US food fests to fill your face
Globe and Mail
Restaurant recommendations are handy when you’re on the road. But the best way to spice-up any vacation is to unnotch your belt and faceplant into a food fest or two. Alongside smiling, sauce-smeared locals, you’ll likely scoff enough to fill you for a week. If you’re taking your taste buds to the US this summer, here’s a diverse menu of regional food festivals to look out for.
Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off
Sparks, Nevada; August 27-September 1; www.nuggetribcookoff.com
This steam-shrouded showcase tops a finger-licking heap of US barbecue events. An estimated 500,000 roll in annually to catch chef contests, live bands and a shiny-glazed mountain of great grub. Tireless grillers serve top-notch nosh, but the unnaturally esurient should consider entering the World Rib Eating Championship. The “winner” crams around 3.5 kilos of ribs in 12 minutes for a US$2,500 prize – which presumably pays for the extra aircraft seat required to fly home. Can’t make Nevada? Consider Washington, DC’s National Capital Barbecue Battle (www.bbqindc.com) or New York’s Big Apple Barbecue Block Party (www.bigapplebbq.org).
Festival of Cheese
Sacramento, California; August 1; www.cheesesociety.org/conference/festival-of-cheese/
Travellers of a curdy disposition enjoy July’s Vermont Cheesemakers Festival (www.vtcheesefest.com), but the gigantic, one-night-only Festival of Cheese staged by the American Cheese Society is a lip-smacking orgy of whey-based treats. The sole public event of a 1,000-person professional development conference, guests can gorge on more than 1,700 US artisan and specialty cheeses entered into the organization’s annual competition – categories include best smoked and best blue-veined. Add side dishes of preserves, charcuterie and craft beer and the US$60 ticket price makes perfect sense.
Maine Lobster Festival
Rockland, Maine; July 30-August 3; www.mainelobsterfestival.com
If you’ve consumed an overly large chunk of this festival’s 9,000 kilograms of mouthwatering fresh-cooked lobster, absolve your waist-expanding sins with its 10km road race. Alternatively, pull-up a chair for seconds. A six-decades-old local legend, this family-friendly celebration is all about downhome dining at alfresco communal tables. Start with a bulging lobster roll, add a few sweet steamed clams and then dive into some full-on crustacean-cracking, served with bread rolls and butter-slathered corn. Chowder fan? Consider adding July’s daylong Boston Seafood Festival (www.bostonseafoodfestival.org).
San Francisco Street Food Festival
San Francisco, California; August 16; www.sfstreetfoodfest.com
You can’t swing a Korean fusion burrito in some US cities without hitting a food truck but this annual Mission District fiesta offers around 80 alfresco vendors in one stomach-stuffing, sun-dappled stretch. A pilgrimage spot for sticky-fingered comfort food fans, you’ll likely be salivating over doughnut burgers, chocolate s’mores and that well-known American health food: deep-fried mac and cheese. Can’t make the date? See www.offthegridsf.com for regular food truck gatherings in and around the city.
Gilroy Garlic Festival
Gilroy, California; July 25-27; www.gilroygarlicfestival.com
While vampires routinely avoid this Christmas Hill Park event, thousands of clove-huggers roll in every year for cooking demos, live music and pungent food stands serving everything from garlic fries to garlic ice-cream – all made with around two tons of local-grown bulbs. Keep your eyes peeled for this year’s Miss Gilroy Garlic Queen and don’t miss the breath-challenging cook-off of gourmet recipes (think spicy garlic butter cookies with garlic goat cheese). The best part? After stuffing your face, you’re guaranteed a row to yourself on the flight home.
Pittston Tomato Festival
Pittston, Pennsylvania; August 21-24; www.pittstontomatofestival.com
Grassroots events are the hidden gems of US food fests, from the Georgia Peach Festival (www.gapeachfestival.com) to the Beauregard Watermelon Festival (www.beauregardwatermelonfestival.com). But how about an American version of Spain’s fruit-chucking La Tomatina? This Pennsylvania celebration serves-up a street parade, tempting food stands and several tomato-growing contests (look out for the “ugliest” winner). But for US$8 (goggles included), you can join 150 fun-loving souls tossing rotten tomatoes at each other. It’s the most fun you’ll have while reeking like an old ketchup bottle.
Taste of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois; July 9-13; www.tasteofchicago.us
While popular summer dishes include Aspen’s Food and Wine Classic (www.foodandwine.com/classic); Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival (www.lafw.com); and Portland’s Bite of Oregon (www.biteoforegon.com), America’s biggest scoff-fest is “the Taste.” This 34-year-old behemoth lures more than two million to Chicago’s Grant Park every year for a jam-packed buffet of free live music and food stands serving everything from spicy ethnic nosh to local specialties like deep-dish pizza and toppings-slathered Chicago dogs. Keep dancing and you might work it all off.
National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival
Buffalo, New York; August 30 & 31; www.buffalowing.com
In lieu of an American Cheeseburger Festival or a National Nacho Jamboree, America’s best pub food is celebrated at this sauce-tastic annual party. Inspired by a junk food-loving Bill Murray movie character, more than 400,000 hungry carnivores now roll in to the Buffalo Bisons’ Coca-Cola Field ballpark every year to scoff the region’s best wings, consider entries in the Chicken Wing Hall of Fame and watch in awe as contestants’ eyes glaze over in the Nuclear Hot Wing Eating Contest. Inspired to launch a spicy road trip? Pack some antacid and add Austin’s Hot Sauce Festival (www.austinchronicle.com/market/hotsauce).