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Thursday, July 14, 2005 03:54 am

appetite

For the past five years, Brandy Kelty has enjoyed the Taste of Downtown by sampling a variety of foods and discovering new restaurants. This year, she’ll be hoping that many new customers find her as she serves thousands of beer-battered bratwurst bites and chicken wings at the tent operated by Sammy’s Sports Bar.

Sammy’s — owned by Tom Kelty Jr., Brandy’s husband — is just one of nearly 25 restaurants that will be dishing up everything from mango margaritas to chorizo and corn chowder at the sixth annual Taste of Downtown on July 23.

Participating restaurants are offering plenty of new choices this year, ranging from saffron ice cream (Garden of Eat’n) and Italian country braised ribs (Capisce?), in addition to favorites from last year, such as black-bean cakes (Augie’s Front Burner) and kettle corn (Del’s Popcorn Shop).

Or how about chocolate-covered strawberries, ribeye sandwiches, banana puff pastries, and cheese fries? The menu ranges from elegant pasta dishes such as Parmesan risotto with ham, peas, and mushrooms (Two Olives and A Pepper) to nachos. Wash down all of this grub with sangria, a frozen mango margarita, strawberry vodka lemonade, or a bloody Mary.

This is the first appearance at the event by Sammy’s, which added food to its bar menu in the past year. “We want to support Downtown Springfield Inc. They are a wonderful organization,” Brandy Kelty says, “and we have a unique item here in Springfield — our brat bites — that we want to promote.” The bratwursts are cut into one-inch pieces, beer-battered, and fried.

Pease’s Fine Candies and Salted Nuts, the Firehouse, the Sportsman’s Lounge and the Garden of Eat’n are among the other new vendors this year.

Kelty says that event organizers told Sammy’s staffers to prepare enough food to serve 8,000 to 10,000 people, so they’ve ordered 100 cases of brats containing 52 bratwurst servings each. “I am looking forward to it,” she says. “I’m anxious to see how much exposure it gets us. Each vendor has something unique to their restaurant.”

The event, says DSI promotion and event coordinator Megan Derrig-Green, gives “the greater Springfield community access to all the culinary delights downtown Springfield restaurants have to offer all in one city block. Where else can you try a little sushi, chow down on a fried-oyster poorboy, and finish off the meal off with a chili dog?”

The event, which began as a way to promote new restaurants in the downtown area, is now an established, popular event. Local restaurants say that Taste of Downtown brings them new customers.

The sixth annual Taste of Downtown, presented by Isringhausen Imports, is held 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, July 23, on Fifth Street between Jefferson and Adams streets. Admission is $2, and food tickets cost $1, with menu items ranging from $1 to $5. Children’s activities, coordinated by the Old State Capitol Foundation, include pitching machines, clowns, face-painting, and balloon art.

Up in smoke

If you’re a cigar aficionado, consider traveling to Havana, Ill., this month for a little smoke and some history.

The Havana Cigar Fest and Beach Bash will be held July 23 at the Pub, 212 W. Main St. in Havana. Tickets for the event, which features a tour of former downtown cigar factories and a Jimmy Buffett tribute, are $15. Ten dollars buys you a Caribbean cigar-box dinner, which includes a Cuban sandwich, mojo chicken with mango and avocado, black beans and rice with shrimp, and a tropical dessert.

To purchase tickets, stop by the Pub or Havana City Hall, call 309-251-8804, or visit www.havanacigarfest.com.  

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