April Food Festivals

By: Jose Ralat Maldonado

For some, April — like T.S. Eliot notes in The Waste Land and the seasonal severe weather shows — is the cruelest month. Those poor folks would change their tune if they could partake in any of the pabulum parties below. This month’s culinary treasures are sweet, spicy and creamy.

Tater Day, Benton, Ky., April 2: While this festival celebrated on the first Monday in April is 169 years old, it wasn’t until approximately 1960 that the Kiwanis Club gave the festival its current form. Local growers still gather to trade sweet potato slips (shoots grown from mature potatoes) and related wares. They also congregate to fete the town’s favorite starchy tuber with a parade, pageants, eating competition (perfect after a spin on a carnival ride), horse races and the Barbeque Kookoff. Of course, folks will vie for a chance at winning the title of largest sweet potato.

Varli Food Festival, New York, N.Y., April 5: The traditions of Indian cuisine stretch far beyond piquant curries and steaming samosas. This homage to the subcontinent’s foodways, hosted by Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi and the eponymous magazine celebrating Indian culture, will certainly show that. While many of the restaurants participating hail from New York City, eateries from all over the tri-state region (Rhode Island, Virginia and Philadelphia) will be represented. They’ll be offering delicacies alongside the nation’s whisky, beer and sweets purveyors. Attendees will also have the opportunity to nosh on samples made by some of India’s premiere toques, including the Food Network’s Maneet Chauhan. It will be a festival as diverse as the country’s languages.

World Grits Festival, St. George, S.C., April 13–15: Some towns take their pizza seriously. Others, tacos. The people of St. George have a special place in their hearts for grits, that Southern staple that gets mornings moving with cheese or perhaps a pat of butter, or provides afternoon and evening comfort with shrimp — and more butter. Residents of this Dorchester County burg consume more grits per capita than any other place in the world. Naturally, there was nothing else to do with that information than establish a food festival. It will attract as many as 45,000 visitors annually for events that involve people rolling in grits.

Dairy State Cheese & Beer Festival, Kenosha, Wis., April 21: Cheddarheads unite with brewskis in hand, for on this day, there will be much cheese and beer to relish at the Brat Stop, host to this homegrown celebration benefiting the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha. Creamy nibbles will be provided by Vern’s Cheese, Jim’s Cheese Pantry and Laack Bros. Cheese Co. Potable offerings will be poured by Big Bay Brewing, as well as out-of-state and international suds operations, including Alaskan and Sapporo. Say cheese and cheers.

Polish Festival, Phoenix, Ariz., April 21–22: While Navajo fry bread, rather than pierogis, come to mind when it comes to foods typically found in Arizona, the Grand Canyon State is home to a considerable population with Polish heritage. These individuals have gathered annually for almost a decade for more than dumplings and kielbasa. They come for nalesniki (crepes with cottage cheese), makowiec (poppy seed cake) and bigos (hunter’s stew). They come together for dancing by the Lajkonik troupe, for choral performances from a local church group and for musical entertainment from local folk orchestras. But mostly they congregate for each other's company and a shared love of the old country and its traditions, the best sustenance. Smacznego! Enjoy.

Stockton Asparagus Festival, Stockton, Calif., April 27–29: Since 1986, for three days, the green (and sometimes white) spears of deliciousness get the attention they deserve and are available in more than roasted and steamed preparations. We’re talking in ice cream, burritos and cocktails, not to mention the requisite food festival eating and recipe contests. In the Asparazone, attendees can take in the Velocity Circus’ sideshow antics and visit with sea lions. Those interested in a little exercise paired with their spring vegetable can participate in a run of up to five miles. However, that isn’t necessary to have bushels of spear-it.

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