September Food Festivals

By: Jose Ralat Maldonado
shrimp and grits festival

Tomatoes are reaching their peak in several parts of the country, and the fall harvest is on the horizon: The ocean is offering a bounty of catches. September is one of the most abundant months for vittles, and the festival offerings that follow reflect that.

Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival, Morgan City, La., Sept. 1-5: This 76th annual Labor Day weekend gathering celebrates industries crucial to the Bayou State’s economy and the individuals who work in the shrimping and oil businesses. Aside from tons of shrimp, Cajun classics like jambalaya and fried alligator will be on the menu. Carnival rides, arts and crafts, a car show and live music round out what is one of the most unique food festivals in the country.

West Jefferson Ox Roast, West Jefferson, Ohio, Sept. 3-5: Three tons of ox meat in a high school cafeteria is truly a special way to open any festival, much less one dedicated to the said protein. What follows is a strict ritual of seasoning, pit digging, an exact weight of smoking wood and sand, and an “official lighting of the fire” at 9 p.m. A precise schedule is then kept for the smoking of the ox until the afternoon of the next day, when the ox is parsed into sandwiches. That nutrition will be required for the kiddie tractor pull, karate demo and the watermelon-eating contest. Don’t forget to catch the tropical paradise-themed parade.

Bandon Cranberry Festival, Bandon, Ore., Sept. 9-11: The cranberry capital of Oregon won't bog anyone down with the bright but tart fruit. Instead, visitors can expect food-festival fare, a royal court, parade, quilt show and eating contests. There will also be a cranberry-counting tête-à-tête and a petting zoo, where the whippersnappers can learn to milk a cow. Whether the cow provides cranberry milk is unclear.

Lenexa Spinach Festival, Lenexa, Kan., Sept. 10: Popeye would be proud. Hosted by a town rich with a green history, the annual celebration packs in bunches of fun in one day. From a recipe contest and cane-pole fishing to area dancing acts and, yes, spinach dishes out the wazoo, this festival is chock-full of family-friendly fun. Don’t miss the Popeye disc golf art and possibly the world’s largest spinach salad. There’s no way around it: When in Lenexa, you must eat your greens.

Addison Oktoberfest, Addison, Texas, Sept. 15-18: Founded by a German immigrant 20 years ago, this little Oktoberfest celebration in a 4.35-square-mile town at the edge of northern Dallas is as authentic as an Oktoberfest can get without being in Munich, right down to the beer and brats served under the 30,000-square-foot, air-conditioned tent. Entertainment like Alpenmusikanten will be imported from Germany. Bier-barrel rolling and yodeling contents will have festival-goers clamoring to participate after a few steins. What could be wurst?

Shrimp & Grits: The Wild Georgia Shrimp Festival, Jekyll Island, Ga., Sept. 16-18: Shrimp without grits is like chicken without waffles. The citizens of Jekyll Island know this and since 2006 have done their part to celebrate a match made in Southern culinary heaven.  An amateur cook-off will be paired with a professional bout at this three-day fete. Visitors will have the opportunity to tour shrimp boats, stroll the craft booths and take in chef demonstrations. Of course, among the biggest draws will be the peel-and-eat competitions. A VIP tent and brew-cruise ferries will be available for those who want to gussy up their shrimp and grits experience.

Festa Italiana Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn., Sept. 23-25: Italian anything might be the last thought that comes to mind regarding the Land of a Thousand Lakes. That being so, who could pass up the chance for a gondola ride on the Mississippi River or a stroll down the Via dell'Amore, a reproduction of the eponymous path in the Cinque Terre area of Italy along the Mississippi River? Local Italian restaurants will offer comestibles for attendees, not just the daring individuals participating in the bocce ball competition. Organ grinders will provide the soundtrack to exhibitions of Italian sports cars and maps of Italian immigration to Minnesota. Someone will surely be heard saying, “Buon appetito!”

Great American Beer Festival, Denver, Colo., Sept. 29-Oct. 1: If the James Beard Awards are the Oscars of the food world, the Great American Beer Festival is the Oscars of the hops-and-malt set, with a tremendous difference: Everyone is invited to the GABF. This celebration of suds brings together tens of thousands of beer geeks, all thirsty for the offerings of more than 450 craft breweries. Designated drivers can relax in a private lounge, sample artisanal sodas and receive gratis swag.

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September Food Festivals

It’s beginning to cool — at least it should be — from coast to coast. And we don’t just mean temperatures — this month’s food festivals are some of the coolest around.