Fine Arts and Fest

No Tiny Taste

32nd Annual Taste of Cincinnati offers up big fun for friends, family, and food-lovers.
Chad W. Lutz
I could already hear the music thundering as I made my way out of the parking garage. The crumbling walls of the 6th street parking deck ached as heavy bass and a soaring guitar harmony twisted through the busy city streets. The smell of pasta and pizza and burgers and bratwurst invaded my sinuses before I even set foot on the street and the sound of locals laughing and jeering was unmistakable. Cincinnati was alive, that much was for sure.

Held every year, the annual Taste of Cincinnati stands as one of the Queen City’s most-heralded traditions. You could tell people really enjoyed the festival walking around. Cincinnati is one of the countries most violent cities, specifically the area notoriously known as “Over The Rhine.” Perennially ranked as one of the most likely places to get stabbed (among many other nasty things) I always hold my breath, if only slightly, every time I wander down around those parts. Though the festival was being held more toward the river shore, you never know what to expect in the Natti.
2011 Taste of Cincinnati (Lutz/2011)
Celebrating its 32nd year, I attended the 31st edition of the annual festival in 2010 and was in high hopes for my return bout. Music, food, beer; the Taste of Cincinnati has all the elements of a college kegger with the feel and appeal of a family gathering. Thousands of local residents and people from all over the state gather in the city once known as Porkopolis to pig out and rock out to their hearts contents. America: at its finest.
What would a festival be without a naked cowboy? (Lutz/2011)
The crowds were already amassing when I arrived on scene. In the middle of a freak heat wave dousing most of Ohio with temperatures in the high-hell range, the looks on people’s faces said it all. It was hot. Sweat soaked shirts and expressions drained of anything but the desire to drink, the crowds meandered and crawled along the 6-block strip. A bank clock flashed 88 degrees. I felt mocked, but was on assignment and kept moving.

Every ten feet a new smell would infiltrate the senses. Normally, random heavy smells generally spell nasal disaster, but in the case of the Taste was perfectly acceptable. Chinese, Thai, Korean, German, Mexican, Americana; delicious culinary treats lined up like orphans on display. However, orphans you could eat and not worry about making the others feel bad for not choosing them instead. If I had it my way, I would have chosen them all. But with a dieting wallet and a belly already full of homemade quesadilla, I could only stomach, and honestly afford, two tiny tastes. One of them pandering to my German heritage; a $4 Mettswurst from the Mecklenberg Gardens booth and the other an ode to my love of everything Eastern; delicious edamame from Shanghai Mama’s.
A mouthwatering Mettswurst from Mecklenberg Gardens (Lutz/2011)
My food choices were tough decisions to come to. It’s not everyday you’re presented with six blocks of reasonably priced gourmet and original food to choose from. The opportunity alone is enough to cause confusion, even to the lowest-grade foodies. Andy’s Mediterranean Grille, Cock & Bull English Pub, Behle Street Café, Keystone Bar & Grille, Du Jours, Izzy’s, Mac’s, Buffalo Wings & Rings; the list goes on and on. If it wasn’t for the heat I don’t think I would have had any rational reason to explain the swirling sensation I felt rising from my stomach and exploding in my head. Seemingly endless combinations of foods brought together in one convenient location. The only thing better than the food were the spirits of the people resident to a decaying city.

Now, I have love for Cincinnati, but anyone who lives, frequents or has visited the Queen City in recent years has to admit it’s seen better times. With the exception being last decade, Cincinnati has seen a significant drop in population every decade since the 1950s. Business continues to thrive, but crime and poverty have almost swallowed every bit of progress the City by River tries to make. However, despite all of its social setbacks, Cincinnati receives most of its help from someone you might least expect.

Though you might not know it, Cincinnati is home to some of the world’s most influential companies. Names like Proctor & Gamble, Convergys, Kroger, Macy’s Inc., Fifth Third Bank, American Financial Group, and Chiquita Brands International all claim residence 45202. Pulling in a collective $198 billion in annual revenues, excluding Cincinnati Bell, Cincom Systems, Western & Southern Financial Group, and The E.W. Scripps Company, Cincinnati is a proverbial Fortune 500 hotspot. One company in particular, P&G, seems to take an extra sense in personal pride when it comes to the city it calls home and regularly shows its pride by hosting events like the Taste of Cincinnati.
Proud Sponsor P&G (Lutz/2011)
In 2009, P&G became the first title sponsor of the Taste of Cincinnati. P&G also acts as a primary sponsor for the Flying Pig Marathon; an annual event held every spring that attracts thousands of athletes and spectators alike. I’ve attended both events the past two years and there appears to be a lasting effect, a slow trickle snaking its way through the dilapidated and crumbling Germanic inner-city neighborhoods. Signs of new life have already begun to show in some of Cincinnati’s most notorious neighborhoods, specifically Over The Rhine. Restoration projects, cleaner streets, and a safer all-around atmosphere are slowly replacing what once stood as one of the most dangerous downtown areas in Ohio and the U.S.

So while I might have been out to get a tiny taste of a local, time-honored tradition, it appears I came up with a little bit more to chew on. It’s raining right now, storming. A few minutes ago all I could hear was the sound of liquid atmosphere pounding at the shingles four-feet above my head. But the storm has passed and I can see signs of the sun behind the twilight haze. Maybe the storm has passed for Cincinnati? Ohio, and the rest of the country, has been shrouded in an awkward uneasiness; a political and social unrest propagated by an unstable infrastructure and the uncertainty as to where it might lead us in the near future and for many years to come. Perennially vilified, Corporate America gave me some food for thought as I walked up and down Sixth St. I saw the very people who curse its name laughing, smiling, jeering, chatting. I saw families, friends, mothers, daughters, husbands, wives; people of all ages sharing in something memorable, or at least of nostalgic proportions. While we may never see the resurgence of the Queen City in our lifetimes, Cincinnati may be headed toward brighter days with a little help from an unexpected friend along the way.