Once warm summer weather rolls in, destinations across the country celebrate the season with a variety of food festivals. Some honor a recent harvest, while others offer samplings of an area’s diverse cuisines, or even just showcase one key ingredient. Wherever you vacation this summer, chances are there will be a food festival or two not far away. These are some of the best.
Taste of Chicago, June 30 through July 9
The 26th annual Taste of Chicago in Grant Park offers samplings of cuisine from more than 70 area restaurants. “Ribs, barbecue, pizza, and ethnic foods are now the main draw,” says Veronica Resa of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events. “The Food Network is coming this year, the first weekend, and doing a dessert contest where local chefs compete against each other. At our chef demo area, [visitors] can see different gourmet restaurant chefs showing their specialties. And the Third of July fireworks are always a true celebration of the entire event.”
The festival opens daily from 11 a.m. through 9 p.m. “Lunchtime during the week is one of the best times to come,” recommends Resa. “There’s a big, but workable, crowd.” Admission is free, with food and beverage tickets (required for all tastings) available in batches of 11 for $7.
The Taste of Chicago is also a music festival. This year, scheduled performers include the O’Jays, Glen Campbell, India.Arie, and Macy Gray, among others. Additionally, the Chicago Country Music Festival, part of the Taste of Chicago, will be held July 1 and 2.
Feast of San Gennaro, New York City, September 14 through 24
“If people want to come and get a taste of New York, literally, this is it,” says Bob Liff, spokesman for Figli di San Gennaro, the organizing committee for the feast. This 11-day festival, the 79th annual, celebrates the patron saint of Naples with food, live music, parades, and contests throughout New York’s Little Italy neighborhood. More than 300 street vendors sell authentic Italian dishes, specialty foods, and New York souvenirs.
“The signature dish is grilled sausage, and I always recommend hot as opposed to sweet,” says Liff. “And cannoli—we have an annual cannoli-eating contest which is hysterical, an amazing thing to see. You’ll see 300-pound guys stuffing their faces to see who can eat the most in six minutes. The record is in the low 20s. Try not to stand too close.”
Major events this year include parades on September 16, 19 (the official feast day), and 23, and the cannoli-eating contest on September 15. Live music is performed nightly on the stage at the intersection of Grand and Baxter streets. Admission is free, but you will have to purchase whatever food and drink you wish to sample.
NEXT >> Gilroy Garlic Festival, Montreal Sweets Expo
Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy, California, July 28 through 30
More than two tons of garlic will be used in the 28th annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, a celebration of dishes enhanced by the famous fragrant ingredient. “People come back for the same things,” notes Micki Pirozzoli, president of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association. “I highly recommend the key lime calamari.” Other hallmark dishes include Italian sausage and pepper steak sandwiches, stuffed mushrooms, garlic ginger chicken stir fry, and penne pasta con pesto, all cooked at the festival’s “gourmet alley.”
“Gourmet alley now has a demonstration stage where people can watch the chefs prepare dishes,” says Pirozzoli. “It’s one-on-one, people can ask questions, see the ingredients, and can then make [the recipes] at home.” Other activities include live music performances, shopping for arts and crafts, and a recipe contest.
The festival opens daily at Christmas Hill Park, Gilroy, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults. When’s the best time to go? “Friday is our local day, we tend to get people close by,” notes Pirozzoli. “Saturday we’re real busy, but it’s not too bad if you get there early. Sunday around 1 p.m. is also a really nice time.”
Sweets Expo, Montreal, July 8 and 9
Travelers with a sweet tooth may want to head north to the Sweets Expo in Montreal, where desserts take center stage. Highlights include a showcase featuring sculptures made entirely of chocolate, interactive demonstrations by confectionary industry experts, health presentations, and family entertainment. The festival also has several contests planned, such as a cake-throwing competition and candy-guessing challenges.
This year’s event will be held at the Palais de Congres de Montreal. Admission is $11 ($12CAD) for adults.
NEXT >> LA Tofu Festival, Yarmouth Clam Festival
LA Tofu Festival, August 12 and 13
If you’re not a fan of sweets, consider a health-oriented festival such as Los Angeles’ 11th annual Tofu Festival. Held in L.A.’s Little Tokyo neighborhood, the festival features more than 40 food vendors, a “Taste of Japan” with traditional Japanese cuisine samples, a celebrity chef cooking stage, tofu-eating contests, live music, children’s activities, and a beer, wine, and sake garden. Available dishes feature both tofu and non-tofu specialties.
Admission is $8 for adults. Weekend events run from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and 12 noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Yarmouth Clam Festival, Yarmouth, Maine, July 21 through 23
The 41st annual Yarmouth Clam Festival honors the clam with food booths, parades, carnival rides, races, arts and crafts, and more. “It’s one huge eating fest, because there is so much yummy food to choose from—lobster, steamers, corn on the cob, blueberry pancakes, burgers, pizza, cakes, pies, and ice cream,” says Yarmouth native Carrie Swan, who has been attending the festival for more than 20 years. “I always make it a point to get the fried fish nuggets from the Lions Club Booth, a lime rickey, and a strawberry shortcake from one of the church booths. You can’t really go wrong with any of the food choices.”
“I always have fried clams on Friday to kick the weekend off,” says Judi Clancy, director of the festival. “We have clams of all varieties—fried in crumbs, fried in batter, steamed, clam cakes, clam chowder, and shore dinners. But for those who aren’t seafood lovers, we have standard fare.”
The free festival has many new events this year, such as a Jeopardy contest and photography show, plus old favorites. “The professional bike race on Sunday morning is a spectacle of color and speed on Main Street with 100 men and women flying through town,” says Clancy. “It is my favorite event of the weekend.”
“Yarmouth itself is a beautiful example of a Maine town, the community is warm and friendly, and the festival is really fun and the epitome of all things summer,” says Swan. “It’s got really top-quality food, entertainment, and goods for sale.”
NEXT >> Bite of Seattle, The Fisherman’s Feast
Bite of Seattle, July 21 through 23
The free-admission Bite of Seattle offers more than 100 food booths, four beer gardens, seven outdoor stages, wine tastings, comedy shows, and cooking demonstrations. More than 60 Seattle restaurants and 30 food companies will be on hand to show and sell their wares. Live music is scheduled throughout the festival, with acts including jazz, folk, rock, and reggae.
This year’s festival will be held at the Seattle Center from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.
The Fisherman’s Feast, Boston, August 17 through 20
The Sorrento Cheese Fisherman’s Feast, the oldest continuous Italian festival in Boston’s North End, celebrates its 96th anniversary this year. Based on Sicilian traditions, the feast honors Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca with food (calamari, sausages, cannoli, pizza, and other Italian specialties), music, and the famous “Flight of the Angel,” where a young girl “flies” from a fourth-floor window to greet the Madonna statue and her procession. Other events include cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, and a cheese-tower building competition.
The feast takes place on North, Lewis, and Fleet streets. Admission is free.
NEXT >> Houston Hot Sauce Festival, Telluride Brews & Blues
Houston Hot Sauce Festival, September 16 and 17
The 7th annual Houston Hot Sauce Festival features fiery foods to sample, live music and entertainment, an amateur salsa (the dip, not the dance) competition, and kids’ activities. Sample booths include hot sauce vendors, chili samplers, barbecue stands, and more. The festival also has two stages with live country, rock, zydeco, and blues performers.
This year’s festival will be held at the Houston Farm & Ranch Club, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, which includes tasting samples of the fiery food products. Concessions are “pay as you go.”
Telluride Blues & Brews, September 15 through 17
The 13th annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival showcases 50 microbreweries offering their suds for sipping and nationally known musicians performing live on the Telluride Town Park stage. Headliners this year include Bruce Hornsby, John Mayer, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
“The beer tasting is on Saturday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., concurrent with the music,” says Bonnie Luftig, director of operations and marketing for the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival. “I recommend it all; there are different types of music to suit different tastes. People usually come for the day and stay.” Types of cuisine to sample with your beer include pizza, gyros, burgers, roasted nuts, and Asian dumplings. “We’ll also most likely have an Indian [cuisine] booth this year,” notes Luftig.
Tickets are $50 for Friday or Sunday and $55 for Saturday. Three-day passes are available for $140.
Wherever summer takes you this year, be sure to seek out a local food festival. Economical, amusing, and delicious, they’re one of the best ways to sample an area’s food, local culture, and entertainment. To find more food festivals, go to Festivals.com or WhatsOnWhen.com.