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41 tough choices in 1 night of dining

About 3,000 are expected at the Taste of Clearwater, which offers a medley of food from 41 restaurants.

Published September 20, 2005

CLEARWATER - Todd Dziubek and four cooks spent eight hours Monday slicing shiitake mushrooms, carrots, onions, and celery and hand-mixing them with ground pork, veal and beef.

"It's a lot of work just chopping up the vegetables, mixing it together and getting it in the oven," said Dziubek, co-owner of GrillSmith in Clearwater.

The mixture will be transformed into 100 pounds of wild mushroom meatloaf to be served at tonight's 16th annual Taste of Clearwater. The event's sponsors include the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, the city of Clearwater, Bright House Networks and the St. Petersburg Times.

Forty-one restaurants will fill booths at the Harborview Center, 300 Cleveland St., offering tantalizing braised lamb shanks, mouth-watering Bonzai shrimp, crab cakes and more. The Chamber of Commerce expects 3,000, about the same attendance as last year.

"We just tell people to pace themselves," said Kurt Kraus, vice president of public relations for the chamber. "This is an event where your eyes can do the eating for you, and the next thing you know, you've been to seven restaurants, your belly's full and there's another 40 to go."

This year's lineup includes several restaurants new to the area that offer tastes from island seafood to continental grill, such as GrillSmith and Jimmy's Fish House & Iguana Bar in Clearwater. Most booths will offer an appetizer, entree and dessert, Kraus said.

Tickets are $18 until noon at the chamber, and $20 at the door. Each ticket allows participants to eat everything they can hold. Proceeds go to the chamber.

"We keep saying it's everything from surf and turf to spaghetti and meatballs," Kraus said.

Local musical group Red Hot Jazz will perform from 5 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 8 p.m. on the main stage.

The chamber is also selling raffle tickets with prizes that include Tampa Bay Buccaneers tickets, Florida Orchestra tickets, hotel stays and vouchers to participating restaurants. Three tickets can be purchased for $5 or eight tickets for $10.

After baking the meatloaf and rubbing spices on 75 pounds of slow-cooked baby back ribs Monday, Dziubek said he's ready.

"It's a lot of fun to get outside of the restaurant and see people's reaction to our food," Dziubek said. "We're prepared. We're looking forward to it."

[Last modified September 20, 2005, 01:55:19]

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