St. Pete smorgasbord

A Taste of Pinellas is part restaurant sampler, part music fest and part fundraiser.

For mouth-watering food from local restaurants and top-notch live music acts, look no further than A Taste of Pinellas at Saint Petersburg's Vinoy Park. The All Children's Hospital annual fundraiser, which runs Fri., May 20 through Sun., May 22, is a party for the ears and tastebuds.

A Taste of Pinellas has come a long way since its humble beginnings under a tent in Straub Park over 20 years ago. It now boasts more than 50 restaurant participants, and is expecting 30,000 to 40,000 guests this year at Vinoy Park.

"Over the years, it expanded in size and was moved out of its original location," says Peter Veytia, Taste of Pinellas captain and owner of Saint Petersburg's Red Mesa Restaurant and Red Mesa Cantina. "It was a good change and has been able to accommodate the festival's needs as it has grown."

A Taste of Pinellas provides direct exposure to dozens of restaurants over the span of one weekend. Unlike traditional advertising or coupons, the festival gives prospective diners the chance to sample hundreds of culinary selections first-hand.

The majority of the restaurants are repeat participants, but the lineup inevitably varies each year. Some of the regulars, such as Bob Evans and Saint Petersburg Concessions, have been involved since the festival's debut. They provide longevity, while restaurants that are new to the event, such as the local "healthy fast food" chain EVOS, offer a fresh take.

The Taste of Pinellas captain concept was established to help guide the newbies. Veytia, a 20-year Taste veteran, knows firsthand how essential the captains can be.

"It's a big endeavor to participate from a restaurant's standpoint. It's an extension of your restaurant, [which] has gone mobile to a location where you're at for three days. It takes a lot of effort and planning, so the more we can 'coach' the participating restaurants, the better it is not only for them, but also for the people who go, so they have a good experience with the food provided by the restaurants and will hopefully be enticed to visit the restaurants after Taste of Pinellas."

There are several things about the festival Veytia enjoys.

"We have the opportunity to be in front of so many potential new patrons and regular guests, and love the fact it's for the good cause of ACH. And it's a very rewarding feeling at the end of the festival when I can say it went great and people loved what we served."

Besides the variety of food served, Taste is also known for the big-name recording artists that perform on the main stage. Chris Isaak, Bonnie Raitt, Third Eye Blind and Colbie Caillat are just a few of the featured musical acts this year (check out cltampa.com/music for concert details). The fest will also include a parade, 5K run, Tampa Bay Rays Family Fun Zone and much more.

"It's a great balance of entertainment and opportunity to eat great food," says Veytia. "That attracts a lot of people, but it's for the benefit of ACH, so that's what makes it come together and be successful. I encourage everyone to come out. This year will be extraordinary, given the musical lineup and selection of restaurants. I think it's going to make it one of the best yet. Come out and experience it all three days!"