The indoor picture was taken before the event started. I swear people actually came.
This was my first year on the committee that planned the Taste of Ocala, so the whole event was very new to me.
Throughout the past few years, the Taste of Ocala apparently had more of a casual picnic or barbeque feel. The purpose of the Taste of Ocala is to raise money for scholarships for students at the College of Central Florida and when the event stopped bringing in as much money as it previously did when it first began and was a formal affair, the decision was made to return it to its original roots and make it formal again this year.
Leading up to tonight, the event received some negative press and push-back from people in the community who were upset by the change since it meant higher ticket prices, though it seemed that many thought the event was simply a community event put on by the city and didn’t realize its purpose was to raise money for scholarships.
Anyway, we were all a little nervous about how the turn out would be, so when we saw ticket sales pick up this week and a bustling event this evening, I think everyone relaxed a bit and felt good about the change. It was a really fun night filled with great food and everyone seemed to be enjoying the cuisine and drinks.
Taste of Ocala
Ryan and I arrived at the event nice and early!
(Don’t worry, I flipped his jacket collar down as we walked inside when I noticed it after this picture.)
I helped set up for the event until around 4 p.m. today and then rushed home and changed before heading back out with Ryan to be there to assist with last minute things.
Do you like Ryan’s half-face?
We took that picture using the Instagram app which is new to me since I have an android phone and the app just became available for android users. I’m still getting the hang of it and obviously Ryan and I struggle with taking phone photos. He half-faced himself so please enjoy a little too much Julie-face.
The Taste of Ocala took place at the College of Central Florida inside a big conference/banquet room and outside in the courtyard.
Fourteen restaurants participated in the event and made the most incredible food. I left feeling absolutely stuffed.
Ryan and I sampled dishes from every restaurant and went in with a strategy. We started with all savory food and then tackled the sweets.
I tend to want to make a beeline for the desserts at these kind of events and end up missing out on a lot of the entrée-style dishes because I feel sick after experiencing a sugar overload.
I tried my best to pace myself and it worked for the most part even though I still ended up ridiculously full. But I wasn’t nauseous-full, so that’s progress, right?
There wasn’t much I didn’t like, but there were certain dishes that absolutely blew me away.
That little baby is shrimp and grits from The Braised Onion. Both Ryan and I gave it five stars. It was both of our top pick for the best savory dish of the night.
My runner-up for best savory dish came from the culinary students at CTAE.
Underneath that piece of perfectly-cooked filet mignon was a pillow of lobster mashed potatoes that were unreal. They were incredible and I went back for two more portions.
Aside from eating, the Taste of Ocala had a few other forms of entertainment ranging from live music to photo ops and raffles.
One thing I had never heard of before was a diamond raffle!
Ocala’s Lady Jeweler donated a one-carat diamond to the event and people could pay $60 to try to win it.
They had to select it from the choices below…
There were a bunch of cubic zirconia’s and only one diamond. There was no way of telling which one was the diamond. Believe me, I tried!
Each little box was labeled with a number on the bottom and at the end of the night, the winning number was revealed and you found out whether or not you had the real diamond. Neat, huh?
Back to the food…
That dish was a decadent bread pudding made by The Braised Onion. Apparently the chef made it using a recipe he learned from Princess Diana’s chef who said it was her absolute favorite. It was very good!
My favorite desserts of the night were a chocolate crème brulle from Mesa de Notte and a chocolate mousse from La Cuisine.
I didn’t expect any of the restaurants to provide drinks (beer and wine were served for free from the bar), so when I saw Great American Coffee Roasters passing out iced caramel macchiatos, I immediately got in line!
The drink was perfectly sweet and I practically gulped it down.
I spoke with the people behind the booth and they told me that they are a relatively new coffee shop in Ocala. When I said I work from home and sometimes like to use coffee shops to get out of the house to get some work done, they said that they have free wi-fi and encouraged me to bring my computer and come on by sometime. Apparently a lot of people use their little shop as a pseudo-office.
I can’t wait to pay them a visit and get myself one of those macchiatos!
And now I my eyes are closing and it’s time for me to put this full belly to bed.
Sleep well, my friends!