Live the foodie dream: Taste of Asheville brings 40 restaurants to one venue

Playing with his food: Chef Casey Connor, formerly of The Grove Park Inn, celebrates with show at Taste of Asheville 2010.

Dine at 40 Asheville restaurants all at the same time; It's not too good to be true.

Once a year, Asheville's independent restaurants come together for Taste of Asheville to celebrate the growing restaurant scene with a night of small bites, wine pours and camaraderie. “Who else could put on a better party than a bunch of people who put on parties every night?” says Anthony Cerrato, owner of Strada Italian restaurant and a partner in Sazerac cocktail bar.

This year's event marks the 10th anniversary of Asheville Independent Restaurants, the organization that throws Taste of Asheville. The group was started by local restaurant owners, including Bouchon's Michel Baudouin, in 2002 with the goal of providing mutual support for mutual benefit (even as the restaurateurs compete for business).

Since then, the organization has helped Asheville's dining industry roll with the changes, providing Web support and marketing and outreach opportunities. Cerrato, who is the 2012 president of AIR, says the group alerted him to the importance of websites and online marketing about seven years ago, back before every restaurant had its own corner of the Internet.

AIR members’ business models range widely. The group includes coffee and dessert shops; barbecue joints; bars; and upscale and resort eateries. At the Wednesday, Nov. 14 Taste of Asheville event, the participating members will reflect that variety. Bouchon, Jack of Hearts, Corner Kitchen, Jerusalem Garden Café, Plant, Scully's and Vinnie's Neighborhood Italian are among the dozens of restaurants that will serve small plates and show off the strength of the dining scene they've helped one another to create. Even ostensible competitors, such as downtown Indian eateries Mela and Chai Pani, will come together for the evening.

“You usually leave a little bit more full than you intended to be,” says Christine Sykes Lowe, AIR’s executive director. “It really is a celebration. You kind of get that feeling when you're there because the restaurants are really proud to be showing what they do.”

The Taste of Asheville Passport also goes on sale that night. It's a $50 booklet with more than $1,000 in savings at member restaurants.

Taste of Asheville happens at The Venue, 21 N. Market St., on Wednesday, Nov. 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. A single pass costs $74.84 after fees, and a pair of passes goes for $132.87 after fees. For more tickets, visit http://avl.mx/mw

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