SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Wafts of aroma from still-hot samples of prime rib, sizzling scallops chattering in the pan and specialties like chicky chorizo burger and Texas caviar salsa, floated through the large big top tent at Clark Farms in Matunuck.
The smell alone teased out hunger in some strolling past table after table where these and other samples from local restaurants appealed to nearly any palate, no matter how traditional or adventuresome.
This Taste of Southern Rhode Island — the eighth annual — is the autumn forget-me-not recipe of local restaurants and sellers of spirits to show area residents a renewed love after a summer fling with temporary tourists.
“We end up staying away from our favorite places in the summer because they’re so busy. In the late fall and winter we get them back, so they’re ours again,” explained Elizabeth Berman, outgoing director of the event sponsor, the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.
“The reason we do this event at the end of October is that we really want to make sure that it is for locals. It’s for the people who support our restaurants during the winter as well as in other times of the year,” she added.
Nearly 40 restaurants, distilleries and breweries set out their food in a big square under the large white tent last Thursday evening for the fall reunion of area residents and their local purveyors of food and drink.
“For us in particular it’s getting the people in during the off-season, getting the locals back that may have avoided the place in the summer when it is crowded with tourism,” said Will Gaulin, assistant general manager of George’s seafood restaurant in Galilee.
“We like to bring them back in the fall. We like to get the word out to let people know we’re still cranking down at George’s,” he said, noting that, like other restaurants, his offers different menu selections and even special pricing during the fall to attract local residents’ business.
Emily Burns, manager of Crazy Burger, 144 Boon St., in Narragansett, echoed similar sentiments.
“Having just the opportunity to be here is a big help, just being a presence in the community to remind people that we exist going into the off-season,” she said, offering up some of her chicky chorizo cooked vegan style. “We always like to bring something that is vegan and gluten-free to this event,” she added.
Jonathan Beres of Tilly’s Cheese Steaks, 3711 Kingstown Rd., West Kingston, prepared Texas caviar salsa, which is a mixture of black eyed peas, black beans, cilantro, onions, pepper, sea salt, avocado and lime juice.
”We’re here to show our versatility. Our big thing is that we do house-made, handmade fast food without the guilt,” he said about his healthy-style menu.
Another West Kingston-based taste purveyor was the Shaidzon Beer Co., located at 141 Fairgrounds Road. Started just two years ago, it offers a variety of beers for those seeking a European taste, said co-owner Chip Simpson.
“The one thing we focus on is an effort on globally-inspired beers. We try to keep options open for a lot of people with different tastes,” he said.
Visitors under the tent found the variety and welcoming conversations with owners, representatives of businesses and the chefs an added spice to this event’s mix that they said encourages them to expand their culinary desires.
“We always like to frequent these kinds of events. It’s a great opportunity to sample and taste a lot what foods you normally wouldn’t,” said Larry Eidelman, of Green Hill, who came with his wife, Karen.
“I think it’s great for people who want to get out and see what everything’s about. There’s a lot of restaurants here. There’s a lot of restaurants we’re not familiar with so I’m looking forward to sampling them,” he added.
Marcia Izzi moved in July from Boston to South County. She’s a self-described “foodie.”
“I am just thrilled at the variety they have here and the quality of the food. There’s only been a few restaurants I’ve been to and this is a great way to see what I like,” she said. Marc Archambault, a broker with Randall Realtors, agreed that the event helps new people meet others and become familiar with local restaurants.
Mark Bennison, advanced culinary instructor and chef, at Exeter Jobs Corps, a federally funded education and career technical training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor for those 16 to 24 year-old, brought several of his students and their many-flavored desserts.
On their table, the students prepared any variety of over-sized desserts of all kinds, including chocolate cakes, cheese cakes and other samplings topped with whipped cream and cherries.
“I want to show them that the students can do anything. I want to show people what the program is, what our expectations are of them and to help them get jobs… and also prove to the kids that they can do it, that they can do anything,” said Bennison.
Last year the Job Corps students won best in the show for their wide variety of culinary talents, he said, adding that Job Corps provide these services to scores of non-profit and other organizations during the year.
Alix Tillett also came to check out the event and might bring her business next year. It will open shortly in Wakefield, said Tillett, who came with friend and real estate agent Karen Follett of Mott-Chase’s Narragansett office.
Tillett said her business is named BOL, which will offer nutritionally dense “superfoods” including smoothie bowls, smoothies, and beverages. It will be in the former gas station and glass-making shop at 318 Main St., Wakefield.
Follett looked around the crowded tent. She’s lived in South Kingstown and Narragansett for more than 40 years. Like many others, she said she enjoys the experience of
“I just wanted to be part of the South County vibe, to network and to enjoy all the restaurants we love,” she said.