DAYTON EATS: MVRA executive director brings a magic touch to food events

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Launching a first year food event takes a lot of vision and hard work.

Launching a first year food event that brings in an estimated crowd of 20,000 is an unthinkable feat.

For Amy Zahora, executive director of the Miami Valley Restaurant Association (MVRA), it’s all in a day’s work.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

Zahora has been a fixture on the food and dining scene in Dayton since she took over the MVRA helm in 2004 planning winter and summer Restaurant Weeks and other foodie events that make mouths water.

For nearly two decades she has introduced hungry diners throughout the Miami Valley to new restaurants and cuisines.

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

She launched Pickle Fest — Just Dill With It! at Austin Landing this summer with Danniele Simon who coordinates marketing and events for Austin Landing. The first time event took place on June 25 and was a resounding success with an estimated 20,000 pickle lovers showing up to celebrate the wonderful crunchy tart magic that happens when a cucumber takes a long relaxing soak in a briney vinegar bath. The event featured 17 food vendors and five pickle companies from around the state, with the majority of vendors selling out before the event had wrapped.

ExploreSOMETHING NEW: Look at photos from Pickle Fest - Just Dill With It!

Mr. Boro’s Tavern sold out their dill pickle boats half way through the event. They had prepped 3,000 of their pickle boats stuffed with smoked chicken, cream cheese, shredded mozzarella and provolone drizzled with a bourbon sauce and sprinkled with everything bagel seasoning expecting to have plenty. Knowing what they know now restaurants will plan for more next year.

Just as quickly as she launches an exciting new event, Zahora turns around to do it all over again.

Her next new foodie festival at Austin Landing will be the Taco & Nacho Fest - Nacho Typical Food Fest from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27.

ExploreFOODIE ALERT: Two new festivals coming to Austin Landing

Food vendors lined up for this first time event will include Brad to Go, Chuy’s, El Meson, JA’s and Sweet-umm’s, Mickey’s Salsa Mexican Food, Rolling Indulgence, 1776 Grill, What The Taco and Mickey’s Salsa Mexican Food. Sesh’s new Spicy Margarita and Cutwater Margaritas will be featured as well as other beers and beverages.

Knowing Zahora for her entire tenure as MVRA director, her positive energy and creativity knows no bounds and she continues to be the ultimate champion and cheerleader for locally owned independent restaurants and food vendors.

“Each year I continue to be amazed and impressed with all that our local restaurant community continues to do. It’s been my privilege over the years to be a part of connecting restaurants to the community,” said Zahora. “When I come up with a new idea for an event I always run it by the restaurants because the restaurant, bar and food truck owners in town are so creative and so wonderful to work with. It’s always a great team effort.”

It’s been a treat for me over the years to see how much Zahora has done to help grow and nurture the restaurants and kitchen teams she respects and loves throughout the region.

She helps bring out the best in her events matching talented food vendors with appreciative customers.

This year’s Bacon Fest that took place last week at Fraze Pavilion was a fantastic example of the magic she helps bring to her events.

ExplorePHOTOS: Did we spot you at Bacon Fest 2022 at the Fraze Pavilion?

The event commemorating pork’s best side saw thousands of bacon lovers turn out to enjoy bacon laced food from a dozen food vendors. The lines at each booth wrapped around as people waited their turn to take a taste and enjoy their favorite breakfast meat.

Winners at the 9th annual event held determined by a group of judges including this writer were best dish, best dessert, most creative and critics choice.

The bacon and parm sweet potato fries from Rolling Indulgence wowed the judges with crispy sweet potatoes, candied bacon and grated Parmesan cheese and was given the title of Best Dish. I can confirm that it was hard to stop eating.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Best Dessert went to JA’s & Sweet-umms for their “Best Damn Bacon Banana Pudding,” which turns out to be as billed — the best with a mixture of sweet, savory and salty. It was in competition with a cherry Pepsi ice cream float with candied bacon from Rolling Indulgence, which was also absolutely delicious, but that banana pudding is such a wonderful treat there was no competing with it.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Coco’s Bistro took home Most Creative Dish thanks to Chef Bryan Ondre and teams savory pork belly and bacon empanada with a kicky poblano sauce.

The Critic’s Choice award went to the bacon caprese mini sandwiches with a fresh, fantastic ribbon of pesto, thick slice of fresh mozzarella, a slice of salted tomato, balsamic and plenty of bacon served on a springy ciabatta roll. I absolutely loved this sandwich and paired with the bacon and parm sweet potato fries and the cherry Pepsi ice cream float with candied bacon it was a winning bacon infused meal celebrating the best that a pig has to offer.

The bacon wrapped smoked turkey leg from Amber Rose Restaurant and Catering is always a favorite of mine, I loved the bacon egg and cheese breakfast empanadas from El Meson and the wake n bake cookie from The Cookieologist composed of carmelized bacon, brown butter and toffee was a nice treat.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

The Most Baconlicious People’s Choice award, went to 1776 Grill for their bacon stuffed garlic toast grilled cheese that lived up to the festival’s motto — everything is better with bacon.

“Delicious bacon brought the Miami Valley together today,” said Zahora.

There’s no question based on the crowd that continued to stream in strong throughout the day and evening that was an accurate statement.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

It was certainly the bacon and the strong lineup of restaurants and food trucks, but at the end of the day there would be no crowd of thousands without Zahora continuing to find ways to creatively celebrate food and highlight all the wonderful dishes our local restaurants and food trucks bring to the table.

Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Share info about your menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and culinary adventures. Do you know of new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at? E-mail Alexis Larsen at alexis.e.larsen@hotmail.com with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.

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