The third annual Taste of the Caldwells brought community members and businesses together Sunday to benefit the Caldwell-West Caldwell Education Foundation.
It also satisfied a number of taste buds along the way.
More than 300 socialized throughout Caldwell College's Student Center as food stands lined the rectangular rim of the space, leaving the center wide open to form a dining area arranged with candle-lit tables and chairs. Next to each stand was an elegantly designed sign post, indicating the name of the establishment.
More than 20 businesses contributed to the three-hour event, including Calandra's Italian Village, Caldwell Seafood, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Cupcakes Galore & More, Divina Restaurant, Edible Arrangements of Caldwell, Forte Pizzeria & Ristorante, Luce, Kings Supermarket, Ocha Japanese Cuisine, Russillo's Ristorante & Pizzeria, Sunrise Kitchens, ShopRite, Tony D's Pizza & Take-Out, Vitella's Cucina.
Participating businesses from neighboring communities included Crave Restaurant & Lounge (Fairfield), Cricket Hill Brewery (Fairfield), Coca Cola Enterprises (Parsippany), Gourmet Cafe Italian Bistro (Parsippany), Avenue Bistro Pub (Verona), Jack's Cafe (Verona), Sonny's On The Avenue (Verona), Baskin Robbins/Dunkin Donuts (West Orange).
"There's great variety," Katie Fetterman said. "The food is excellent."
Fetterman attended the event with her husband Mitch, who works in the area.
"I'm going to try some of these places," Mitch Fetterman said.
Matt Corliss, whose wife, Christine, organized the event, smiled as he enjoyed a sample variety, "The food is great, and it's all going to a good cause," he said.
Tom Kimbaris, a sophomore at James Caldwell High School, took a break from his volunteer job as a busboy to sample some of the food as well.
"It's cool that everyone gets together," he said.
At Jack's Cafe, in its second year participating, Marianne McNamara assisted her husband, Jack, distribute some of their popular dinner selections, including cupfuls of their famous cream of mushroom soup. Velvety in texture with abundant thick mushroom slices, the soup was a favorite.
"It has a rich, satisfying flavor, especially good on a rainy day like this," said Mark Gillam, one of those who sampled the soup.
Jack's pasta, with a subtle blend of tomato and spices—notably basil—was original, scrumptious and a savory delight to the taste buds.
A couple of stands away, head chef Giovanni Vitella was using only his hands and old-fashioned tools to create all-natural, homemade pasta cooked to perfection, accompanied by a signature sauce his wife prepared to make a popular dish, a treasured family recipe from Avelino, a town next to Naples in Italy.
The eggplant parmigiana, a crowd-pleasing dish that addresses vegetarian needs, was also served. A BYOB, Vitella's Cucina is a young family restaurant that opened in West Caldwell just six months ago, yet has done its share of celebrity catering.
"Everything is all natural for the pasta," Giovanni Vitella said. "Only water, salt, flour—all natural."
Ally Vitella shared that they were originally a small deli in Nutley and have been "growing through word-of-mouth."
A few paces away, scallops sizzled boisterously in pans at the stand for Caldwell Seafood. Many lined up to try the tender morsels along with shrimp coated in a delectable mustard sauce and bite-sized golden crab cakes that were both soft and slightly crispy.
King's Supermarket introduced its carrot soufflé, reminiscent of honey roasted carrots, with a melt-in-the-mouth consistency, an assortment of cheese and crackers and polenta. Catering coordinator Kim Kuscin explained that it took an hour and a half to set everything up.
At Chipotle's, staff spread spicy fillings in burrito wraps, providing a "nice mix of flavors," one patron pointed out.
In between bites, people stopped by Coca Cola Enterprises to grab a soda.
There was no shortage of desserts to choose from, either. Edible Arrangements, of Caldwell offered a variety of desserts, including chocolate-covered strawberries.
Calandra's Italian Village had carrot cakes, in addition to plain and chocolate cannoli, both kinds complete with chocolate chips. Enormous cupcakes from Cupcakes Galore & More soon paraded around on plates throughout the venue as people's sweet tooth ached with anticipation.
Two of the most popular stand offerings did not require any use of teeth, however.
First-time participant, Cricket Hill Brewery, of Fairfield, named "best-kept secret" by Wayne Magazine, featured two of its classic brews: the East Coast Lager, refreshing with "overtones of lemon," according to Rick Reed, and the American Ale, which was decidedly darker and more somber.
Reed explained that the brewery distributes throughout all of New Jersey, in addition to eastern Pennsylvania, Long Island and Maine. Whether in keeping with the upcoming St. Patrick's Day spirit or simply in search of a hearty brew, attendees lined up in droves at the Cricket Hill Brewery stand throughout the event.
Similarly, at R&R Marketing LLC, what seemed to be an endless supply of Ruffino's Chianti, Ruffino's Pinot Grigio and Kenwood Chardonnay (donated by Kenwood Vineyards of California) poured generously into glass after glass to satisfy the long lines of patrons.
In the event's final hour, some stands were already "sold-out" from the immense demand.
"We think this is a wonderful cause," said June Cowell, president of the Caldwell Merchants Association. "I'm very impressed. The turnout is terrific. Enormous variety of food available in our town."
Her friend, Linda Cane, volunteer for the Caldwell Merchants Association, commented, "I'm a resident who wants to see our town stay vital."
The third annual event certainly served the community well as one patron joked, "I'll have to be rolled out in a wheelbarrow."
The Caldwells Patch will provide more coverage, including video of the third annual Taste of the Caldwells this week.