A stroll down East Third Street in South Bethlehem may lead you to The Taste Smokers: a new upgraded street-food culinary experience. At The Taste Smokers, customers can enjoy soul food like brisket, mac and cheese and ribs, while immersing themselves in a cultural and artistic experience.
Bringing Chicago-style barbecue to Lehigh, The Taste Smokers partnered with Lehigh University Art Galleries for the Taste of Art event, held virtually on Feb. 17.
Through the program, participants saw art from LUAG’s permanent collection and exhibition, while eating the food pairings from the South Bethlehem restaurant. Prior to the event, participants were able to pick up a kit containing art and cooking materials at LUAG’s main gallery or The Taste Smokers.
Stacie Brennan, curator of education for LUAG, said the Taste of Art events are sponsored through a federal grant aimed at supporting local businesses on the South Side.
During this month’s program, participants learned about the cultural connection between The Taste Smokers’ signature collard greens and small batch rub, and the influences brought to Chicago during the “Great Migration.” The event also featured pieces of art from LUAG’s Young, Gifted and Black exhibition.
Maite Gomez-Rejon, founder of ArtBites – an organization connecting art and food through lectures and cooking classes – said that the Taste of Art events are a great way to prompt discussion. She said the events allow people of varying backgrounds to explore different cultures and learn about culinary history through one thing we can all relate to: food.
“People Zoom in from all over to take the cooking class and to learn something,” Gomez-Rejon said. “Art and food can bring us together even if we aren’t physically in the same space.”
Gomez-Rejon said that it has been exciting to include local restaurants in the Taste of Art events.
Veronica Moore, chief operating officer and co-owner of the Taste Smokers, looks back fondly on the restaurant’s growth.
The Taste Smokers began as a food truck in 2018, open on the weekends in a Hellertown parking lot. As time went on, The Taste Smokers featured their cuisine at breweries, festivals and other events throughout the Lehigh Valley, which she said helped establish their name.
In August of 2021, The Taste Smokers opened their brick and mortar restaurant at 318 E. Third St. Moore said that despite having a loyal following, it was an interesting adjustment to market for a restaurant rather than a food truck. Even so, she said they are getting their footing in Bethlehem since opening.
Moore said in the near future the restaurant hopes to feature art from local artists on the walls, as well as offer events like live music and private rentals.
“Our restaurant is more than just a sit down restaurant, but rather an experience where you can see something new,” Moore said.
Brennan said she originally heard about The Taste Smokers in the news when the restaurant first opened.
“I thought this program would be a great opportunity to feature them as not only a newly opened business, but also a Black owned business during Black Excellence Month here at Lehigh,” Brennan said.
Brennan said she hopes The Taste of Art events provide experiences that support individuals’ well-being, critical thinking and cultural understanding, while also promoting community connections..
Moore said she was happy she had the opportunity to familiarize the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities with the restaurant, in addition to seeing the art at the LUAG exhibit through The Taste of Art event.