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Tampa is host to festival of tasteful fun

(ran TP edition)

About 50 area restaurants and food vendors will be on hand this weekend for the second annual Taste of Florida food festival, along with cooking demonstrations, renowned chefs and cookbook authors.

And that's not all.

Everything from local music and a chili cook-off to visits from Walt Disney World's own Mickey and Minnie Mouse are scheduled for the University of Tampa's Plant Park.

The festivities will kick off Friday at 3 p.m. and last until 10 p.m. The fun continues Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The three-day event that attracted more than 40,000 people last year will feature a main stage, an acoustic stage and a children's stage to showcase the multitude of diverse talent that is planned.

Almost everyone's musical tastes have been catered to, with a line-up that includes bluesman James Peterson, the big-band sounds of the Buddy Verdi Orchestra, alternative rock band UROK playing an acoustic set, the Kuumba Dancers and Drummers pounding out African rhythms, female folk trio Wimmin on the Edge, and the country stomp of The Mary Karlzen Band, along with a number of others.

Bring the kids along for this one, because Orlando transplants Mickey and Minnie will be greeting the youngsters all day Saturday and Sunday, and they're bringing their pals, Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear.

"This is a family-oriented event," said Earl Emmons, Taste of Florida coordinator and executive director of Tampa Tribune Productions. "We've moved the kid's stage to the center of the park, and we want the whole family to come."

For many, the main focus will still be on food.

Restaurants and vendors will sell samples, ranging in price from 50 cents to $3, with proceeds going to the city of Tampa's "Friends of Recreation" program and the University of Tampa's general scholarship fund.

Restaurants scheduled to be present include the Australian-themed Outback Steakhouse, Bella Trattoria, Mel's Hot Dogs, Espo's Spanish Cafeteria, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream USA and Skipper's Smokehouse.

"Our main goal was to bring people to the downtown area," said Emmons. "We wanted to show people that we do have good quality restaurants in the bay area.

"We know it's going to grow, because we will never substitute quantity for quality."

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