Flavorpill’s Guide to Summer Food Fests

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Summertime, and the livin’ is easy — especially for the dedicated local foodies out there. Choice produce is at its peak and vendors, from celebrated restaurants to our favorite food trucks, are dishing at the top of their game.

Amstel Light and Flavorpill want to help you fight the monotonous and savor complexity this summer. That’s why we’ve teamed up to present a pretty exhaustive guide to the best food events of the season. Whether you’re looking for hand-made Italian delicacies in Boston, a chance to ride the food-truck craze in NYC, Asian street eats in Philadelphia, or una oportunidad to enjoy Central and South American fare in Chicago, we’ve got you covered — and then some. Check out our picks in these four cities, then mark your calendars and dig out your elastic waistband shorts. And of course, let us know in the comments if we missed your fave summer foodie fests.

New York City

Gourmet Latino Festival @ South Street Seaport

Enthusiastic and adventurous eaters, rejoice! The Gourmet Latino Festival brings together the top tier of Latin American chefs and mixologists for a series of demonstrations, tastings, and discussions of authentic Latin dishes and drinks. Topics run the gamut from corn to coconut and coffee, while star chefs like Jose Garces, Aaron Sanchez, and Sue Torres lead talks and demos. As part of the official Gourmet Latino Restaurant Week (June 9-17), the festival hosts multi-course dinners at restaurants like Calle Ocho, Palo Santo, and many more.

Sud de France @ Various Locations

Score a remarkable French getaway without the transatlantic flight (or accompanying airfare) with the Sud de France Festival. For most of June, you can explore the Languedoc-Roussillon region via its food, music, and more. Hit up tastings, discussions, and special dinners that all effortlessly transport you to the beautiful Sud de France.

Cook Out NYC @ Governors Island

Less than half a mile from Manhattan, and even closer to Brooklyn, sits Governors Island, a cornucopia of greenery, bike paths, and food vendors. Showcasing local culinary talent and live music, Cookout NYC should fulfill your summer need of sunshine and BBQ. Go for great grilled treats and chef demos. Stick around for the hot dog and burger cook-offs and the return of kimchipalooza, and then take a short walk to Picnic Point, where hammocks and ice cream await you.

Bastille Day @ Smith Street, Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill

Celebrate the storming of the Bastille in a decidedly less violent manner on Smith Street. More than 60 multicultural teams take to the sandy pits of the pétanque courts (filled in on Smith Street for one day only), while locals enjoy a block party with music, comestibles, and drinks from local eateries (and French expat staples) Cercle Rouge, BarTabac, and Provence En Boite.

Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest @ Coney Island

In a nation of overeaters, the yearly hot dog contest at Nathan’s Famous Coney Island outpost is an ideal way to celebrate the Fourth. Contestants from across the country (and often the world) vie for the championship title now held by Joey “Jaws” Chestnut who in 2011 ate 62 hot dogs in ten minutes. Women eaters start early, so if you want to check out women gorging themselves on franks, get there by 11:30am.

Parked! Food Truck Festival @ South Street Seaport

Food-truck feasting is all the rage these days, but due to the City’s archaic laws, finding your beloved street vendor can seem like a game of “catch me if you can.” Thanks to merrymaking missionaries MeanRed, the chase is over, at least for one day, as over 30 trucks are dropping anchor in the South Street Seaport for the latest edition of PARKED! On the savory side, your options include Red Hook Lobster Pound, Taim Falafel, Go Burger, and La Cense Burger. And representing for the sweet team are Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, the Treats Truck, and Kelvin Natural Slush (one of our personal faves). DJs and live music are also on tap.

Scott’s Pizza Tours @ Various Locations

Pizza in New York is a point of contention (and competition) for many, but if there’s one man that knows his slice, it’s Scott. Trust him to take you on one of several tours, highlighting a variety of classic pizza restaurants as well as the history of the humble pie: there’s the historic Greenwich Village tour, which hits three different legendary spots, the Pizza Bus, which starts in Manhattan but could end up at a brick oven joint in Brooklyn or the Bronx, and the Specialty Safari, which seeks out alternative ‘za styles from vegan to gluten-free.

Smorgasburg @ Williamsburg Waterfront

Vintage clothes are great, but our favorite part of the Brooklyn Flea is the food: packaged, prepared, raw, and everything in between. So we were ecstatic when the folks behind the Flea started Smorgasburg, a collection of some of our favorite food vendors, as well as 20 GrowNYC Greenmarket farmers. On the sweet side, there’s Momofuku Milk Bar, Fine & Raw Chocolate — whose treats are so decadent you won’t believe they’re vegan — and Blue Marble Ice Cream. On the savory side, Empire Mayonnaise Co. sells fancy mayo with flavors like Emu Egg and Black Garlic, SlantShack Jerky offers up tasty grass-fed jerky, and Asia Dog slings hot dogs with kimchi. Get there early in the day, grab some grub, and take in the beautiful view of Manhattan; we know that’s what we’re doing, every Saturday from here on out.

Brooklyn Flea (Fort Greene) @ Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School

One of the City’s best treats makes its fifth annual return for the summer. The Brooklyn Flea takes place at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in one of the area’s most beautiful neighborhoods, and features over 150 vendors selling everything from rare soul 45s to handmade shirts and vintage furniture. And don’t forget the food! Comestibles from Porchetta, People’s Pops, Dough, Red Hook Lobster Pound, and pretty much everything in between, are also available.

Boston

BBQ Beach Party @ City Hall Plaza

The annual BBQ Beach Party features two things you probably don’t immediately associate with Boston: BBQ and the beach (we’re fairly confident Bostonians have the whole “party” thing down). But, when you invite barbecue all-stars from Texas to Australia to compete in a rib-off, and dump 100 tons of sand in City Hall Plaza, the results are nothing short of impressive. Come for the ribs; stay for the watermelon, cannoli, hot sauce contest, and dancing.

Chowderfest @ City Hall Plaza

When Boston’s top seafood restaurants compete, we all win. The 31st annual Chowderfest takes place amidst Boston Harborfest. Brave the crowds at City Hall Plaza (trust us, it’s worth it) and tuck in to chowders from seven renowned restos, including last year’s Chowderfest winnah, Clancy’s of Dennisport. Then cast your vote and find out who will join the Chowderfest Hall of Fame.

Fisherman’s Feast of the Madonna @ North End

The Fisherman’s Feast has been serving up Italian favorites in the North End since 1910. Held to coincide with the Assumption, the Fisherman’s Feast is a traditional thanksgiving day for the fisherman of Sciacca in Italy. Those immigrants brought the tradition to Boston, where a street fair and parade now commemorate the event. Come ready to sample calamari and other fresh seafood, plus pizza, Italian sausages, zeppole, and more.

Saint Anthony’s Feast @ North End

Saint Anthony’s Feast is the largest Italian street festival in the North End. Since 1919, at the end of every August, the streets are shut down as artisans and vendors alike offer up their handmade delicacies. On the culinary side, you’ll find Italian-American favorites like arancini, ceci, torrone, and calzones, plus freshly shucked clams and oysters. But don’t miss this chance to indulge your inner child; carnival and arcade games also line the streets.

Restaurant Week Boston @ Various Locations

Just in time to alleviate both your thinning wallet and your shrinking waistline: Boston’s summer Restaurant Week means steep discounts on lunch and dinner at a multitude of the city’s finest eateries. Lauded restos offer special prix fixe menus to the discerning, if cash-strapped, masses. Score a two-course lunch for $15.12, a three-course lunch for $20.12, or a three-course dinner for just $33.12. Summer Restaurant Week is a perfect opportunity to enjoy high-end dining at budget prices.

Boston Chinatown August Moon Festival

In Chinese culture, the Moon Festival is a harvest festival. Thanks are given to Chang’e, the Goddess of the Moon; children and adults alike feast on mooncakes filled with red bean or lotus root paste; lanterns are lit; and dragon dances performed. Celebrate the August Moon Festival in style in Chinatown, where you can enjoy all the traditions, plus Chinese opera and local vendors selling traditional celebratory snacks.

Boston Carnival Village @ Blue Hill Ave

Get a taste of the islands without leaving Boston at the annual Carnival Village. Countries from all around the Caribbean are represented (gregariously, always) in the parade, with blaring speakers stacked atop flatbed trucks and the roofs of buses; women in outlandish Carnival costumes (aka feathers, sequins, and not much else) dancing along side; and stand after stand of the best Caribbean soul food in Boston. Fill up on curries of every kind (we’ve even come across a vegan goat curry), fried fish, callaloo, plantains, coco bread, and of course, jerk everything. Our advice: go with an empty stomach.

SoWa Open Market @ Harrison Ave

SoWa Open Market is the perfect sunny Sunday activity for any Boston foodie. Besides handmade jewelry, vintage clothing, and hip home goods, you can score nibbles and meals from dozens of local food vendors and food trucks. Try Sal’s Homemade Potato Chips, Grillo’s Pickles (or fried Grillo’s from the Clover Food Lab), banh mi sandwiches from Bon Me, Kick Ass Cupcakes (serving, you guessed it), or a lobster roll from Lobsta Love.

Sweet & Savory South End Tour @ Massachusetts Ave and Tremont St

Explore the incredibly diverse South End via its culinary scene, as Bites of Boston takes you to six local eateries. You’ll not only enjoy snacks ranging from fried clams to award-winning pizza, but you’ll come away with a satisfying dose of history; guides fill you in on the architecture and cultural history of the ‘hood, while leading you to your next nosh.

Philadelphia

Taste of Philadelphia @ Various Locations

The Taste of Philadelphia fest kicks off with an evening of jazz and blues on the waterfront, soundtracking your sampling of dozens of bites and sips from top Philly restos and food trucks (lined along Chestnut Street Bridge). The following day, vendors again offer up their delicious wares in Penn’s Landing, which is followed by an all-you-can-eat ice cream festival and fireworks show. Day three features a performance from local gospel all-stars, as local eateries dish out a final round of their top-selling comestibles. It’s a perfect way to fill up on the best of the city without emptying your wallet.

Summer Dining Experience with Chef Joseph Poon @ Joseph Poon Chef Kitchen

Chef Joseph Poon is a Philadelphia Chinatown legend; sort of an unofficial culinary ambassador. Head to his kitchen and restaurant to enjoy Chinese-American classics and new Asian fusion dishes from his 2012 summer menu. Tuck into Peking duck cheeseburgers (seriously!), soft shell crab, Asian-style noodles, and more Chef Joe signatures.

Best of the Chefs @ Franklin Square

At Best of the Chefs, restaurants and culinary businesses (think catering companies and food trucks) compete to win the title of Delaware Valley’s Best Bite, Best Dessert, Best Chef, and more! The best part: you’re the judge. Which means you’ll have a lot of tasting to do. Participants include Nomad Pizza, Aneu Bistro, City Tavern & Restaurant, Kennett, Cochon Noir, and many more. Of course, there’s also a beer garden and live music, to make your judging that much more delectable.

Eastern State Bastille Day @ Eastern State Penitentiary

Historic Eastern State Penitentiary might seem an odd place for Bastille Day celebrations, until you recall that the original Bastille was indeed a prison. Local troupe the Bearded Ladies performs a wild cabaret that should sate any francophile, plus a playful reenactment of the storming of the Bastille. Capping off the festivities is a foodie fest involving the surrounding restaurants, which all continue the festive French theme by serving special menus and providing even more live entertainment. Vive la France!

Caribbean Festival @ Penn’s Landing

Go on an exotic tropical holiday without leaving the city. The Caribbean Festival at Penn’s Landing features the sights, sounds, and best of all, the tastes of the islands. Reggae, soca/calypso, hip-hop, and gospel bands entertain you, as you sample fare from 14 different islands. Get your fill of pastelitos, mofongo, arroz con pollo, tostones, callaloo, roti, fish cakes, and jerk everything. But leave your passport at home.

Mt Airy Night Market @ Germantown Ave

The night markets of Asia are vibrant cultural bazaars where you can find great street eats and bargain prices on everything from clothing to electronics. Mt Airy recreates the festive vibe along Germantown Avenue for one night only, with local restaurants and food vendors selling tasty snacks, plus live music curated by WXPN. Bring a date and come hungry.

Pennsylvania Dutch Festival @ Reading Terminal Market

Reading Terminal Market is already a foodie’s dream. Hundreds of specialized merchants sell everything from organic meat for a Sunday roast, or the finest, freshest seafood to flowers, cheese, and gourmet prepared goods. But the Pennsylvania Dutch vendors are a draw all their own, and this festival celebrates their culinary and cultural contribution to the market. Enjoy traditional handmade eats and treats, like shoofly pie, scrapple, sticky buns, jams, jellies, pickles, chicken pot pie, and soft pretzels (to name a few!), plus pick up handmade home goods including quilts, rugs, and woodcrafts. If you swing by on Saturday, Arch Street is transformed into an urban Amish farm, with a petting zoo and buggy rides.

Philadelphia Chocolate Fun Tour @ Various Locations

Another PA town might have the brand recognition in terms of chocolate (that’d be Hershey, Pennsylvania, of course), but Philly itself has a host of boutique and artisan chocolatiers and pastry mavens just as dedicated to the ingredient. From gelato to fondue, find the best chocolate in the city on this tour guaranteed to satisfy even the most ardent chocoholic.

Progressive Dinner Food Tour @ Historical Second Bank

Ready To Nosh takes you on a culinary tour of Philadelphia, building you a filling dinner from three different restaurants. Share Spanish tapas before moving on to an Asian fusion spot for your entree, and a local bakery for a delectable dessert, learning about each cuisine, and the resto’s history, along the way. Participating restaurants rotate weekly, so there are plenty of chances for gastronomical discovery, whether you’re a longtime Philadelphian, a transplant, or visitor!

Chicago

Festa Pasta Vino @ Heart of Chicago

Tiny South Side enclave Heart of Chicago projects authentic charm year-round with its row of fine Italian eateries, but every summer the neighborhood takes a step toward the extravagant with Festa Pasta Vino, a three-day block party replete with a mock-piazza and carnivale-style street performers. Still, there’s no festival-season novelty in existence that could turn the spotlight away from the food. Booths from much-loved restaurants such as La Fontanella, Bacchanalia, Ignotz’s, and Miceli’s Deli attract Italian-cuisine lovers from across the Chicagoland area. Salute!

Taste of Randolph @ West Loop

These days, it seems as if every Chicago neighborhood has a corresponding “Taste of…” festival, but Taste of Randolph remains one of the perennial summer standouts. In the thick of ever-expanding Restaurant Row, ToR stretches across six West Loop blocks and thrives off its proximity to old but dynamic favorites (Viaggio) and new hype lures (Belly Q). It’s also one of the precious few street-eats fairs that doesn’t treat the music lineup like an afterthought: twee faves Los Campesinos! and Allo Darlin are among the announced 2012 acts.

BBQ Fest @ Portage Park

Pay no mind to those Kansas City and Memphis haters who harrumph that “Chicago BBQ” is an oxymoron. It may not define our culinary identity, but there’s an embarrassment of smoky riches if you know where to look. A relative newcomer, the Six Corners BBQ Fest is a fine place to start for a sampler. The Portage Park affair slathers the festivities on thick, with family-friendly acts and live performances; but the real draw is, of course, the myriad local vendors and competing grill-jockey philosophies.

Chicago Pizza Fest @ Uptown

The pizza debate between a native Chicagoan and a transplant can sound eerily similar to an old couple bickering over which mattress to buy: “It’s too thick!” “It can never be too thick!” Nothing beats a good deep dish, but as the Chicago Pizza Fest remembers, it’s not always the size of the crust, it’s how you use it. This Uptown festival/competition welcomes some of the best pizzerias in town, specializing in a wide variety of pies and styles, to compete in categories of Gourmet, Neapolitan, and (you bet) Deep Dish. Go, enjoy some live music, and feed the debate – or just feed.

Taste of Chicago @ Grant Park

Natives have long harbored ambivalent feelings about Taste of Chicago, even before this year’s announcement of first-time-ever concert ticket fees (lawn seats remain free) and a shift away from the fourth of July. But there’s a reason that the big boy of national food festivals – even in its truncated 2012 version – endures as a summer destination, namely the sheer volume, diversity, and relative convenience. Plus, this year’s addition of Chef Du Jour – a $40 three-course meal prepared by the celebrity likes of Graham Elliot and Stephanie Izard – is enough draw even the stodgiest local foodie into the throngs.

Taste of River North @ River North

Stunning architecture, forward-thinking art galleries, and – chief among our concerns – several must-go restaurants all help cut through the clubby posh that too often defines River North. (The warehouse district is long gone, junior.) Taste of River North 2012 does a solid job of spotlighting area goodies such as Zocalo, Kinzie Chophouse, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse (we’re less crazy about John Barleycorn, but oh well); and the vibe is warm, inviting, and refreshingly down-to-Earth.

Roscoe Village Burgerfest @ Roscoe Village

Chicago has been a meaty city since the stockyard days, but historically that’s manifested in the collective consciousness as sausages, hot dogs, and Italian beef – with burgers in sad relegation. But with the craft-burger renaissance continuing to rage, that mindset is a relic; and the Roscoe Village Burger Fest is a delicious reflection of that sea change. The annual festival/competition always serves up an impressive roster, full of classic cuts and imaginative twists. There’s also plenty of live music, and – for those with still-standing beef beefs – several turkey and veggie options.

Taste of Latin America @ Logan Square

As great as they are, the gastropubs that have provided Logan Square with favored-foodie-nation status can also read as a byproduct of creeping gentrification; so kudos to neighborhood organizers for kick-starting a food festival that honors Logan’s historically Hispanic roots while serving up tasty dishes for all. This inaugural festival celebrates the diverse food, music, and art of Central and South America over three days, with proceeds benefiting the needy pups at Chicago Canine Rescue.

Food Truck Social @ West Town

Much as it has across the country, the food-truck movement in Chicago has steadily rolled along in recent years despite outdated local restrictions. Case in point: 2011’s hugely popular Food Truck Social, sponsored by our friends at TimeOut Chicago. Last year’s inaugural festival boasted notable chefs such as Michael Carlson (Schwa) and Bill Kim (Urban Belly, Belly Shack), and we expect similarly big things for the sophomore edition. Bonus: Empty Bottle Presents books the live music, which means the tunes should match the quality of the food.