) classes are really hands-on,” he said.
Boykin and fellow ProStart students Olivia Slater and Jeffrey Ward explained that participants in the program also bake and sell cookies as a Christmas fundraiser and prepare and serve meals to GEHS’s teachers two or three times a year, in addition to catering school gatherings and even a wedding last year.
Taste of Our Towns is held the second Saturday of October each year. All vendors split their proceeds with Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg.
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