A happy crowd of more than 10,000 residents and tourists descended upon four blocks of downtown Durango on Sunday afternoon, with people winding their way through a sampling spree of fare from more than 30 Durango restaurants.
The annual Taste of Durango, a fundraiser presented by the Durango Branch of the Colorado Restaurant Association to benefit Manna Soup Kitchen, welcomed guests to feast on grilled skewers of beef, chicken and veggies, sliders and sides paired with signature restaurant dishes and street food, too.
Admission to the event was free, but for a $20 roll of tokens, the curiously hungry could check out dozens of treats, trading the tokens for tastes of everything from dipped ears of Mexican-style corn to gluten-free, chocolate-drizzled macaroons from Serious Delights bakery.
Four each of local breweries, bakeries and bands added to the festivities, with entertainment going pretty much non-stop throughout the four-hour event, pausing only for brief comments from Gov. John Hickenlooper, who greeted the sun-kissed crowd.
Hydi Verduzco, treasurer of the local restaurant association, reported a 20 percent increase in token sales at this year’s event, which was sponsored by First National Bank of Durango, Skyy Vodka, Four Corners Broadcasting and Seattle Fish Co.
Durango native and frequent attendee to Durango’s best-known street party, Joseph Brinkerhoff summed it up: “Good food, good bands, a great day in downtown Durango. I think the governor is really lucky to be here.”
Chap Myers, who described himself as “a huge food person who has done it all in the food-service industry, everything from pearl diving (dishwashing) to shift manager,” said he attends the event every year and considers the party to be the official kick-off of summer.
“Forget Memorial Day. It’s Taste of Durango,” he said.
For two tokens, Myers was enjoying a “Land of Entrapment” dog, a hot dog smothered with Hatch green chili and smoked bacon from Adventure Dogs, the local hot dog stand that touts itself as “the world’s first highly nomadic hot dog stand powered by high quality beef, charcoal and mega quads.”
“As if you don’t get enough pig, (but) too much is just enough,” Myers said.
While street foods such as cotton candy, ice cream and hot dogs were abundant, the majority of the 38 booths offered popular items from the menus of local restaurants such as the Himalayan Kitchen, which served Chicken Tika Masala and vegetarian Aloo Govi.
A long line of revelers waited to sample skewers of yakatori with Japanese Togarashi seven-spice seasoning from East by Southwest. Folks wasted no time as they ate one course while waiting in line for another.
Cliff Pinto used a hands-free baby carrier to secure his 11-month-old son, Griffin, while he scooped up a sample of lobster lasagna from Guido’s Favorite Foods.
Jennifer Griego, an operations supervisor at Alpine bank, said she was headed back for seconds of the Ore House’s sampler of grilled prime beef, fingerling potatoes and creamy sauced spinach.
Of the exhibiting restaurants, the Ore House generated the greatest number of tokens, Verduzco said.
Like many attending Sunday’s party, Griego returns each year because she supports what Manna Soup Kitchen does to benefit the entire community, she said.
Warren Smith, kitchen manager of Manna Soup Kitchen, was elbow-deep dishing out sandwiches of slow-smoked pork shoulder with North Carolina and Kansas City varieties of barbecue sauce. Clark Kinser, a former Manna Soup kitchen board member, smoked 200 pounds of the pork in nearly a week of preparing for the event.
Kinser, who served the slaw with the pork sliders, was one of 200 soup kitchen volunteers who sold tokens, banded wrists and helped with security and trash removal.
MaryEllen Newman, one of three Taste of Durango event coordinators, said the event raised more than $15,000 for the soup kitchen, which serves more than 62,000 free meals a year from its location at 1100 Avenida del Sol.
In addition to serving free breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, the kitchen offers dinner on Wednesdays and sack lunches and to-go boxes during weekend brunch hours. Manna also provides clothing and food bank vouchers and runs a backpack food program for children.
For more information, visit Manna’s website at www.mannasoupkitchen.org.