Rain puts Taste to the test, but only whets appetite for Park Ridge’s annual food fest
Ralph Palmisano, of Cream of the Crepe, whips together a chocolate-and-strawberry-filled pancake at at the Taste of Park Ridge on July 14. | Natasha Wasinski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 20, 2012 11:32AM
PARK RIDGE — Positioned under a water-drenched tent with a metal spatula knife in hand, Ralph Palmisano called out to curious onlookers: “How’re you doing, guys?”
Before him stood a table equipped with a large, hot griddle, a tin powdered-sugar shaker, and plastic bottles of liquid butter and balsamic vinaigrette.
The owner of Cream of the Crepe was at the Taste of Park Ridge in the midst of his third 20-hour shift.
“What do you got?” Palmisano asked Johnny Caballero, an employee of his in a matching baby-blue T-shirt.
“A sweetheart,” was the reply.
Palmisano pulled out a half-baked thin pancake from a tall fridge to his left and threw it on the griddle.
After 30 seconds he flipped the pancake and smoothed on a layer of a hazelnut and chocolate spread. Next came a handful of sliced strawberries.
Palmisano then folded and topped the warm creation with sugar before handing it over to Caballero in a flattened paper cone.
Without the pancake and fillings ready to go, crepes take about 2 1/2 minutes to cook from start to finish, Palmisano said.
That’s why his staff prepped all of the ingredients at the storefront less than a block away at 8 S. Northwest Highway.
“You need that extra 30 seconds,” he said. “People are willing to wait at the Taste but, at the same time, you don’t want to make them wait.”
From July 12 to the afternoon of July 14, Palmisano estimated he sold more than 250 crepes of six variations at the Taste of Park Ridge.
It was the Park Ridge creperie’s first time participating in the city’s annual outdoor fest, held Thursday through Saturday of last week in Uptown, with food fare from two-dozen different vendors.
An hour-and-a-half rain-out July 13 and a mid-afternoon downpour July 14 had put a damper on business.
Some vendors took refuge in their cars while the skies opened. Most remained in their booths and waited out the recurrent drizzle.
Nonetheless enough families and food enthusiasts showed up and stayed for hours at the Taste of Park Ridge to make Palmisano’s first-time outing worthwhile.
“The second it stopped raining, that crowd came,” he said. “People love to get out in this area.
“Rain, shine, it doesn’t matter.”
Dave Iglow, board president of the Taste of Park Ridge, said the three-day event saw a solid turnout despite a battle with the elements and the fact that Des Plaines, Norridge and Chicago hosted food fests the same week.
Compared with last summer’s figures the 2012 Taste of Park Ridge experienced a moderate dip in attendance, Iglow said, but that record-setting year was a tough act to follow.
Taste Chairman Mel Thillens estimated that more than 10,000 people ate, shopped and were entertained during the 2011 fest.
“The weather was the culprit,” Iglow said. “But when the rain stopped the general mood was electric.”
He said Fire Department officials nearly called off the event the night of July 13 after reports of lightening in the area. But the weather cooperated long enough to allow the festivities to continue well into the night.
“The enthusiasm was there but if it rains, what are you going to do?” Iglow said. “You can’t get blood out of a turnip.
“We made the best of a situation.”
So did Palmisano and three Cream of the Crepe employees the afternoon of July 14.
During a post-lunch lull they rocked out to N’Sync on Pandora, sipped on beers and traded goods with other vendors.
Employees tidied up and restocked the 10-by-10-foot booth, which Palmisano said was no bigger than storefront creperies in Italy and Greece.
Caballero, who had also milled about and chatted with other vendors, said the overall mood of those working was jovial despite a lack of customers lining up.
“To them it’s not about the ticket sales,” he said. “It’s about getting to know the community.”
Palmisano said sales were less than he had expected but maybe a break is what the small-business owner needed.
“Needless to say, tomorrow I’m going to catch up on some sleep,” he said. “After work, of course.”