Standing diligently over a tray of precisely chopped carrots, green beans, asparagus and peppers, Cheri Savage, owner of Heritage House Restaurant in Skowhegan, was delicately tying a chive in a bow around the arrangement of vegetables.

“Only 70 more to go,” she said with a laugh.

Savage and her staff, including head chef Bob McGowan, have been planning all week for the Elegant Dining on Common Street portion of the Taste of Greater Waterville. The sit-down portion of the event returns today after a 10-year hiatus.

The Taste of Greater Waterville is a daylong event featuring food vendors, street games and dancing, live music, children’s events and a beer garden for those of drinking age. It began in 1992 by a group effort of local restaurateurs.

A highlight of the event, which brings thousands into Waterville is a performance by Rustic Overtones starting about 9 p.m. in the beer tent.

After reintroducing the sit-down portion, event organizer Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce sought out three restaurants. Originally two, Heritage House Restaurant and 18 Below in Waterville agreed, but at the end of last week, 18 Below opted out of the dining event, citing low ticket sales, according to owner Travis LaJoy. The restaurant will still be open during the Taste.

Savage said that 18 Below opting out was unfortunate, but she was looking forward to participating again.

“I was excited the chamber called. I said I’d love to,” Savage said, adding that while she’s enjoyed visiting the event in years past, she hasn’t been involved since the elegant dining went to the wayside.

“I didn’t want to set up a stand and sell food,” she said. “This is what we do, we cater off-site all the time.”

Savage said about 70 tickets were sold for the sit-down portion, which wouldn’t generate much profit, but offered good public exposure.

“Doing 70 meals, it’s not a big money maker, with food costs high and the labor crazy,” she said. “I think you can’t get better advertising than being out there at this event.”

Originally, because of the inclusion of 18 Below and an apparent interest by Amici’s Cuisina, according to Savage, her four-course meal was designed to provide options different from the other participants.

“I figured they’d be all seafood and it would be a good option for us to do a beef entree,” Savage said.

While the balsamic charred beef tenderloin topped with Stilton cheese crumbles is the main course, a seafood cocktail appetizer featuring Maine lobster, shrimp and crab meat starts the $40 meal, followed by a locally grown mixed garden green salad with candied walnuts, pear tomatoes and homemade maple vinaigrette. The tenderloin is served with a side of fresh herb fingerling potatoes and the vegetable bundle. For dessert: a fresh berry crepe with Chantilly cream and chocolate drizzle.

“We’ve been prepping all week, it doubles everyone’s responsibilities,” Savage said. “I’ve been running around to get everything as local as possible. The actual prep started Monday. We cut and blanched the potatoes and candied the walnuts Monday night. Tuesday we’re finishing picking the lobsters.”

Savage said that they are making five salmon and haddock entrees to satisfy non-meat eaters who bought tickets from 18 Below, which was planning on serving a choice of salmon or halibut entrees.

While Savage is excited to see the sit down dining event come back, she hopes it can return to its heyday, when over a dozen restaurants took part.

“You could stand at the beginning of Main Street and look down and the street was one long dining room table,” she said. “The first year we did 60 tickets, the second year was 80, the third was 90. Then the fourth year we did 142 meals and the last year we did 168.”

The move away from the formal dining portion was a slow evolution, Sylvester said, saying the event became more family friendly over time. She added that reintroducing the sit-down portion has potentially added to the amount of attendees.

“People whom might not normally go to the taste are interested again because of the sit down,” she said, adding that they don’t see a problem with just one restaurant participating.

“Our goal is to offer something for everybody.”

The Taste runs until 11 p.m. on the Concourse and on Main Street in downtown Waterville.

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239
[email protected]

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