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DISH '08: Local Food Groups

Bite club: Food groups bring the social aspect back to eating

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BY BRENDAN GIUSTI

Eat, drink, and be merry. That used to entail dinner with the family or scarfing down pizza and wings with buddies. But lately groups have popped up across the Greater Rochester area with the sole purpose of sharing a love of food and drink with other people -- strangers, even -- on a regular basis. Finding the right group for you depends on your tastes, and an interest in expanding the horizons of your taste buds. Below is an introduction to a few of the food groups based here in Rochester.

If you're not into meat, that's not a problem for The Rochester Area Vegetarian Society. The group meets the third Sunday of every month for a pot-luck vegan dinner at the Brighton Town Park Lodge, and mixes it up with member-hosted picnics during the summer and occasional gatherings at local restaurants. The group also hosts guest lecturers and speakers on a wide range of topics related to vegetarianism. This is a membership-based group -- annual dues cost $20 person, $35 per couple, and $10 for students and individuals on fixed incomes -- but guests are welcome to attend for $3 and should bring a vegan dish to pass. (Carol Barnett, who has organized the group for the past 18 years with her husband, Ted, says that if thinking of a vegan dish to make sounds scary, you can always bring a bag of apples.) Membership gets you a copy of the group's quarterly newsletter, which has lifestyle tips, recipes, and calendar updates. The roughly 150 members span a wide range of demographics, and include students, the elderly, and families with children. Call 234-8750, visit rochesterveg.org, or e-mail drveggie@aol.com for more details.

The Restauranteers is essentially a "girls' night out" -- just one centered around food, of course. As one of the special interest groups in the Rochester Women's Network, these women wine and dine across town, making a special point to hit newly opened eateries. There are about 15 to 20 people officially in the group, and about four to five attend each monthly dining event, which occurs on the third Wednesday of every month. It's a way to network, but more simply, it serves a social function that happens to be centered on food. Members write small reviews of the restaurants for the RWN's website, reporting on the pros and cons of the atmosphere, service, and food quality, among other criteria. "I love to dine and try new places," says Allison Pope, the group's coordinator. Visit rwn.org for more details.

Slow Food is more about a lifestyle than any one particular food. The international group has a local chapter headed by Michael Warren Thomas that hosts monthly special events like potluck dinners and tastings at local restaurants. Going "slow" is about taking the time to enjoy food -- from picking up the ingredients at a local farmers market to preparing the meal in your kitchen to sharing a dinner with family and friends. The group uses food as a reason to get together, not just as the fuel to keep the members going, Thomas says. Joining the international group automatically puts you in contact with the local folks here in Rochester. Visit slowfood.com for more details.

If you ever needed an excuse to try different foods, The Rochester Brunch Club will give it to you. It's a group for people who love to eat, and according to Tonya Griffin, the group's organizer, "a lot of restaurants serve brunch, and this is an excuse to try them all." There's a core group of people who hit the monthly stops, and a few who make it out for the occasional extra dining excursion. Griffin says that, while growing up, social events were always centered on food. For her, the Brunch Club is a nice way to socialize. "You have something immediately to talk about," Griffin says in reference to the food. Visit brunchclub.meetup.com/182 for details on the monthly gatherings and dining happenings.

The newly formed Rochester Coffee Club isn't your typical group of rowdy drinking buddies. This eclectic group has members that range from husbands and wives to divorcees to those new to town and looking to connect with others who love a good cup of Joe. The Brunch Club's Griffin, who also organizes this club, started the group -- which has members ranging in age from their 20s to their early 60s -- as a way for people to socialize over a fresh brew. There are members who are serious about their beans, and those who just like to gather in local coffee shops, Griffin says. The monthly meet-ups, which draw around 20 people, are held at a different locale each time, with an occasional second meeting during the warm summer months. Griffin says the idea is to meet other people who like going to coffee shops so you don't have to go alone. Visit coffee.meetup.com/482 for more details.

Whether you swirl your glass of Merlot under your nose to smell the aroma, or you only know that wines come in both red and white, The Rochester Winos may help expand your palate. For the past three years EnzoRaffaele-Addamo and his girlfriend, Janice D'Ambrosia, have been giving wine tastings and food pairings at local restaurants and vineyards in the hopes of educating and promoting Finger Lakes Wine to newbies and aficionados alike. Each tasting -- they usually take place on a Wednesday or Thursday in the last week of the month -- features three red wines and three white wines paired with appetizers throughout the night. You won't be drinking six glasses of wine, though. According to Raffaele-Addamo, each sample is between one and one and a half ounces -- just enough to get the taste and explore the local flavors. Experts from local wineries are on hand at the events, and local chefs create the appetizers to complement the drinks. Visit rochesterwinos.com for more details and ticket information.

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