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Tasting Festivals Take Off in Sunnyside and Sheepshead Bay

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Sea scallop ceviche, Penang beef curry and shredded chicken over mole sauce. These are just a few of the dishes being served at “A Taste of Sunnyside,” a food festival and tasting event taking place on Tuesday evening at a community center in Western Queens.

For $25, participants can load up their plates with sample dishes from two dozen area restaurants. The festival, now in its second year, was developed by the Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District (BID) and the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce as a way to bring visitors — and their dollars — to what it calls Sunnyside’s No. 1 attraction: the varied cuisines of the area’s diverse inhabitants.

On Tuesday evening, there will be food from the old neighborhood staples like the Bantry Bay Publick House (a classic Irish tavern), as well as local Mexican restaurants like deMole and Asian establishments like Dee Thai. But there’s also representation from upscale newcomers catering to younger residents, like Salt & Fat, a locavore restaurant serving Butter Poached Shrimp over a Truffled Corn Salsa and Carrot Puree at the festival.

“Everything is booming right now,” said James Bray, who works for the Sunnyside BID and organizes the festival. “One restaurant after another is opening right now. I don’t think we can credit ‘A Taste of Sunnyside’ to all that, but it certainly has helped.”

Ramiro Mendez, chef and owner of deMole restaurant, isn’t entirely convinced that last year’s festival significantly helped his business, but he’s willing to give it another try.

“We got some response from it,” said Mendez. “It didn’t go crazy. But last year was the first time, and not a lot of people knew about this area. We’re expecting to have a better response this year.”

Sunnyside isn’t the only neighborhood hosting a “taste” these days. Tasting events already exist in Bay Ridge, Long Island City and Bayside, among other neighborhoods.

Next Thursday, Sheepshead Bay will be joining that club for the first time with “A Taste of Sheepshead Bay,” which will feature Italian, Turkish and Eastern European cuisines.

"A Taste of Sheepshead Bay" was the brainchild of Robert Fernandez, who is the business manager of the neighborhood news blog Sheepshead Bites, and a barbecue enthusiast who runs the city’s only official BBQ competition “Grillin’ on the Bay.”

According to Sheepshead Bites editor Ned Berke, the idea was to show city foodies that there’s a delicious world beyond dining hotspots like the East Village and Williamsburg.

Food from Salt & Fat, one of the restaurants featured in "A Taste of Sunnyside" (Photo courtesy of Salt & Fat)

“The food media doesn’t pay much attention to Sheepshead Bay because it’s far,” said Berke. “And it's certainly not one of the neighborhoods that is known for being hip and a place to go out. But with the waterfront and everything, it’s primed for it.”

Berke points out that before Sheepshead Bay became a blue-collar area in the mid-20th century, the neighborhood was once of the country’s most stylish vacation destinations with its shorefront lined with opulent restaurants. Lundy’s, which closed in the 1970s, once claimed to be the country’s largest restaurant, seating almost 3,000 diners.

“We’re just hoping to put it back on the map,” said Berke.

“A Taste of Sheepshead Bay” will also cost $25 to enter and feature dishes from 19 restaurants, as well as presentations from two cooking schools. Participating restaurants include the famous clam bar Randazzo’s and Liman, a classic Turkish grill.

Updated 10/19/11