GARDINER — On the fourth day of Hanukkah, latkes — potato pancakes fried in hot oil — graced a special afternoon buffet at Alex Parkers Steakhouse, along with smoked salmon, bagels, applesauce and sour cream.
It was the fifth annual latke festival, and organizer Susan Montell of Gardiner greeted diners as they came in through the door. Most arrived a little late, driving slowly because of slippery roads.
There were families with children, such as Montell’s; Rabbi Erica Asch, of Temple Beth El in Augusta; and several other people. In all, some 40 people were expected.
This was the first year the festival was hosted by the steakhouse, which opened last April, but owner Peter Powers, who staffed the deep frying pan full of oil where the latkes puffed up and turned a light golden brown, brought his recipe from Boca Raton, Fla.
“We take diced potato and dice it even finer and make a batter of milk, eggs, salt, pepper and flour and mix it up and let it sit for four hours,” Powers said. “Then we fry them up and they explode. The kids love them. We have a little fun with it and let the kids get excited about it. It’s not the same old thing.”
He said he and co-owner Harold Royals put their own touches on a lot of things.
Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, is an eight-day commemoration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, and it’s the hot oil rather than the potato cakes that honor the Jewish tradition. Asch said it celebrates the miracle of an oil supply that was supposed to burn for one day actually lasting for eight days.
Asch said the temple is holding a Hanukkah party and latke cookoff at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the temple at 3 Woodlawn Ave., Augusta.
On Sunday, latke lovers could stay after the feast and watch festivities associated with the city of Gardiner’s tree-lighting ceremony.
Several of the children, including 10-year-old twins Fiona and Annabel Ladner-Hudson, were to dance as part of the Ampersand Academy’s performance.
Anabel said her favorite dishes were the latkes and applesauce, and Fiona was working on her second latke.
“We try to come every year,” said their mother, Stacy Ladner. “We don’t cook them at home, but we do enjoy them when we have them out.”
Jolene Ladd, of Gardiner, who had a plate with bagels topped with salmon and latkes and sauce, said she hadn’t had latkes in years. “I remember them as very crunchy and very different,” she said. “These are good, especially with the hot sauce.”
She said a friend was supposed to accompany her, “but she went on a diet.”
Sitting with Daniel Lane, owner of The Village Jeweler and Diamond District, Montell’s father, Jim, polished off his food, labeling it as delicious. “I’ve been here before to eat, and I’ve never been disappointed.”
As more families came through the doorway and spread throughout the two-story restaurant, Susan Montell said she was headed out later with her son who was helping to cook a turkey outdoors with Boy Scout Troop 672 at the American Legion Post in Gardiner.