The 3rd Annual Taste of Ramona was an absolute success! If you didn’t make it, be sure to look for it next year. I went last year and thought it was great, but the Ramona Chamber of Commerce pulled out all the stops and made sure this year was even better. More than 20 Ramona restaurants, wineries, breweries and craft spirit shops participated and I was able to make it to about 13 of them. After #5 I felt like popping my top button. All of the participating establishments did an outstanding job featuring samplings of some of their signature dishes. Several places offered a more informal stand-up buffet style type tasting while others went all out and featured full sit-down table service.
This year I worked my way from east to west, starting at Marinade on Main. One of my favorite restaurants in town, Marinade on Main featured an excellent chili and cornbread. It was Ramona HOT today but that chili still hit the spot! I hope it becomes a regular item on their menu. This was Executive Chef/Owner Jessica Tan’s special recipe that won her awards and accolades in culinary school. It included big, tender chunks of chuck roast, pork butt, ground chuck angus and several types of beans. Had an amazing flavor and aroma. What a great way to start the event!
One of my favorite taco shops in town, La Cocina had a big chafing dish of their outstanding flautas. Both beef and chicken, with a side of chips, salsas, guacamole, etc. These were big, fatty, meaty and very tasty. Some of the best flautas I’ve had in Ramona, that I can tell you!
Next was Reds, Whites & Brews. First time visiting this place and I was very impressed. I’ll be back soon just to hang out. A noteworthy selection of draft beers and local Ramona wines. Also represented at RW&B was Peter Lavelle and Turquoise Barn Cider. I tried a pumpkin spice cider that tasted better than champagne! I’m planning to do a more in-depth review of TBC in the near future. Vineyard Grant James was also there with a selection of their amazing wines. RW&B was just the hub of activity because Packards was there too! Nora Seidl was making the most delicious turkey pesto paninis with pasta salad; plus she had her award winning espresso cake and pumpkin cream cheese bars. I’m telling you, I could have just stayed at this stop all day!
A few doors down was Pamo Valley Winery tasting room. They had an elaborate setup of multiple wine tasting in conjunction with samples from Cheese from the Cave. These pairings were remarkable. Excellent wines and some of the best, most unique artisan cheeses I’ve had.
One of the more notable standouts for me this year was Ramona Family Naturals. First, I have to say their new store is just awesome! If you haven’t been in, you’re missing out on something special in this town. RFN featured a top round roast beef that’s grass fed, organic and local. And these are roasted whole, in-house! I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s probably the best tasting beef I’ve ever put in my mouth. Thanks to Robert Bradley I had the opportunity to sample a taste straight from the roast out of the oven. RFN’s Taste of Ramona offering was the most distinctive crostini imaginable. Victoria Bradley prepared a toasted french baguette rubbed with fresh roasted garlic, a shmear of whipped goat cheese, and thin sliced roast beef topped with a daub of housemade pesto. I seriously could have eaten the whole tray!
The London Bakery had an eye-watering spread going on. Samples of the best chicken pot pie ever; rocky road bars and cream puffs. Jo Paige knows how to make a top shelf pot pie! If you haven’t tried one yet, you’re missing out.
Off to Smoking Cannon Brewery! Here they offered a tasting of three of their fine beers. I’ve been here before and just love this place. Also at Smoking Cannon was A&S BBQ and Catering. Anthony Andrews signature pulled pork was on full display! Outstanding sliders.
Pete’s BBQ, Burgers & More was next. I was glad to see that James Murray went outside the slider box this year. I was very happy to have had a sizable serving of their pulled pork mac & cheese. Back in the day I was not a big fan of their mac when it was made with shells. It has definitely improved. It was made even better by a mountain of tender, flavorful pulled pork heaped on top with some fried onions. I’m planning to go back just for this! Needs hot sauce though.
D’Carlos duplicated their amazing offering again this year but with different selections. I was pleased to see that. Again it was a comfortable, slow paced sit down affair. You’re able to spend time to relax, order some drinks from the bar and enjoy a three course meal on their adorable patio. Starter, main and dessert. Your choice of soup or salad, I had the salad. Blue cheese dressing at D’Carlos is the bomb! Thick, creamy and numerous big chunks of real blue cheese. The main offered was a Surf & Turf. Slow cooked prime rib delmonico style and their Red Hook beer battered shrimp with sweet chili sauce. Also on the plate was a perfect horseradish cream sauce that would have gone good with just about anything but ice cream. Dessert was a tasty salted caramel brownie bite.
At this point I’m looking for a stomach pump, maybe some stretch pants, or just a couch to lay down on. Pressing on though to Pinto Thai. Again this year they put on a very classy experience. Reserved tables with a full sit-down service sampling. It included an excellent Thai iced tea; a cheesy crab wonton; potsticker; pineapple fried rice chicken and Massaman Curry Pork. A beautiful plate full of great tasting Thai food! Oddly though, my curry contained no discernible pork. In fact, I was in a group of 5 and no one had pork in their curry. It was still very tasty and would have been delicious smothered over some white rice. Asian comfort food at its finest.
Just across the parking lot, Chuck Alek Independent Brewers had some great beer tastings going on. Again, I could have just stayed here all day.
New to Taste of Ramona this year was Stony Mountain Bar & Grill at Mt. Woodson Golf Club. I’ve been wanting to check this place out and today was the perfect opportunity. Had a very tasty and juicy pulled pork slider on the freshest, softest tasting bun so far. I’m telling you they have great buns! Stony Mountain also has a patio and the whole setting is just breathtaking. Inside though it’s pretty much just a snack bar conjoined with a pro shop. They do have a full bar now and a nice looking menu consisting of burgers, sandwiches, etc.
My final stop was out in the San Diego Country Estates at The Par Lounge. As of this week there is a great new California inspired menu at The Oaks Grille/Par Lounge and they featured a tasting of one of their new appetizers. Triple P (pulled pork poutine). Tater tots, smoked pork shoulder, Harissa gravy, serrano peppers, pickled onion, cotija cheese, micro cilantro, etc. There’s a lot going on here with complex flavors and whatnot. I have to say, it was quite the dichotomy to see all these fancy ingredients coupled with tater tots. Overall it’s really good but the Harissa gravy is going to be an acquired taste for me.
When all was said and done I went online to shop for maternity pants. Seriously, I was horribly abdominally distended after this 3rd Annual Taste of Ramona, but it was worth it! I would have loved to have made it to all the participating restaurants, but I wound up running out of time. That and my size 36 jeans were completely unforgiving. I’m definitely looking forward to the 4th Annual Taste of Ramona next year. If you have’t been, do yourself a favor and come out next year. Get your tickets early though because this year was a sell-out. You won’t be disappointed and might even find a new favorite restaurant here in town!
Written by: Dan Edwards
October 7, 2017