More than 500 people with appetites for fine cuisine filled the Tonto Apache Community Center Saturday night for Payson's second annual Mayor's Cup Chefs' Appetizer Competition.
The Zane Grey Dining Room at Kohl's Ranch stole the show with its avocado fingers with prickly pear sauce, a taste treat that some called "a dish to die for."
The Zane Grey Dining Room staff will represent the area at the Mayors' Cup Chefs' Appetizer Competition in Scottsdale, part of the Valley's week-long culinary festival held annually in mid-April.
It's the third year Payson will be represented in the competition. In 1998, before the local competition was organized, Mayor Vern Stiffler selected Michael's at the Inn of Payson to represent the community. The following year, the Mayor's Cup competition was adopted as an annual fund-raiser for the Payson Library Friends, and the Black Bear won the honor to represent the area at the state competition. The Strawberry restaurant won the People's Choice award in Scottsdale.
On Saturday, the Zane Grey Dining Room received a trophy and $500 toward its expenses for the state competition.
The local competition drew nine area restaurants: the Zane Grey Dining Room, Cedar Ridge Restaurant, Macky's Grill, the Oaks, IT Caterers, the Randall House, Crosswinds, Chaparral Pines, and the Black Bear Restaurant.
Mario's Restaurant had been scheduled to compete, but withdrew because owner Dave Conti was in the hospital for back surgery.
People who attended the chefs' competition received ballots at the door and voted for their favorite appetizer. They went from table to table, stopping occasionally between appetizers to sample an array of wines offered at the wine tasting tables in the center of the large room. A fountain flowing with nonalcoholic punch also was provided.
Raffle items donated by local artists from the Payson Art League filled two long tables in the back of the room. Patrons paid $1 a chance for the raffle, adding about $1,000 to the Library Friends' building fund. The Library Friends is a non-profit fund-raising organization for the library.
A committee made up of local artists and professionals in the food service industry reinforced the people's choice by naming the Zane Grey Dining Room's Western theme and plate presentation best table.
Cedar Ridge Restaurant, which took second place for best appetizer, served Stinger Shrimp. Macky's Grill came in a close third with its crab-stuffed mushrooms.
Judy Buettner, president of the Library Friends, said the library support group's biggest fund-raiser brought in $12,500 this year.
"I think it's a very good event for the Library Friends," she said. "And it's a fun event for the whole town. It's our biggest fund-raiser. Five months a year we're working on this. We started in September."
John Wilson, the group's treasurer, said the event brought the group's building fund total to $270,283. The money will be spent on furnishings for the new library.
"We really want good quality stuff," Buettner said. "We want things that are going to last -- computers, shelves, desks -- everything that's not part of the building itself, we're going to furnish."
She said Library Director Terry Morris has been looking at possible items for the new facility and the building's architect, Larry Enyart, is acting as consultant on the interior furnishings.
She said she expects the contractors' bids to be in by August or September.
"The building will not be built until the end of the spring (2001)," she said, "But the council and mayor have all put the library as a high priority. It's wonderful to have the support of the mayor and council. I feel the Library Friends' efforts will be realized in a very short time. The library is more than the Library Friends, of course. We're just the driving force behind it, but the whole town will benefit, and certainly the 5,700-plus people who are library card holders will benefit."