The third annual A Taste of Columbus unfolded for all the world like a seemingly never-ending progressive dinner — but all under one roof.

A record crowd of 500 people ate their way from booth to booth and through dishes ranging from braised pork to lobster mac-and-cheese Thursday at The Commons. Yet most of the 28 vendor chefs, owners or managers said their mostly new specialties or food or drink features were merely a tempting tool — to feed diners, yes.

But also to interest would-be patrons enough to get them in the door of their establishment later. Or to get them on their list for catering or event planning services.

Chef Jeff Karr of Catering By Karr acknowledged that his presence at last year’s Taste boosted his relatively new business.

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“Not only did it get our name out into the community, but it was matter of making connections,” Karr said. “And that’s invaluable to businesses like this. After I did this event, it was a huge springboard for me.”

The gathering serves as a fundraiser for chamber programs such as the Small Business Challenge.

Yet the evening seemed like a big helping of fun to attendees with an appetite for variety.

For starters, first-time attendee Tina Hurzeler was impressed with Donut Central’s new donut holes with injectable pumpkin extract, giving them a whimsical element. She already had visited the Central Avenue business earlier this year.

“This is amazing,” Hurzeler said of the event in the first half hour. “I’ve been to only four (booths), and I think I’m already full.”

She labeled First Class Catering’s shrimp cocktail as especially amazing.

Some attendees came from surrounding areas for the gathering.

Among them were Gerry Lauderbaugh of Dupont, who was meeting his daughter, a Columbus resident, for dinner.

Lauderbaugh sampled one of the pulled pork stuffed potato skins from The Garage Pub & Grill and proclaimed it fantastic.

4th Street Bar & Grille owners Kurt and Kelly Schwarze dished out generous helpings of a flavorful new braised pork grain dish — and watched diners take the portions nearly as quickly as the pair could serve the food. A vegetarian alternative is coming soon, too, to their downtown restaurant.

“We had such good comments from customers on it recently (as a test) this past month that we decided to make it a permanent dish on the menu starting in a couple weeks,” Kurt Schwarze said.

Standing amid the early diners, organizer Cindy Frey, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, smiled broadly over the number of tickets sold.

“And I think we have room for more,” she said.

She added that a few more vendors beyond the previous 30 maximum could be added in future years without cramping space or the traffic flow of milling people.

Those hungry for more than food or drink got a superb sampling of music from popular local violinist Colin Matthews. Along with backing tracks, he played classic tunes ranging from Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” to Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and the Eagles’ “Hotel California.”

And like that celebrated venue, given the varied tasty spread that lay in front of them, guests perhaps wished they could never leave.

A Taste of Columbus by the numbers

3: Number of years for the event

28: Number of vendors

500: Number of attendees

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.