By Mark Hodgins
BELLEVILLE – The Summerlicious Taste Challenge  food festival had the streets of downtown Belleville packed on Saturday with people looking to try what local restaurants have to offer.
Karen Parker, executive director of the Belleville Downtown Improvement Area , said the sixth annual event did a wonderful job of bringing people back to the downtown.
“There was an increase in foot traffic, everyone was enjoying themselves and it was the perfect day for it. It was a good opportunity for people to come to their favourite restaurant and try something new, or come and check out some restaurants they may not have been to yet,” she said.
The BDIA and Foodland Ontario  worked together to put on the event. One of the main selling points was that all the food had to in some way use local ingredients in the recipe. After tasting the samples, visitors had a chance to head down to the BDIA office and cast their vote to determine who had the best dish of the day.
There was a little bit of everything, from fruit smoothies and chocolate-covered strawberries at Edible Arrangements to water-buffalo sliders and garlic fries at the Empire Burger Company.
In total, 12 restaurants took part, including Cheech’s Cozy Grill, Bourbon St. Pizza, Earl and Angelo’s and the Modern Café.
Autumn Benjamin of Debbie’s Restaurant was there offering a homemade strawberry rice pudding, and juice boxes for the kids. She said the turnout was better this year than ever before.
“It’s doing really well actually. They … got the horse and buggy out, and people seem to be having a really good time,” said Benjamin. “It’s nice to see the people come out and enjoy themselves.”
The DBIA and the restaurants involved chipped in to pay for horse-drawn carriage rides around downtown, free for anyone who came out to Summerlicious.
Like Parker, Benjamin said the event does a good job of bringing people back to the restaurants and downtown.
“It’s nice for the businesses, because a lot of the time it’s not busy downtown – so definitely gotta get people down here and let them know what’s going on, because we’re here.”
When stopping by the DBIA office to vote for their favourite restaurant, visitors were encouraged to drop off a non-perishable food item to help out Gleaners Food Bank.