Nearly a dozen area restaurants, caterers and food vendors participated Friday night in the fourth annual Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Taste of Liberty and awards banquet at the Dorchester Village Civic Center. The event — which spotlights community leaders, volunteers, local businesses and eateries — treated nearly 200 guests to flavors many didn’t know they can enjoy right here.
Participating restaurants included JJ’s Bar and Grill, Club Stewart, the Dodd Family McDonald’s in Walmart, Pour House Bar and Grill, Marco’s Pizza, Panera Bread, Southern Sweets Café and Bakery, Sho’ Nuff Smokin’ Good BBQ, Rottweiler Vending and Lena Mae’s Country Café.
“I’m pretty sure this is our fourth year,” Chamber and Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Leah Poole said about half an hour after the event began. “We have about 170 people here right now, but we expect people to come and go. Taste of Liberty showcases local restaurants, caterers and food vendors. We want to show people what kind of foods they have to offer.
“For entertainment, we have the band Exit 76, and we will be giving out awards for people’s favorite dessert and main course. We have various restaurants here tonight. The Pour House in Hinesville is one. It hasn’t even opened yet, but they’re already a chamber member. They’re here serving to get people excited about their opening.”
Pour House Chef Christopher Daniels said their “prime cut” steakhouse was featuring grilled grouper and sirloin for the Taste of Liberty. Another of their offerings, crab stew, quickly became a crowd favorite. Pour House ran out of the creamy, savory concoction early on as guests lined up to get second tastes. Daniels said owners Jonathan Richardson and Kenneth Wells hope to open their new eatery in the Liberty Square Shopping Center on Feb. 10.
Recently opened JJ’s Bar and Grill treated guests to a distinctly Latin flavor with seasoned pork roast stuffed with plantains. Owner and Chef Jose Pineda and Alberto Rodrigues said they opened for business on Oct. 15 near the Econo Lodge.
“We mainly serve Latin and Puerto Rican food,” Pineda said. “On Friday night, we have Latin night … and we also have a seafood special on Friday.”
Jonathan Garrett, owner of Sho’ Nuff Smokin’ Good BBQ, was busy slicing up smoked sausage, which he urged guests to sample along with smoked chicken wings and pulled-pork sliders. Garrett took second place in last year’s Blues and BBQ competition. He has now opened his own barbecue restaurant near Fort Stewart’s gate 7 on Airport Road.
Another Blues and BBQ competitor, Executive Chef Efrim Dehart, showcased a different specialty on Friday night. Although Lena Mae’s Country Café features St. Louis-style barbecue, Efrim dished out samples of a gourmet fish recipe. Lena Mae’s also will be opening soon.
In addition to food samples provided by local eateries, guests were treated to a salad bar, potato bar and taco bar, all provided by the chamber.
Content and full, guests moved on to the awards portion of the evening. Poole bid farewell to last year’s Chamber President Daniel Clark and former chamber members, and then introduced this year’s chamber president, Roger Hutchinson, and new chamber members.
• Business Leader of the Year — H.W. Cato
• Civic Leader of the Year — Pastor Richard Hayes
• Business of the Year (self-employed) — Karen Bell
• Business of the Year (2-15 employees) — Pedrick & Company LLC
• Business of the Year (16-35 employees) — Dryden Enterprises
• Business of the Year (over 35 employees)—International Greetings
Awards also were given out to many who provided the event’s cuisine. When all the votes were tallied, Southern Sweets Café and Bakery took first place in the dessert category. They also took first place overall. People’s choice for main course went to Sho’ Nuff Smokin’ Good BBQ. After repeatedly taking second place in various barbecue competitions, Garrett said he was grateful for the first-place finish in main course at Taste of Liberty.