Taste of Westmoreland benefits synagogue

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Food lovers are anticipating the annual Taste of Westmoreland, as much as they are spring.

From 6 to 9 p.m. on March 15, 24 restaurants, bakeries, food purveyors and caterers will offer tastings in Chambers Hall on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh/Greensburg. The event is a fundraiser for Congregation Emanu-El Israel in Greensburg.

"Every year, our restaurant participants vary and include both local eateries as well as national chains like Red Lobster and Texas Roadhouse," said event co-chair Terri Katzman of Greensburg.

New this year are A & B Mix It Up Bakery of Greensburg and Racer’s Tavern of Latrobe. In addition to the restaurant lineup, Vigo Importing will bring along a variety of flavored olive oils and bread for dipping, and restaurants will provide samples of everything from ribs, beef tips, wings, Chicken Marsala and lasagna to soups, salads and lots of desserts.

Debbie Garbin, owner of Mama G’s Diner in Jeannette has joined the roster of Taste restaurants for the past four years. This year, she plans to serve the diner’s signature cheesy hash casserole and home made honey pecan chicken salad.

"Taste has been a very successful experience for us because we get to meet a lot of people, and it’s a lot of fun,'' she said.

Organizers provide a full kitchen set-up and supply all the dishes, dinnerware and utensils. Because many of the restaurants also cater, they already have big warmers and coolers in which they transport their food to the venue.

"All we have to do is set up and put out our signs and brochures," Mrs. Garbin said. "It’s such a fun time, our staff fights over who gets to go to the event."

Organizers take over the entire Chambers Student Union. In the lobby, patrons are able to purchase wine, beer, soft drinks and water. In the center of the gymnasium, they can pick up their dinnerware and large plate and go from station to station to graze or fill up their plate and move into the cafeteria where they can sit and dine at tables with white linen and balloon decorations.

"There will be enough food on hand to satisfy anyone’s appetite,'' Mrs. Katzman said.

The idea for the fundraiser is credited to the temple rabbi and a few members of the congregation who joined other big cities like Cincinnati, Boston and Toronto which started the "Taste" trend in the 1990s. In its first year, the temple held the fundraiser at the Greensburg Civic and Garden Club, but moved to the University of Pittsburgh/ Greensburg the following year for more space to accommodate the crowd, which often exceeds 1,000.

A committee from the congregation works with different businesses and organizations to secure donations for its door prizes and raffles and auctions. In past years, items included Steeler tickets, restaurant gift cards, an overnight stay and breakfast at the local Ramada Inn, tickets to the Pittsburgh Ballet and Children’s Museum and themed gift baskets.

"We have a minimum of 50 door prizes each year and will give away 36 jars of marinara sauce and gift cards donated by Rizzo’s Restaurant," Mrs. Katzman said.

Temple Emanu-El Israel is the only congregation in Westmoreland County that employs a full time rabbi. Made up of around 70 families, the temple uses the funds raised at Taste to support its rabbi, its outreach programs such as Hebrew and Judaic classes and its community service programs that include projects for Meals on Wheels and the Westmoreland County Food Bank.

"At Taste, anyone who brings along non-perishable food items for the food bank will get one complimentary ticket for our Chinese auction," Mrs. Katzman said. "We’re a small but mighty congregation that does a lot of work for our community."

The congregation’s recently launched cultural committee has already sponsored a film and post-film discussion and a classical chamber music concert at the University of Pittsburgh/Greensburg. At 3 p.m. on April 6, the committee is organizing an Israeli dance and food program at the Greensburg Garden and Civic Center.

For reservations to A Taste, call 724-834-0560 or visit website tasteofwestmoreland.com.

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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