Webster’s Bookstore Cafe owner Elaine Meder-Wilgus prepares a sample during the 2016 Centre County Taste of the Town event at the Penn State Hotel and Conference Center. This year’s event will feature more than 30 vendors. Abby Drey Centre Daily Times, file
Webster’s Bookstore Cafe owner Elaine Meder-Wilgus prepares a sample during the 2016 Centre County Taste of the Town event at the Penn State Hotel and Conference Center. This year’s event will feature more than 30 vendors. Abby Drey Centre Daily Times, file

Food & Drink

Local restaurants to bring their best to Taste of the Town

By Holly Riddle

November 17, 2017 11:26 AM

Community members will soon be able to take a culinary tour of Centre County — for a great cause — during the annual Centre County United Way Taste of the Town event.

Held Dec. 3 at the Penn Stater Conference Center from 5-8 p.m. (an hour earlier than previous years), the evening is described by Centre County United Way Executive Director Tammy Gentzel as “a very low-key event that’s designed to allow people to socialize.”

More than 30 vendors will participate this year.

“When a guest comes in, they’ll be given a seat and some information so they can bid on silent and live auction items, if they want to,” Gentzel said. “They’ll serve themselves from this giant buffet of all this incredible food, and once the event gets started, it’s not at all unusual that people will ... end up at a different table, because they see someone they haven’t seen in a while, and they want to stop to chat.”

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The vendors appearing range from long-time participants — Spats Cafe, The Tavern, Legend’s, Cafe Lemont, The Dining Room at the Nittany Lion Inn and Benjamin’s Catering — to newcomers arriving on the scene just this year.

“There’s Bake Shop Bakes, which does incredible desserts and breakfast rolls,” Gentzel said. “They’re actually located just south of us in Blair County, but they do a lot of business in Centre County.”

Also new to the event is Barranquero Cafe and Valley Girl Sweets, and there’s also relative newcomer Big Spring Spirits, which has been at the event for the past two years and is returning.

“Gigi’s Southern Table should get a shoutout too, because they’ve only been with us a few years, and they’ve really enjoyed the experience, and are back again this year,” Gentzel said.

Each will serve up large samples of signature menu items, and guests are encouraged to mix and match their choices to create a multi-course dinner that fits their own tastes perfectly.

“You get little pieces of everything,” Gentzel said. “Instead of hopping from restaurant to restaurant, you just walk around the room and get what you really enjoy.”

Two vendors are serving up alcoholic beverages — Big Spring Spirits and Mount Nittany Vineyard and Winery — and there’s also a cash bar.

Behind the scenes, a team of volunteers is hard at work for the majority of the year to confirm restaurant participants, collect silent auction items, register guests and then make sure everyone is having a good time the night of the event.

Beyond the food, the silent and live auctions are, according to Gentzel, a great place to stock up on holiday gifts. There’s more than 100 items available, including jewelry, sports paraphernalia, art, gift baskets and certificates. The big prize this year? A helicopter ride, giving one lucky guest an unbeatable view of Happy Valley.

About 500 attendees are expected, with tickets going fast. Interested guests are encouraged to go register online at www.ccunitedway.org. While registration at the door has been an option in the past, Gentzel warns they’ve sold out for two years in a row.

Tickets are $75 per person, and everything raised goes directly to United Way-funded programs.

“When people support those programs, they’re making sure families and individuals ... are helped in a very holistic way,” Gentzel said. “If we encounter a family who is struggling to put food on the table, money would go to help with that, but it doesn’t just go to the food bank to help — it goes to the weekend backpack program that the YMCA offers, or it goes to help make sure (the elderly) who are in long-term care facilities at the House of Care get good, nutritious food.”

If someone can’t pay for food, Gentzel said it’s also the case that they can’t pay for other things, so the United Way’s partner network steps in with other programs.

“Maybe we’re helping the family find good employment, or helping them repair their roof or maybe we’re helping them cover the cost of some medical care,” she said. “Whatever it might be that we need to do to help ... all of our agencies work as a team to step in and support those needs. Everything raised from the event goes directly to that (effort).”

If that wasn’t enough of a reason to stop in for the area’s best food, fellowship and a chance at winning some amazing auction items, Gentzel added, “It’s a wonderful way to spend a Sunday evening, to relax, unwind and get ready for the Christmas and New Year holidays.”

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at holly.ridd@gmail.com.