SCARBOROUGH — Hundreds of food lovers sipped on creative cocktails while they nibbled on rum flambéed banana and lemongrass mousse Sunday night at the Signature Event Cocktail and Dessert Competition.

The judges awarded the best cocktail of the night to 40 Paper Italian Bistro & Bar in Camden for its “Root and Smoke,” mixed by bar manager Wind Tracy, who took home a $500 prize. The winning drink was a mix of mescal, lime juice, simple syrup, beet-ginger shrub, housemade grapefruit bitters, a touch of Angostura, and ginger beer.

“I was really trying to push myself a little bit,” Tracy said. “I wanted to use flavors that I don’t usually use in mixing cocktails – the smoke from the mescal and the tartness and the brightness of the vinegar” from the shrub.

The “People’s Choice Award” for best cocktail went to Portland’s Top of the East for “Snow White’s Poison,” a mix of vodka, pear and lemon juices and cider, topped with an apple-coconut foam. Guests had the added pleasure of talking about the cocktail with Snow White, also known as Jessica Candage. Candage was dressed in a long, blood-red gown, and her long black tresses fell over the line of tattoos running down her right arm. She wore bright red lipstick, and posed for photos holding an apple.

“The reaction has been great,” Candage said. “People have really been talkative, and they’re more open to trying the drink if they have someone to talk to about it. People love Snow White – and the edgier Snow White. They took a lot of pictures today.”

Bartenders also competed in a new category this year, “Down East Best of Maine Cocktail.” The winner was chosen by the editors of Down East magazine, and the cocktail will be featured at the publication’s “Best of Maine” event. The winner was Natalie’s Restaurant in Camden for its “Maine Pinetini.”

The cocktail was made with vodka, ginger liqueur, cardamom simple syrup, clementine juice, lime juice, lime zest and a pinch of ground cardamom. It was topped with a pine foam made by steeping pine needles in hot water, like a tea. That liquid is then mixed with gelatin and placed in a charger so that it can be dispensed as a foam.

The People’s Choice dessert went to David’s Opus Ten in Portland for the second year in a row. David’s won last year by serving up hot beignets; this year, chefs David Turin and Bo Byrne flambéed bananas in a pan and served them over a brownie ice cream sandwich.

The sold-out party, held inside the Prime-Mercedes Benz dealership, marked the end of Maine Restaurant Week, which draws to a close Monday. The event benefits Preble Street programs that fight hunger and homelessness.

Cars were emptied out of the dealership to make way for tables groaning with decadent sweets and friendly bartenders serving cocktails with names like “The Half Lotus,” the “Portland Pig” and “Dr.’s Orders.”

About 500 guests made their way around the room and voted on their favorites as loud music thumped in the background. The professional judges who tapped the winning cocktail were Greg Bell, bartender at The Spotted Pig in New York City; Andrew Volk of the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club; and Susan Axelrod of MaineToday Media.

Fourteen restaurants competed in the cocktail categories, while 10 focused on desserts. Some restaurants participated in both categories. Academe, the restaurant at the Kennebunk Inn, tied its two entries together with a tiki bar theme.

Leanne Kazilionis of Scarborough was attending the event for the first time with her friend Jennifer Willet of Portland. They liked the David’s Opus Ten entry, and pronounced the “Snow White’s Poison” cocktail “unbelievable.” Kazilionis said another favorite was the chocolate hazelnut dessert prepared by Francesca Bowman, pastry chef at the Old Port Sea Grill in Portland. Bowman served the dessert with a chocolate wine that she made using a recipe she got in Italy.

“If I could have voted for that on its own, I would have,” Kazilionis said.

The wine, Bowman explained, is a combination of Pinot grigio and dark chocolate. “I finish it with a tiny bit of cream and a lot of soda water to kind of bring it up nice and sparkly and bubbly in your mouth,” she said.

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

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