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Family center fundraiser gives sold-out crowd 'A Taste of Hampden'

Event showcases area's growing restaurant scene

By Larry Perl, lperl@tribune.com

11:42 PM EDT, October 25, 2012

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A Taste of Hampden, a fundraiser for the Hampden Family Center on The Avenue, was a rare night out for one couple.

They don't get out much, because they have children, said local merchant Susannah Siger, who met them in a sellout crowd of 250 at the family center, 1104 W. 36th St.

The couple jumped at the chance to attend the benefit, because so many good restaurants were represented under one roof, said Siger, owner of Ma Petite Shoe, which sells shoes and chocolates and supplied plenty of the latter.

In addition to raising an expected $10,000, the event showcased the blossoming Hampden and Woodberry restaurant scene, and its popularity was a reflection of that, said Benn Ray, family center board member and Hampden Village Merchants Association president.

Ray said he didn't think the event would sell out.

"We didn't, either," said Lisa Ghinger, executive director of the family center.

But who could resist such star power of chefs and restaurateurs?

Woodberry Kitchen owner Spike Gjerde ladled out oyster stew, and Alchemy's staff served up seared ahi tuna.

Corner BYOB owner Cecille Fenix dished out spicy Red Devil Mussels and chef/owner Chad Gauss of The Food Market served shrimp and grits. Robin Haas, owner of the newly opened Birrotecca in Woodberry (where Kolper's restaurant and bar used to be) served an ambitious duck confit ravioli and stressed that Birroteca has nothing in common with Kolper's.

"You wouldn't recognize it," Haas said.

Spotted in the crowd were State Sen. Catherine Pugh and City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.

For Cafe Hon, where controversy over the trademarking of the word "Hon" has finally receded, the fundraiser was a chance to serve cream of crab soup and to mention that the restaurant has a new chef, Manny Robinson.

"We can start talking about the food," Cafe Hon employee Lisa Davis said with a smile.