Moveable Feasts

Food Festivals offer fun with the nosh

Do you like your food with music and plenty of people-watching? How about face painting, contests, arts and crafts — and even fireworks? If so, food festivals are just the thing for you. Here's a list of the major ones in the bay area.

Florida Strawberry Festival, Plant City: The granddaddy of food festivals, dating to 1930. It generally features daily entertainment by some of the music world's biggest stars, a midway, cook-off competitions, clogging and strawberry shortcake eating contests. This year, it runs through March 9, at Festival Grounds, Plant City. 813-754-1996.

Greek Fest, Tarpon Springs: Features Greek music, dancing, food, arts and crafts, and children's activities. Admission is $1, with all proceeds going to area families in need of financial assistance. In 2003, it's slated for 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; noon-6 p.m. Sun., March 7-9. The Youth Center, 348 N. Pinellas Ave., Tarpon Springs. 727-937-3540.

Cajun-Zydeco Crawfish Festival, St. Petersburg: Features live music, dancing, arts and crafts, and Cajun and Creole food. Music includes Cajun, Zydeco and Swamp Pop rhythms. Festivalgoers can eat their way through 10,000 pounds of crawfish, too. $10 one-day pass, $25 three-day pass, plus service charges. Fri., 5-11 p.m.; Sat., noon-11 p.m.; Sun., noon-8 p.m., March 14-16. Parking Lot 51 near the Albert Whitted Airport. 727-892-5767.

Ruskin Tomato Festival: Celebrates — what else? — the Ruskin tomato, and includes "The Great Tomato Cook-off," the crowning of the Ruskin Tomato Festival Queen and all-you-can-eat tomatoes. In 2003, it's slated for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun., May 3-4, at E.G. Simmons Park, Ruskin. 813-645-3808.

A Taste of Pinellas, St. Petersburg: More than 50 of the area's finest restaurants set up shop in beautiful Vinoy Park to offer samples of house specialties, along with music and fireworks. In 2003, organizers are celebrating the festival's 17th year, benefiting All Children's Hospital. Hours are not yet set, but it is scheduled for Fri.-Sun., May 30-June 1. 727-892-4193.

Annual Gavel & Grapes Festival, Tarpon Springs: Food, drink, live jazz, and silent and live auctions keep things fun. In 2003, it's slated for 6-10 p.m., Sat., July 19. Tarpon Avenue between Ring and Pinellas avenues. 727-938-3156.

The 14th Annual Taste of Clearwater, Clearwater: More than 50 area restaurants provide samples of their best dishes. Admission is good for all; eat till you pass out. Sponsored by the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce. Admission, $18 adults in advance, $20 at the door; 12 and under free; includes soft drinks and parking. Tentative dates: 5-8 p.m., Fri., Sept. 19 or Tues., Sept. 23. Harborview Center, 300 Cleveland St., Clearwater. 727-461-0011.

I Like It Hot Festival, Largo: Hot and spicy foods are front and center during this festival with more than 50 exhibitors. Featured are tastings, hot sauces, salsas, snacks, hot pepper plants, cooking demonstrations by noted chefs, and amateur hot and spicy cooking contests. Admission is $2, children 12 and under enter free. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat., Sept. 20, Honeywell Minnreg hall, 6340 126th Ave., N. Largo. 727-423-8433.

Dunedin Wines the Blues, Dunedin: This popular annual event takes place along the Main Street downtown area of Dunedin with plenty of live blues music, food, wines and entertainment. In 2003, the event runs 5:30-11 p.m., Sat., Sept. 27. Pioneer Park. Free. 727-733-5886.

The Colony at Longboat Key hosts the annual Stone Crab, Seafood and Wine Festival in Sarasota: A small, high-brow event in which famous chefs from across the nation cook fabulous dinners for rich people, but it's a must for food freaks. Experience everything from glam picnics on the beach to full-course, sit-down dinners. In 2003, the festival will celebrate its 14th year, and is slated for Fri.-Sun., Oct. 31-Nov. 2.

Ribfest, St. Petersburg: National recording artists and world-famous barbecue are featured at Vinoy Park. Some of the finest barbecue chefs in the U.S. showcase their delights. In 2003, it is slated for Fri.-Sun., Nov. 14-16. Admission is $6 in advance, $10 at the gate. 727-823-8534.

Ruskin Seafood and Arts Festival, Ruskin: Features sun, sand and seafood. The 15th annual festival will feature more than 100 exhibitors offering tastes of their specialties, plus fun with the Hovercraft. In 2003, it's slated for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat; and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun, Nov. 1-2. E.G. Simmons Park, Ruskin. Ruskin Chamber of Commerce, 813-654-3808.

Honeymoon Island Seafood Fest & Boat Show, on Honeymoon Island: Features a variety of seafood, live entertainment, a children's area and guided walks of the trails at the park. The fourth annual festival in 2003 will be held 5-10 p.m., Fri; 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat; 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun, Nov. 28-30. North end of Honeymoon Island, at Honeymoon Island State Park. 727-733-3197.

East Lake Woodlands Fine Wine & Food Festival, Oldsmar: Festival-goers can choose from more than 60 different vintages from around the world. More than a dozen of the area's top restaurants will also be participating, serving samples from their menus. Silent and live auctions are also included. Tickets are $25 per person; order ahead because they sell out. In 2004, the festival begins at 5:30 p.m., Thurs., Jan. 15. For information, call Brenda at the Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce. 813-855-4233.

Fiesta Day, Ybor City: Ethnic showcase featuring Tampa's lively Latin crowd. For more than 50 years, Fiesta Day has been celebrated with free food from the Columbia Restaurant, the nation's largest Spanish restaurant and Florida's oldest one. The festival is tentatively set in 2004 for 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat., Feb. 28. Seventh Avenue from 13th through 20th streets. Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, 813-248-3712.

Southwest Airlines Gasparilla Pirate Fest, Tampa: There are many food festivities associated with Gasparilla, like the buffet at the convention center before the invasion and the street fair afterward, and all sorts of goodies are available from vendors along the route of the parade, which celebrates its centennial the weekend of Sat., Feb. 7, 2004. Information, 813-353-8070.

MARCH 2004
Harbor Sound Safety Harbor Music Festival, Safety Harbor: Features eight bands, reggae, calypso, jazz and blues, 15 food vendors, arts and crafts vendors. Admission $2 for adults; children 12 and under are free. 2003 festival took place March 1 and 2; dates for 2004 not yet set, but the festival usually takes place the first weekend in March, at Marina Park. 727-726-2890.