On food trucks and festivals...
With the wife out of town, I took the boys down to the riverfront this past weekend for guys night out at the Charlie West Blues Fest. In addition to smokin' hot music, we also enjoyed our fair share of fine fair food.
And while I'll admit the boys' giant cheeseburgers, footlong corndogs and towering tropical ices looked yummy, they couldn't hold a candle to what I discovered.
You should have seen my face as we were walking past concession after concession of deep-fried you-name-it and I suddenly saw a shining beacon of salvation in the distance.
The Bistro food truck!
I got the little guys settled and then sunk my teeth into Bridge Road Bistro's delicious steak soft taco topped with mango-pepper salsa and a crispy pulled pork and black bean empanada. Other options on the truck included a shrimp taco, a chorizo empanada and a trio of cold soups.
As we hit the summer fair and outdoor concert circuit, I'm sure I'll slip and gnaw on a giant turkey leg at some point. But I'm telling you, the Bistro food truck is definitely my new go-to stop on the concession strip.
Speaking of restaurants taking their goodies on the go, I had the pleasure of judging the third annual Taste of Putnam food fest Sunday at Valley Park in Hurricane.
With more than a dozen restaurants peddling their tasty wares, I sampled nearly 30 different items (yep, I counted) before dropping my fork and declaring winners in two different categories.
Among all entrees, L&R Custom Catering's BBQ Beef Brisket came out on top. Slow cooked to tender, juicy perfection and bathed in barbecue sauce, that brisket was exquisite.
In the special dish category (covering appetizers, soups, salads or desserts) The Greenhouse of Teays Valley's awesome Smokelahoma Baked Beans bested all others. Based on an "everything but the kitchen sink" recipe from barbecue master Stephen Raichlen, these babies were cooked with bacon, onions, garlic, green pepper, molasses, barbecue sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and - whew! - cider vinegar.
Although those two dishes were clear front-runners in my book, several other nice items were offered.
I liked Sleepy Hollow Golf Club's fresh crabcake sliders with creamy and spicy chipotle aioli, CAMC Teays Valley's herb-crusted pepperoni roll, Barnyard BBQ's ribs and the pulled pork sliders from Ridgeview BBQ, which won best entree for their smoked ribs last year.
I also still loved The Greenhouse's grilled romaine lettuce with olive oil, bacon bits, walnuts and tomato vinaigrette - last year's winner in the special dish category.
In the people's choice awards, Sleepy Hollow's crabcake sliders (my runner-up) won best entree, and FireSide Grille's bread pudding with maple bourbon sauce won best special dish.
After the Taste of Putnam awards were presented and I was making my way off stage, a pretty cool thing happened. The folks from the new Power UP Grill came up and asked me to critique their food. Like, to their faces.
The woman said they're serious about serving delicious food and wanted to know what I really thought of theirs - good, bad or indifferent. How refreshing.
So I told her exactly what I thought. The chicken teriyaki had nice flavor but was just a tad overcooked. Their grilled steak fajita wrap was cooked to perfect temperature and texture - really nice and juicy - but could have used a touch more seasoning.
Still, their food was in the upper tier of what I tasted. Great day all around.
Contact writer Steven Keith at email@example.com or 304-348-1721. You can also follow him on Facebook and Pinterest as "DailyMail FoodGuy," on Twitter as "DMFoodGuy" or read his blog at http://blogs.dailymail.com/foodguy.