It was a foodie’s delight Oct. 8 at the 40 Club Convention Center in Aitkin.
With six area restaurants and food stores stepping up, the annual “Taste of Aitkin” event went off without a hitch – albeit with a smaller guest total than normal.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Aitkin Area Chamber was forced to limit attendees to just 75 people in each of two seatings. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Taylor Erickson said before the start of the evening that about 110 tickets had been sold.
By the end of the evening, those 110 attendees produced a People’s Choice winner – Block North Brew Pub, for the second year in a row.
Block North put out Brew Pub Sliders – a mini hamburger with bacon, smoked cheddar cheese and an eater’s selection of ketchup and a dijon aioli – as well as a decadent five-cheese macaroni and cheese.
The main street restaurant edged out the field in what Erickson said was an extremely close race. She said that both The Beanery and The Joint – who were second and third – were within a few votes.
“It’s always really close, but this year was even closer,” she said. “I think everyone who comes really appreciates these businesses going all out, in terms of taste and presentation.”
Block North owner Peter Lowe said that the Taste event is about more than just winning.
“It was pretty cool,” Lowe said. “It’s a fun event, whether we win or lose.
“It’s fun that that many restaurants still want to put something out,” he added. “It’s more about the camaraderie of it all.”
Like many of the stations, Lowe saw people coming back for more.
“We did quite a few seconds,” he added.
The other ballot choices offered a wide variety of choices. For example, while the 40 Club Restaurant offered a southwest chicken rice bowl – complete with black beans, corn, tomatoes, green peppers, onions and sriracha ranch – the convention center prepared a pumpkin cream cheese pie for dessert.
The Beanery, meanwhile, provided A sample of the “Heart of Aitkin” panini (artichoke dip, spinach and turkey on cranberry wild rice bread) along with a maple-pecan scone for dessert.
Gramma’s Pantry had an artisan sampler platter with different kinds of cheese, salsa and chips, pita bread and two different kinds of hummus – carrot sriracha and lemon dill – and chocolate-banana granola for dessert.
The Joint Tavern and Eatery, meanwhile, offered wings for those from simple to adventurous, with “naked,” “cajun,” “buffalo,” and, finally, “inferno.” All came with a choice of dipping sauces that included ranch, blue cheese and, of course, inferno.
“As a whole, we were just really happy to see community members spend time together safely,” Erickson said. “We appreciate everyone’s generosity in coming and enjoying the event.”