Tuesday, September 13, 2011

2011 Cleveland Garlic Festival


This past weekend was the Garlic Festival at Shaker Square.  It is an annual fundraiser for the North Union Farmers Market whose mission statement is "to champion the local food of Northeast Ohio and promote their environmental, economic and health benefits...through a network of markets."

For this food loving Italian girl, this was a must do event - I got to support my passion for local food and get some garlic breath at the same time!  

The festival offered something for everyone: food, music, a parade, belly dancers, chalk art and a kiddie area that included a mini tractor maze. But for me, it was all about the food. I was most excited about the activities in the Chef Demo Tent. 

I missed the grass-fed beef grill-off competition on Saturday because I also wanted to miss the rain, but got there just in time to attend the chef demo by the ladies of La Campagna.  I've eaten at their restaurant in Westlake before so I knew we were in for a treat!  They demonstrated how to prepare a white bean bruschetta, a sliced orange salad and pasta with butternut squash, tomatoes and white wine - all of course including lots of fresh garlic. 

The La Campagna sisters entertained us with anecdotes of their Italian family, restaurant and cooking.  The recipes were simple and delicious - I'll be making all of them for sure. They were even super sweet and posted recipes for the bruschetta and pasta.  The orange salad was a taste sensation with the sharp bite of the garlic balanced with the cool citrus of the oranges.  If you want to try some of their authentic cuisine, call ahead for reservations and head to their restaurant.  It's an wonderful experience where you will feel like you were invited to their home for a special family meal. 

Justine prepping the oranges

white bean bruschetta

loved the oranges, garlic and chives!
On Sunday I made sure to get there in time for the heirloom pork Grill-Off.  Unlike the Saturday event, the contestants were chefs that I had either not heard of or had not yet tasted their food.  I was excited to see what they would be bringing to the table.  The judges were Stefanie Paganini from the Paganini cooking school, Doug Katz from fire food and drink, and Jonathan Sawyer from the Greenhouse Tavern and the newly opened Noodlecat.

The first chef was Melissa Khoury from Amp 150.  She had a very creative dish that included the face and feet of the pig seasoned with cumin, coriander and whole mustard seeds, rolled up into a lollipop, sprinkled with a homemade garlic powder and garnished with pickled garlic.  I give her huge points for creativity and the flavor was delicious but I just couldn't get past the texture and the fact that it was served cold.  


Next up was Jonathan Buchner from CK's Steakhouse at Quail Hollow Resort in Painesville.  He got the over-achiever award from my group with his huge assortment of dishes.  He presented a four course mini-meal that included appetizer, salad, entree and dessert.  We were able to taste three of the four but were disappointed that the most unique dish and the one we were most excited about was not offered: a chili bacon s'more with a cinnamon graham cracker.  All of the dishes served were very tasty and definitely make me want to head out to Quail Hollow to explore what else Jonathan has up his sleeve!
Slovenian sausage with an eggplant red pepper sauce
Escarole salad with pork belly and garlic vinaigrette - tasted like a BLT - yum!

Soud vide pork with black garlic and polenta
The third chef in the competition was Ali Barker from Radius. I was really intrigued because even though I go to Chagrin Falls regularly, I had never heard of this restaurant.  The chef explained that he was located inside of a retirement community.  If his entry is any indication of the normal menu there, the residents of Judson are very lucky indeed!  He created a garlic sausage that contained both pork and beef that was aged and poached in red wine.  It was served over top white beans and tomatoes and reminded me of a cassoulet.  It was topped with a wonderful bechemal-like sauce called a soubise.  After the competition I asked the chef about this unusual and rich sauce.  He explained it is a rice based sauce that normally is prepared with onions, but he used garlic instead in honor of the competition. It was amazing and was my favorite dish of the competition.

The final chef was Brian Doyle of Sowfood.  I barely caught the description of his entry but did catch that it included pig tongue and ear.  They were served over a salad of arugula with a creamy dressing.  This showcases my only complaints of the Demo Tent events - we were not provided a list of the dishes being served and sometimes it was difficult to hear what was being said because there was a lot of commotion as people lined up to get the samples being offered.  It would have been a lot less chaotic and enjoyable if the volunteers brought the dishes to the tables.  My group all tried both the tongue and the ear with mixed opinions.  I loved the tongue, others - not so much.  We all agreed that we will pass on the pig ear in the future because it not surprisingly had the texture of cartilage.  

I was happy to hear that Chef Ali Barker of Radius took home the top prize.  His dish was the one that my group all felt should win.  All the contestants really impressed us with their creativity and delicious cuisine.  I know that I will be sampling their restaurants in the future.

After the cooking demo and grill-off, my next order of business was to sample the garlic fries!  I first had this treat when visiting San Francisco and have been hooked ever since.  I was happy to see there were two vendors and I planned to try both - one on each day.

My first fries were from Spice of Life Caterers.  I've had their food before and  had high hopes for the fries.  I was disappointed because I saw that the fries themselves were a very average frozen variety.  But when tossed with the garlic and parsley and dipped in the accompanying aioli (garlic mayonnaise) they were actually quite tasty.  

Spice of Life fries properly coated with the fresh garlic and parsley

I sampled the fries from the other side of the venue on Sunday.  I had seen people eating them while walking around and found the fries to be very pale and underdone looking.  I asked them for well-done fries and they assured me that even though they were not a golden brown that they were cooked - it had something to do with the type of oil being used.  The did cook my order longer than normal with only minor grumbling and the extra time in the fryer produced a much better fry.  Thankfully these fries were fresh cut; however, they didn't actually toss the garlic and fries together.  The garlic was sprinkled on top and the fresh parsley was missing.  I was really surprised at how delicious these fries were in spite of the strange preparation - they won my taste-off without question and confirmed that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.  I did notice that the Spice of Life stand switched over to better fries on Sunday so I wish I could have tasted those instead - that might have given them the win.
  
Also, as I was leaving I noticed that Hodge Podge was also selling garlic fries!  I was upset because they looked amazing and I was stuffed.  I was chatting to one of their customers who was happily devouring her order and she very sweetly offered me a taste...which I of course took her up on!  No photos of these because I was too busy stealing fries and talking.  They had a basil aioli drizzled on top that was amazing!  While not traditional, they bursted with flavor and were fabulous.  Great job Chris!

Many vendors were at the Garlic Fest showcasing their goods.  Euro Fine Wines was a huge hit with their wine samples for a quarter. Cleveland's food trucks were a big hit with the crowds. The Chubby Cook had some really enticing pulled chicken sandwiches but I was too full to try one. Fellow blogger Poise in Parma was working their booth and it was nice to catch up and say hi. I did have a sample of the chewy garlic free brownies and was impressed.  I'm really looking forward to an upcoming bloggers event being held at their  kitchen. Mitchell's had some garlic pink peppercorn ice cream that was really good!  I loved the creamy garlic spiked vanilla ice cream with the spicy crunch of the peppercorns.   Thaxton's was one of my favorite garlic vendors and I enjoyed their samples of pungent and spicy organic garlic.  My favorite was the Bogatyr with its super hot finish. I'm sure that after the samples my garlic breath transformed into dragon breath!

In addition to all the odiferous dining choices, there were many interesting sights at the festival.  A Euclid Beach Rocketship Car was giving people rides, balloon animals were created, and volunteers were wearing crazy garlic hats.  The grounds were tastefully decorated with garlic, flowers, shrubs and apples and this added a nice late summer touch. There was even a Garlic Superhero in attendance.  





As we left, we had to stop and check out the Tomato Throw-Down.  See if  you can tell who was most "popular"...




And the winner is...
Overall, the 2nd Annual Cleveland Garlic Festival was a great time!  If you are a lover of garlic, awesome food and supporting local cuisine - it's a wonderful and affordable event.  There were so many fun activities and delicious food that even in two days I didn't experience it all.  Shaker Square is a perfect setting for this tribute to the stinking rose.  I'll definitely be back next year!

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