WALLA WALLA -- A walk through downtown businesses never tasted so sweet.
Sliced, diced, caramelized and grilled, Walla Walla Sweet Onions will be prepared 10 ways for ticket-holders of the second annual Sweet Skip this weekend.
The event, a feature of the 26th annual Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival, is essentially a self-guided walking tour for Sweets samples, said creator Aniko Samu Kuschatka.
The Walla Walla resident introduced the idea last year as a take on a pub crawl -- with onions as the centerpiece of each visit.
"Onions are a staple in most savory dishes, and the culinary possibilities are endless," she said in an announcement about the event.
Here's how it works: Customers pay $25 for an advanced ticket to receive 10 tokens. The tokens can be taken to 10 participating downtown businesses in exchange for a sample of a dish or item specially prepared with Walla Walla Sweets as a key ingredient.
The event runs noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Designed to boost businesses and create a one-of-a-kind experience for participants, the Sweet Skip gives consumers a taste of an onion-inspired dish from each business.
"It's very similar to Feast Walla Walla and was intended for both the restaurants as well as the community to participate in something that honors culinary creativity with our Walla Walla Sweet Onions," Kuschatka said.
The model is slightly different though because instead of gathering all the merchants under one tent, it delivers customers right to their doors. That means businesses save the time and expense of setting up separate booths at the festival while still circulating customers through the downtown area.
"For restaurants, stores and cafes that's helpful because we still have to staff our establishment, and it brings people in who maybe haven't been there before," said Colby Burke, who owns Second Avenue gourmet grocer Salumiere Cesario with her husband, Damon.
The pair were still devising a plan for their sweet onion-inspired dish Wednesday but for the second year are on board as a participating business.
"What better way to showcase all of the great ways you can eat a sweet onion than going around and sampling from local establishments and restaurants," Burke said.
At the Onion World window on First Avenue, Manager Pam Hardiman plans to serve up the business' signature sweet onion sausage on Walla Walla Bread Co. buns along with a seasonal cucumber and onion salad. She hopes the participation will help build traffic and a sausage following. Only once, she said, has a person commented to her that the sausage was too hot for their liking.
"Other than that a sample has never failed," she said.
Nevertheless she marveled that some people still don't realize the business even exists near the corner of First Avenue and Main Street.
"You would be surprised at how many people walk by that little window and don't have any idea it's there," she said.
Hardiman said last year's Sweet Skip menu featured chili with the sausage. That dish has become so popular it's a regular menu item. This year, she said she wanted to introduce something new.
John Lastoskie, owner of Colville Street eatery Graze, is preparing for his business's first year at the event with a panini made with caramelized onions, prosciutto, goat cheese and fresh thyme.
Coincidentally that combination of ingredients made up the first panini Lastoskie ever served when he made his debut at the Walla Walla Valley Farmers Market four years ago.
"It's a nice trip down memory lane," he said. "But more than anything we'd just like to provide people with a nice taste of what a Walla Walla onion is."
Last year organizers say about 60 tickets were sold to the event. As more consumers take the proverbial bite they hope the Sweet Skip will help put the festival on the map in a way similar to the garlic festival in Gilroy, Calif.
"My hope is not just to put Walla Walla on the map, but for Walla Walla to come together and recognize that we indeed have another opportunity for creativity," Kuschatka said.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.
In The Skip
Salumiere Cesario, 20 N. Second Ave.
Graze, 5 S. Colville St.
Colville Street Patisserie, 40 S. Colville St.
Onion World, 2 S. First Ave.
Sweet Basil Pizzeria, 5 S. First Ave.
Vintage Cellars, 10 N. Second Ave.
Thai Bon Appetit, 25 S. Spokane St.
El Sombrero, 4 W. Oak St.
Walla Walla Bread Co., 225 E. Main St.
Jacobi's Cafe, 416 N. Second Ave.
Tickets are available at Sterling Savings, 2 E. Main St.; the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce, 29 E. Sumach St.; and the Walla Walla Valley Farmers Market on Saturday at Fourth Avenue and Main Street. Advance tickets are $25. Tickets purchased the day of the event are $35 and only available at the information booth at the festival.
For more information on the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival, see Marquee.