By Galen Patterson
The Arcadia Chamber of Commerce held its annual Taste of Arcadia on the evening of Sept. 23. Taste of Arcadia is a business showcase for members of the Chamber of Commerce and surrounding restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley.
Patrons gained access to three lawns at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, each packed with food, businesses, and different types of entertainment including live music and games.
Nearly 1,500 people passed through the gates at the Arboretum as the drum line from Arcadia High School beat rhythms, functioning as an audible beacon and letting everyone nearby know where the party began.
At the opening of the gates, the drum line paraded through the first two lawns, stopping at the dance floor on the south lawn, before marching off again, signaling the opening of the event. Within minutes, the lawns were full of hungry attendees.
The first lawn contained two rows of food, many of which turned out to be fan favorites, and forming lines within minutes of opening.
Among these was The Derby, a 98-year-old established restaurant that prides itself on its bar and drink program. They were serving fan favorites and something many people recommended: bread pudding.
Two hours after opening, The Derby’s line stretched across the aisle and curved to the side. More than 50 people, hours later, waited for a mere taste of The Derby, and each received a $20 gift card for the restaurant in the process.
Nearby, The Four Seasons Tea Room served finger sandwiches with a uniquely flavorful impact, cut with precision and topped with edible flower petals. The owner, Rosa Jaime, says the restaurant is particularly proud of their house vinaigrette, which is made with rose petals grown in house. She also served jamaica [hibiscus water] made with her grandmother’s recipe.
On the opposite side of the lawn, Methodist Hospital Café showed people that hospital food can be more than jello and grilled chicken. The chef meticulously prepared Kahlua pulled pork sliders and pineapple slaw. The theme of the night for them was Hawaiian, and they wanted to share their broadening menu with Arcadia.
Sandwiched between the rows of food booths were business vendors. One of these vendors was the Santa Anita Dental Group, who gave away free toothbrush kits and held a drawing for free teeth whitening at their office.
Over the chatter and conversation, a steel-drum act played time-tested hit music from many decades.
On the second lawn, a line of businesses occupied the center, one of which was a table handing out free bottles of Sriracha.
Along the sides were a mixture of food and beverage vendors, each outer wall slanting toward each other and culminating in a high concentration of local breweries, between which was a dance floor, DJ, and tables with games on them.
Here, patrons enjoyed free beer samples from the many breweries, while they played games like tic-tac-toe and giant Jenga.
One brewery, Ogopogo in San Gabriel, has been open for just over a year and distributes its beer around the Southland. One of the Ogopogo owners says they name their creations after folklore and mythological creatures. One of their signature India Pale Ales (IPA) is called Sharlie, named after the Idaho equivalent of the Loch Ness monster. The beer is named after Sharlie because they use Idaho hops to brew it.
Across the lawn sat RT Rogers Brewing Co., a family-owned and operated brewery in Sierra Madre. RT Rogers is staffed by the family: the master brewer is a son of the people that attended the booth and their other son, an art teacher, makes the art for the beer his brother creates. The proud parents manned the booth. “We eat together and we live together because we practically live there,” they said.
On the third lawn, a jazz band serenaded patrons while they enjoyed the strictly food and beverage area.
Here, nascent coffee house Republik Coffee Lounge amazed coffee fans with their dedication to the craft. They made coffee on demand for the people in different ways, offering something of a show with their product. Nader, the owner of the 2-month-old business, studied wine for 5 years and is a certified sommelier. When asked why he switched to coffee he said, “Wine has its own appeal, but coffee deserves better.”
What makes Republik unique is that everything is obsessively orchestrated to produce the best coffee they can create. The cold pour-over, made by head barista Arthur, was smooth, without so much as a bitterness that can come from black coffee. The complimentary notes that accompany the taste of pure coffee have never been more distinguished than in that cup. Repubik Coffee in Pasadena is likely to be recognized for their dedication in the future.
Mid-way through the evening, judges voted for their favorite booths on grounds of different criteria.
For Most Innovative, the award was given to the Elements restaurant for their pork belly taco. Elements is adding the winner to the appetizer section of their new menu, expected to launch within the next three weeks, according to staff. The menu must first undergo judgement by the staff, who will vote on the new additions therefore giving patrons and widely agreed-upon selection of dishes.
Best Dessert went to Brookdale Senior Living, where the staff says they want the residents of their facility to eat well and live well. They brought signature cookies that are not available anywhere else. They were masterfully crafted, with a hardened shell surrounding a soft, gooey interior. They also served cold-brew horchata, which is a blend of the famous Latino-inspired, rice-based drink and coffee brewed under cold conditions to reduce acidity. The result of Brookdale’s cuisine had people looking forward to old age.
Best Savory Dish went to Santa Anita Park, an icon of Arcadia and second home to horse racing fans in the Los Angeles area for generations.
Best in Presentation was won by the University Club of Pasadena, who prepared a visually stunning salad. The University Club is an exclusive organization that provides its members with unique culinary experiences, including bringing their kitchen into the dining area for patrons to see how they make their food.
Best in Show was claimed by Cabrera’s. Among their many salsas and margaritas, Cabrera’s covered every square inch of their table with decoration, giving the impression that this is a homemade specialty.
As the night went on, 30 or so people jumped around to House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” while others looked at new models from Lexus and BMW, and others waited in line to get their hands on The Derby’s bread pudding.
Chamber of Commerce CEO Karen McNair said in an interview with Arcadia Weekly, “I love that people are full and happy.”
When the food was gone, and the booths had closed down, the music still sounded on the southern lawn. The sun had gone down and the lights illuminated the fountain of water, around which the VIP lounge gave the aura of a European-styled cafe. Patrons with their swag bags and stomachs stuffed with the evening’s offerings left the grounds of the arboretum, generally delighted to have sampled the best that the San Gabriel Valley can share.