The rain stopped just in time.

Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mary Cohen had declared that this year’s Winter in August would be held on Merchants Row “rain or shine,” and at 4 p.m. it looked like that needle had landed on “rain.” An hour later though, when the event kicked off, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining.

“The truth is, I don’t think we can ever go inside again unless it’s really torrential,” she said. “People like to be out in the street.”

Winter in August is the local business community’s annual tribute to the ski industry. Area restaurants and caterers serve complex small plates to hundreds of visitors who circulate among their booths. The count of booths was somewhat lower than in previous years.

“I think we had some competing factors,” Cohen said. “The fair’s been under a transition, and I know some people were going there. I hope the brutal heat we had last year didn’t keep people away this year.”

Nonetheless, there was plenty of food on offer, from the pork belly mac-n-cheese by Casey’s Caboose to the Lobster mac-n-cheese from Franklin Conference Center. Lobster showed up in wontons from Preston’s in Killington — the favorite of Rutland resident Alaura DuBray.

“Everything about the texture, the flavor — and then the rice — was flavored just perfectly,” she said.

Rep. Larry Cupoli, R-Rutland City, was one of the judges picking the booths with the best flavor and presentation, and he said he was well sated at the end of the process.

“It’s a very, very fulfilling job,” he said. “It was very difficult to make a decision. These restaurants are so creative with what they produce here, it’s not even funny.”

The best taste award went to Greenfield’s at the Holiday Inn, which served a bison chili. Casey’s Caboose, which served a flank steak slider alongside their mac-n-cheese, was the runner-up. Best display went to the Franklin Conference Center while Preston’s, which served a bison, bacon and bourbon meatball in addition to their lobster wontons, took the people’s choice award.

Not everyone was pushing food. Mike Mazzella was there representing Vermont Brew, a professional arena football team recently formed in Middlebury.

“It’s football in a bathtub,” he said. “It’s 80-feet wide and 200-yards long — basically a hockey rink. ... Think of it like the Vermont Mountaineers as far as football is concerned. It’s a stepping stone. If you come out of college and you’re a Division III athlete, you may not have film. You can come to us and we’ll get film.”

Mazzella said the team will play its first game in March against an opponent to be determined.

“We’re looking into leagues right now,” he said. “We want something regional so the travel’s low. We’re looking for supporters. We’re looking for sponsors. ... We’re trying to be community-owned and operated. ... It’s a good overall community thing that we’re looking to have.”

gordon.dritschilo

@rutlandherald.com

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rbbvt

Correction needed. The size of the football arena should be 200 feet, not yards.

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