Growing up on the East Coast, Cammie Harris felt right at home in an urban setting. After the New Jersey native’s husband took a job at Mead Johnson, the family moved to small-town Newburgh, Ind., four years ago. One summer, Harris got a taste of home when she explored Downtown Evansville on the annual loft and condominium tour. The blend of historic buildings and modern aesthetics was “very different from anything else I’d seen in Evansville,” she recalls. “It was more like a city atmosphere, and it really inspired me.”
Downtown Evansville also spoke to Althea Grant, a Shelbyville, Ky., native and friend of Harris’ who soon would become a business partner. Although Harris owned North Main Annex Café, an Evansville staple that closed late last year, and Grant owned a bridal shop in Kentucky, the duo decided they wanted to launch a new venture together. After tossing around ideas of opening a clothing store or a juice bar, they started reminiscing about their favorite big-city businesses, and they remembered upscale wine bars in Philadelphia, New York, and Atlanta. “We just thought it was a really cool concept,” says Grant.
But would it work in Evansville? Grant and Harris tested the waters by hosting private parties for three months in the fall of 2008, then took a leap of faith and officially opened Taste … A Wine and Dessert House that December. One year after its opening, Taste still is a popular Main Street night spot.
As a Downtown dweller, I was impressed by Harris and Grant’s vision for their business, and I stopped by with my husband and a visiting relative on a recent Saturday night. When we arrived just after 8 p.m., we were one of a few groups of patrons; an hour later, an empty table was hard to come by as people streamed in to hear a live performance from a four-piece jazz and blues band. From young couples to groups of friends, suits and ties to Carhartt jeans, the crowd was diverse.
Taste’s upscale yet intimate atmosphere largely is due to its setting: the lower level of The Marlocon, home to loft apartments and condominiums as well as The Rug Merchant. With brick walls, arched doorways, and low ceilings, Taste’s venue captures the ambience of an Old World wine cellar, while the streamlined décor adds an urban touch.
Fresh off a hearty meal at Firefly Southern Grill, my group bypassed the selection of light fare (cheese plates, pâtés, and more) and flipped through our menus to the namesake offerings: wines and desserts. While Taste’s wine selections often change based on popularity and availability, the restaurant serves 50-plus wines at any given time, and the sheer number of choices can be mind-boggling. So I opted for a “wine flight” of three different two-ounce pours.
My first choice, the Voga pinot grigio, delivered light, crisp notes of pear and apple. I also opted for another white wine: a perfumey viognier from Chile with a delicately sweet aroma of honeysuckle. My final choice? The Bitch grenache from south Australia. When I told the server I liked my red wines fruity, not too dry but not too sweet, she recommended this wine. The name may be provocative, but the wine, with juicy notes of raspberry and strawberry, was beautifully palatable. And despite its catty appeal (try buying a bottle for your table of female friends), this wine begs to be taken seriously. Renowned wine critic Robert Parker once gave it a score of 90 (outstanding) in his newsletter The Wine Advocate. “Supple, sweet, and tasty,” he wrote, “this wine totally over-delivers for its humble price and is an exceptional value.”
My dining companions opted for sweeter wines — a riesling and moscato d’Asti — to complement their desserts: pumpkin cheesecake and apple strudel cheesecake. I ordered the chocolate pâté, drizzled with cherry port sauce, simply out of intrigue but found the smooth texture and rich tastes irresistible.
Harris and Grant say they still are “working the kinks out,” and there were a few minor ones: For example, one of our menus was missing the dessert page. Still, the classy yet laid-back atmosphere and impressive selection of desserts and wine made Taste well worth a trip Downtown. “I think we’ve grown in how we look at Taste,” says Harris. “We probably came in blind, and now that we’ve been open for a year, we’ve kind of figured out what works.”
What to Know:
Location: 323 Main St. • Phone: (812) 424-8278
Hours: 5-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday-Saturday
Adult Beverages: Yes • Prices: Average glass of wine is $6-$15; average dessert is $5.50 • Reservations: Yes, for groups of eight and up • Payment: Major credit cards accepted