On a chilly December night, under glittering Christmas lights and wreaths of Old Town Temecula, over 150 hungry residents arrived to taste the best of what the city has to offer.
By starting out at either Spice Merchant or The Bank, the crowd was allowed to divide and conquer. Spice Merchant owner Sue Del Bona doled out wristbands and sold tickets at one of the two hubs of the event. Tickets were $25 per person, with a portion of the proceeds going to area charity Rancho Damacitas.
From Second to Sixth streets, the Holiday Taste of Old Town covered many shops and restaurants where good spirits and hearty appetites abounded in a steady flow of Old Town foot traffic.
“People were lined up at 4 p.m. hoping for their gift bags,” Del Bona said.
The complimentary bags were stuffed with coupons and signature items of many of the participating businesses.
“The first 100 prepaid ticket holders got their bags, but many were return event-goers who just wanted to enjoy the whole evening,” Del Bona said.
Serving its special blend of mulled cider, as well as spiced nuts and other tidbits, the Spice Merchant’s fragrant store hummed with the crowd ready to dive into their Old Town experience.
Next door, Palumbo’s served bowls full of a heady minestrone soup under the space heaters of their patio. Inside the restaurant, the Italian Club hosted its annual Christmas party.
“It’s a fun and festive night for all of us,” said Edy Palumbo from her outside patio table. Palumbo greeted all who came like old friends, inviting them for a look around the restaurant or to stay for a bit of rosemary focaccia.
The Gambling Cowboy was next on the list, serving up Braised Short Ribs and Cowboy Mac ‘n Cheese. Sounds of laughter, and cheery lights, drew guests across the street to the towering, twinkle-lit structure. With the melt-in-your-mouth beef and the spicy, exotic cheeses baked into every bite, this restaurant is not-to-miss for a night out with a special someone.
Matt and Cindy Lyons of Temecula had never ventured up to the unique cowboy-themed restaurant, but they will be going back.
“We’ve been doing all of our shopping in town this year, keeping it local.” Cindy said. “The holiday lights from (The Gambling Cowboy’s) veranda are breathtaking.”
At the Temecula Cheese Company, the Fourtney family dished with owner Shawna about the cave-aged Gruyere being served.
“There are definitely more people here this year than last,” said Robin Fourtney of Murrieta. She and husband Mark, with family members Mike and Don, all agreed that the best part of the evening was meeting the restaurant owners and seeing all of the festive lights. “We come to Crush and Brew quite often, but tonight is really special.”
Don Fourtney agreed: “It’s a great idea to sample here and go there — inside the stores and restaurants rather than just visit tents. It’s a truly successful event.”
For the young at heart, Old Town Sweet Shop served palm-sized portions of their delectable fudge, ice cream, apples and chocolate-covered bacon.
Then, heading down the boardwalk of Old Town toward The Bank, word spread of a Murrieta-based Tequila tasting of On (Nuestro Orgullo), as well as the culinary creations of new head chef Mariya Crisler’s portions of the saucy, butter and garlic shrimp Camarones and Chicken Tortilla soup.
Passing Rancho Fruit Market, chocolate covered strawberries beckoned, while the crowd shopped for bags of oranges, ripe avocados and other locally grown fruit as Christmas carols piped through the streets.
As time was of the essence, Sweet Lumpy’s BBQ finished up the night, where the hostess invited all to grab a seat at one of the red-checked tablecloth covered booths, settle down and rest a moment while they rustled up a fresh Pulled Pork Slider sandwich.
Owner John Syroka happened by to make sure all was well, saying, “It’s been a great night. Steady and lots of folks staying and eating.”
Ashley Ludwig is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.