I was really, really hungry by the time I made it to Taste of Bethesda Saturday. I hadn't eaten breakfast, and looking back, that was probably a good idea. By the time I was done, I had eaten so much the people at the booths selling the food tickets recognized me.
As a new Bethesda resident and a first-timer to the festival, I decided I would solicit recommendations from seasoned taste of Bethesda veterans and eat my way through the festival that way. It sort of worked. Until I realized that I can't eat nearly as much as I thought I could.
I got to the festival about a half hour before it kicked off at 11a.m. and I wandered around with my camera listening to mike checks and snapping photos. There were folks setting up booths and maneuvering food – I caught up with a few ladies from Just Cakes very carefully rolling a cart of cupcakes taller than a person down the sidewalk.
There was a calm hush over Norfolk Avenue. Seas of empty tables with colored table cloths sat waiting in front of empty stages. I knew that 40,000 people were expected, but come on. 40,000? Really?
Yes. 40,000. Really. My quest for cute children eating treats I could snap a photo of soon turned into a quest to keep from being bowled over entirely by hungry residents in search of the small, blue, coveted food tickets. And all it took was the taste of delectable butter chicken and a samosa from Shangri-La to turn me into a similar hungry beast.
"Just pick your favorite kind of food and try it," suggested Sarah Osborn, a Kensington resident and festival veteran who had stopped off with her daughters Claire, 2, Catie, 4, and Therese, 6. The girls were enjoying slices of pizza from Mia's and laughed at the delicious irony as they said "cheese" for my camera. "It's a great way to try out new restaurants."
In an attempt to stick to my plan, I cornered unwitting event-goers for guidance on where to eat next. Silver Spring resident Apollo Nguyen, trying to feed his slightly squirmy two-year-old son Kevin a bite of shrimp dumpling, suggested I check out the lamb stew at Brasserie Monte Carlo.
It was delicious, and apparently word was getting around– I waited in a line that stretched nearly across Norfolk Avenue. Anush Avetisyan, who was serving up the hearty dish on beds of rice, confirmed it was by far the restaurants' most popular dish of the day.
After the stew, though, suggestions to try Olazzo became a refrain. The Italian restaurant's stand was mobbed with hungry event-goers waiting on penne with rose cream sauce, meatballs, and canolis. "The cream sauce is delightful," said Bethesda resident Rebecca Weigle, who attended the festival with friends and her daughters Paige, 3, and Brooke, 14 months.
"Their meatballs smell amazing," I heard from someone waiting behind me. The couple ahead ordered eight canolis – to take home, they explained.
It was well worth the wait. "Where did you get that?" A woman demanded as I perched on a ledge to attack the pasta.
I had already checked off sliders from BGR and a lemon crepe from the Original Pancake House from my list before I decided it was time for dessert. Well, more dessert, technically. "Just Cakes," suggested Bethesda resident Stacie Feldman. "They have the best cupcakes I've ever tasted."
I opted for the neoplitan on vanilla. I would have gone for my favorite, red velvet, but "we ran out immediately," apologized the woman serving me the treat.
At this point, the sun had already started to sink in the sky and it was getting increasingly difficult to maneuver my way through the crowds that seemed to grow by the half hour. That, and I was pretty sure there was absolutely no way I could eat anymore. But I left Taste of Bethesda feeling a little more familiar with the restaurant community here, and confident that festival-goers had pointed me to some of the best selections of the day. We'll just see how much I can eat next year.