Eren Stevens serves judge John Love

Beachside Cafe’s chef Eren Stevens serves judge Jon Love a chicken and black bean flautas at the 2021 Taste of St. Croix on Thursday.

ST. CROIX — The Taste of St. Croix at the Divi Carina Bay Casino might have been smaller than past events due to social distancing guidelines but it was neither lacking in ambience nor succulent dishes.

The casino’s banquet hall and garden parking lot were transformed into a food-lovers haven, and hosted 10 restaurants and caterers serving up their most popular dishes. Three large tents housed the maze of culinary masterpieces that ran the gamut from saltfish gundy to white chocolate bread pudding and everything in between.

The crowd of about 100 people milled around and in between the tents, enjoying samples of seafood including applewood smoked lobster and crab cakes with a mango salsa. The night’s collective menu included kallaloo, bullfoot soup, pates, tostones, Johhny cakes, goat water, chicken and black bean flautas, fungi cakes, tamarind rum punch — and even samples from a whole roasted pig.

Daniel Andrews of Amazing D’s restaurant on King Street, Christiansted served up small cups of his applewood smoked lobster and crab macaroni and cheese dishes. His sweet Thai chili short ribs also attracted a crowd to his table throughout the night.

Andrews said he first entered the culinary showcase and competition in 2019 and had a great time. Last year’s event – the 20th year celebration – was canceled in light of the pandemic. Thursday night he was happy to be back.

“The type of foods that we have here and the overall viability of the food industry is amazing and I am really excited that we are able to showcase all of what we have to offer to the world,” he said.

Celebrity judges Clint Campbell, Jay Watson and Jon Love of ForeFront Networks took their time moving from one station to the next enjoying what each participant had to offer.

Blue Water Terrace’s dessert tacos was a favorite for the judges, who raved about the depth of flavors to each other. With all the succulent cuisine, they understandably paced themselves — taking breaks several times during the course of sampling from the 10 tables. Together they were tasked with selecting a winner on overall presentation. The only other prize category, the People’s Choice Award, would be voted on by those in attendance. The winners were not named as of Daily News press time.

Thursday’s “Virtual Tasting,” streamed live for all but the select few who were there in person, kicked off the first of the three-day event. The fun continues tonight with the sold out “Sunset on the Terrace” at The Buccaneer resort. The final event on Saturday will feature two seatings for the Bubbly Brunch and Food Presentation at The Fred in Frederiksted.

Collin Hodge, president of A Taste of St. Croix, Inc., was pleased with the turnout.

He said he was satisfied with this year’s “micro-version” of The Taste, which was streamed live on caribbeanfoodnetworktv.com.

The event, filmed professionally, will also broadcast on The Muze television show on Tempo Network.

Anthony Weeks, host of The Muze, said he came up with the idea of the virtual event with a restricted in-person element because many have grown fatigued with social distancing and other restrictions and longed for a normal social scene.

“There is a lot of pent up frustration and a real need to be out in the element and this is one way that people could see and feel the vibe that is her tonight and enjoy it and still be safe and within guidelines,” Weeks said.

Thursday night’s virtual culinary experience also highlighted locations on St. Croix that showcased the territory’s readiness in foods, spirits and entertainment.

In addition to Amazing D’s, participants were Beachside Café, Edwin “Kallaloo Man” Thomas, Frank Robinson, Nauti Bar and Grill, La Reine Chicken Shack, Ridge to Reef Farm, The Galleon, Blue Water Terrace and Rita Chiverton.