WATERVILLE — Thousands of merrymakers flocked to downtown Waterville on Wednesday for the city’s 25th annual Taste of Waterville celebration.

As they meandered down Main Street, locals and visitors were greeted by scents from around the globe, from the spicy notes of chicken tikka masala wafting from the Jewel of India’s booth to the creamy chicken alfredo roll-ups from the Parsonage House.

The festival kicked off early with a children’s petting zoo, full of friendly, hungry goats and grumpy alpacas. Children tromped up the steps of a massive inflatable slide in the shape of a tiger and threw themselves around in a nearby bounce house.

By late afternoon, the event was in full swing with live music drifting from a stage in Castonguay Square and vendors lining Waterville’s main drag, which was closed to traffic for the evening.

Joyce Poulin, 73, and Wilfred Caron, 94, of Winslow, arrived early and set up two folding chairs in front of the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center, an ideal perch for people-watching. The couple, partners on and off the dance floor for 19 years, said they were well versed in the Taste of Waterville event, having attended every one since its inception. As they sat waiting for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to join them, they greeted a long series of friends and acquaintances and planned their next moves.

“It’s a good gathering. There’s lots for the kids to do,” Poulin mused. “He’s here for the doughboys,” she said, pointing to her companion. “I’m waiting for Chinese food,”

As the couple noted, the food on offer ran the gamut, with Italian booths bumping up against Southern barbecue. Friends and family manned the Amici’s Cucina booth, serving up the Waterville mainstay’s pesto and mozzarella stuffed ciabatta, chicken parmigiana sandwiches and meatballs (the best balls in town, as their T-shirts proclaimed).

“It’s good fun,” said Al Berkowitz, who along with his wife, Gianna, traveled from Revere, Massachusetts, to help out in what has become an annual family tradition. “We have a good time and we get to be with family.”

Next door, Pete’s Pig Southern BBQ served up tender pulled pork and brisket sandwiches, while Mainely Brews offered fish or beef tacos, rice and beans, crab dip and lobster stew.

Up the street, Lori Dumont swapped in another tray of steaming chicken alfredo rolls as friends staffed the cash register. It was Dumont’s second go at Taste of Waterville, and this year she came prepared. After having prepared 125 meals last year and run out of food within an hour of opening up shop, this year Dumont spent more than five hours preparing 240 meals along with 200 portions of bread pudding. While she still hoped to run out, and was on pace to do so, she had a little more wiggle room.

Lorene and Bernice Roccom, 64 and 87, of Melbourne, Florida, happily tore into one of Dumont’s chicken alfredo rolls. The mother and daughter have been coming to Maine for eight years to stay at a family home on East Pond in Oakland, but it was their first time at the Taste event.

“It’s wonderful,” Lorene said, taking another bite of the pasta dish. “I love the chicken alfredo, but maybe the bread pudding is my favorite.” She dipped a spoon in just to be sure.

Farther along, staff members of MaineGeneral Medical Center offered some lighter fare, with grilled chicken burgers and a quinoa-and-three-berry salad with chevre among other locally sourced dishes.

The hospital has worked to overcome the infamous reputation of hospital food, offering delicious and nutritious meals and even nabbing prizes from Taste of Waterville over the last two years.

“This is a great opportunity for us, because this is actually the food we serve at the hospital,” chief operating officer Paul Stein said. “We’ve had people come to the hospital just to eat because they had the food here.”

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

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Twitter: @KateRMcCormick

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