“It’s more than a library, it’s a community center,” said Kathy Morgan, chair of the Taste of the Rim committee during the sell-out fund-raiser featuring some of Rim Country’s best chefs.
On Saturday night, the Payson Public Library served as the center of the community as hundreds of people crowded into the library’s annual Taste of the Rim event. The taste testers voted the Zane Grey Restaurant and Saloon the Best of the Best this year.
The Journigan House came in a close second and Gerardo’s Firewood Café took third — although it seemed like everyone had their favorite dish from the offerings of the participants.
For the first time in its history, the event sold out. “We sold out by Monday — 275 tickets,” said Emily Linkey the new librarian.
Only on the job for a few months, she told the crowd she suffers from acute shyness, and so she was beyond nervous about meeting more than 200 members of the Payson community all at once. However, Linkey said her shyness evaporated in the warmth of the crowd’s welcoming and supportive attitude.
This year, the Library Friends of Payson took over organizing and publicizing the event. Betsy Quinn, who handled publicity for the event, said in years past the library staff organized the event.
“We had so many volunteers helping this year,” she said. “The staff does not have as much time as we do to get everything together.”
Quinn said the group started organizing the event in September using an event binder inches thick.
Linkey agreed that the volunteers made all the difference. “I woke up this morning worried this would be the hardest event for me — I was wrong,” said Linkey.
She said the event went off without a hitch.
The library overflowed with patrons filing through the rows of book stacks to find tables groaning with treats from local cooks.
Friends met up to perch on chairs, nibble samples and compare notes on the delectable goodies.
Linkey and her new assistant librarian, Elaine Votruba, said the buzz from attendees focused on the chicken Alfredo lasagna from Miss Fitz 260 Café, mint crepes from Pine’s Randall House and the prime rib sliders from the Zane Grey Restaurant.
At Miss Fitz 260 Café, Kathy Bickert and her chef ran out of the lasagna barely an hour into the event.
“We are out of two items,” said Bickert. “People loved our cinnamon pull-aparts and chicken Alfredo lasagna.”
Bickert said she makes a pan of cinnamon pull-aparts each morning that sell out by 11 a.m. “People from the Valley call to see if any are available,” said Bickert.
She said she serves the chicken Alfredo lasagna as a lunch special.
Over at The Randall House, Chef Barbara Frazub-O’Conner, said she whipped up the mint chocolate crepes as a specialty for the event, but she often whips up specials.
“We have breakfast specials every Sunday and summer- and winter-themed specials for lunch,” she said.
The Zane Grey Restaurant, a locally leased and operated restaurant that serves the Kohl’s Ranch Diamond Resort, Head Chef Chris Taylor sliced up chunks of prime rib he passed to all-around kitchen guy Paul Chamberlain who placed them on a rosemary butter toasted piece of baguette. Owner Randy Slapnicka then put together the delectable concoction with a toothpick, cornichon, merlot infused au jus, and horseradish sauce.
“We hickory smoke our prime rib,” said Taylor.
“We serve this prime rib every Saturday,” said Slapnicka, “In an 8- or 24-ounce cut.”
The Payson High School Culinary Arts group got kudos from Samantha Wright for the most creative dish — chocolate mocha pudding mugs. “Did you see the little handle made out of a pretzel?” she asked. The pudding mug had tiny marshmallows on top that made the dessert look like a mug of hot chocolate. The rich chocolate taste burst in the mouth, while the pretzel added a slight crunch.
The most adventurous item had to be the chocolate-dipped bacon from the Mazatzal Casino Bakery. Instant fans urged friends to try it before judging it.
Back in a corner near the children’s section, the Creekside Steak House from Christopher Creek served barbecue pork ribs that drew raves. Chef Gerald Edwards said he uses a three-part process and his own homemade sauce to produce the savory treat.
“First I mark ’em on the charbroiler, then boil them, then bake them,” he said.
Gila Community College Board President Larry Stephenson loved them. “I think those are my favorite thing here,” he said.
The newly merged Small Café and Journigan House kitchen staff produced a cactus soup initially leery guests gave rave reviews. “The cactus soup is made with prickly pear,” said Arielle Espinosa, daughter-in-law to the Small Café chef Laura Seeley who helped with the event.
The Journigan House won second place.
Gerardo’s Firewood Café served a lobster macaroni and cheese comfort food dish guests loved. But their cannoli got the attention of guests, including Carolyn Bates.
“Crunchy on the outside and perfect on the inside — a classic,” she said of the confection.
Gerardo’s received third place, with many compliments for the lobster-noodle dish.
Cakes by Monica served divine cupcakes from a strawberry cake with berry frosting to a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and a vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting.
Katie Klein from the Payson Farmers Market served up the desserts. She said Monica was busy baking. Klein said Monica is so successful, she had just quit her day job to make cakes full time. “She’s made cakes for all my family’s birthdays,” said Klein.
As the event wrapped up, Morgan beamed. Not only did the event sell out of tickets for the first time, the 50/50 raffle made more money than ever before.
Morgan said the money helps to purchase books and supports events the library puts on such as the Dr. Seuss day, and the art program for the kids.
“The community needs what this library offers,” she said.