How do you celebrate your 30th birthday- by surrounding yourself with enormous amounts of food, music and wine of course! No one does it better than Tops Markets, which this year will celebrate its 30th year with the Taste of Buffalo- a food festival tradition that would make the Castellani family proud.

Since its inception in the 1920’s, Tops Friendly Markets has been a family oriented grocery store with a focus on food, people and community. It has carried this tradition into the 21st century, and it is evident that Tops enjoys contributing to the health and prosperity of a community it is so proud to be a part of.

Tops Markets became involved with the Taste of Buffalo in 1984; which has slowly become the epi-center of all Buffalo, NY festivals and the official kick off to summer. It was in 2004 that Tops became the Taste’s presenting sponsor and expanded the event by moving its original location on Main St. to Delaware Avenue and Niagara Square. Many other local companies act as sponsors and participants in this year’s event.

The Taste of Buffalo is the nation’s largest two day culinary festival; featuring 51 restaurants, three food trucks and several local wineries, including Glenora Wine Cellar, The Winery at Marjim Manor, and Hazlitt Vineyards. In 2012 The Taste of Buffalo attracted approximately 450,000 patrons. With the evolution of the food truck industry and some new vendors that will be showcasing healthy and gluten free food options; this year’s event proves to be the biggest one to date. While it’s no secret Buffalo, NY has been a melting pot of cultural diversity; it’s only over the last several years that Buffalo has taken up the torch as a diverse culinary region as well. From Asian to barbecue; from Italian to Ethiopian, Buffalo has truly been embraced as a region rich in culinary cuisine.

Tops Markets embraces this culinary culture as well. Again this year Tops will have a tent; serving marinated top Sirloin beef, their own recipe of fresh Chicken Sausage sandwiches and their signature Strawberry Shortcake.

But the Taste of Buffalo takes it a step further; not only do they partner with Tops, but their partnership with Independent Health has helped drive this festival to new heights; requiring all participating restaurants to offer one “healthy food” option.

Buffalo’s Go Veggies Café is one such restaurant, new to the festival this year that will be offering healthy food choices. This unique café will be serving their popular gluten free, soy- free Spinach Burger and Spicy Mushroom Burger. They will also be offering a Mango Pudding dessert; airy and slightly sweet, this dessert is only 90 calories. Go Veggies owner, Genga Ponnampalam’s passion for healthy eating is infectious and evident. His heart and soul are poured into every dish made, and his hope is to teach others about healthy food options- offering cooking lessons to those who are interested.

Merge is another fairly new vendor to the Taste scene. This family owned business brings a passion for healthy eating and the arts together in one eclectic space. Supporting the community by utilizing farm market fresh ingredients, these sisters know a thing or two about taking unique healthy recipes and turning them into delicious dishes. Expanding their access to “farm fresh” and “farm to table” ingredients, the sisters have started their own farm in Lake View, NY, where they grow as many herbs and vegetables as they can, to be utilized all year round in their dishes. Sarah Schneider, co-owner of Merge, states they will be offering Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. But these aren’t just any oatmeal cookies- they are vegan (this includes lactose free) and gluten free! Made with garbanzo flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, sorghum flour, and fava flour; these cookies are moist, chewy and heart healthy. Merge will also be offering Seitan Wings (both hot and BBQ), assorted Cacao Balls, and a Kale Salad. All healthy options with ingredients picked right from their own farm.

A returning favorite this year is Clarence Center Coffee Co. and Café. Well established, Clarence Center Coffee Co offers high quality foods and drinks. From baked goods and craft beers, to gluten free foods and tantalizing coffees- this café knows how to balance healthy living with fun. New this year will be the gluten free cake pops; a great treat for all ages.

Putting together a food festival of this magnitude is no easy feat. With over 1,000 volunteers, and numerous sponsors such as Tops Markets, Independent Health, New Era, The Buffalo Fire Department, Chrysler, Coca-Cola, have helped to catapult The Taste of Buffalo as truly being one of a kind. What makes this festival so unique? It’s the only festival in the United States to require a “healthy food” option. While The Taste of Buffalo brings together culinary cuisine from all over the region, highlighting the best of the best; it has always been a supporter of living a healthy and balanced lifestyle; understanding the extraordinary challenges their patrons face when attending food events like this. Even more commendable is the uphill battle some restaurants face in meeting that challenge for the event. Yet every year vendors go above and beyond; delighting the pallets of patrons near and far.

The festival takes place July 13th -14th this year, with food items ranging in price from $1.00- $4.00 in food tickets. Each restaurant offers a taste sized portion of a “signature” menu item for only $2.00, or 4 food tickets. $20.00 in food tickets will get you a “taste” at ten different restaurants.

For a complete schedule of special attractions, sponsors, food offerings and music line-up please visit http://www.tasteofbuffalo.com/.

At Freed Maxick CPAs, we are not just about accounting- we enjoy life outside the office, and support our Buffalo community! Check back on this blog often for interesting ideas and news about the many great things to do in Western New York all year long!