Tonight’s Merchant Mashup will come with a price: $8, to be precise.
Students will pay $5, and children ages 5 and under are free, but everyone else must buy a ticket before wandering through the downtown shops and devouring the tasty samples from a dozen city restaurants.
This year, organizers are also adding a food challenge: Every restaurant will provide a potato-based item. As usual, tasters can vote for the best recipes. For many restaurateurs, the challenge means they will serve up food that’s not on their normal menu.
In the past, restaurants have served their best or most-loved items in hopes of luring customers. But with the challenge comes the chance of winning the bragging rights for best food of the night — and restaurateurs are eager to win.
At Hermie’s Music Store, Ambition Cafe will offer beer-and-cheese twice-baked potatoes. “We’re going to rock it,” owner Marc Renson said.
But even if the potato is a huge hit, he doesn’t see a place for it at his cafe.
“Something like that is very hard for Ambition’s kitchen to do,” he said.
So this is the one chance to taste the creation.
At Peter Anthony’s, a relatively new cafe behind Proctors on Broadway, the mashup is a chance to get onto the main downtown strip. They will be serving out of Esmeralda Jewelry on Jay Street.
“We just want people to know we’re here,” said manager Amy Conger.
They, too, have invented a potato-based item for the night: potato bacon leek soup topped with scallions.
“We invented it just for the event, but if we get positive feedback, we will make it” in the cafe, she said.
The cafe opened last August, so Conger has never seen the crowds at the Merchant Mashup, where restaurants serve food inside retail stores, and sometimes so many people crowd in it’s hard to actually make a purchase in the store.
But with tickets being sold this year, crowds may lessen.
“I think it’s going to be a little bit discouraging for visitors, because it’s always been free,” said Renson, “but I’m optimistic to see how it turns out.”
The event is organized by the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp., which also pays for advertising and gives each restaurant a stipend for food costs. DSIC Executive Director Jim Salengo said selling tickets will defray the costs of running the event. Besides, he said, many other food-tasting events are not free.
“There’s usually a cost to participate,” he said, adding that he thinks it creates a better perception of the value of the event.
“It just seemed a logical progression,” he said.
As for the food challenge, he said folks have joked for years that an event called a “mashup” should have a potato-themed challenge.
“It’s really actually been a lot of fun,” he said. “Really interesting recipes. People have really put a lot of thought into it, and I think it’s going to be really fun.”
The event runs from 5 to 8 p.m., with tickets and maps sold at a booth on the Jay Street pedestrian walkway. Participating stores are mainly on Jay Street, Union Street and State Street.