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7 Fall Food Fests...

7 Fall Food Fests Worth the Trip

From epicurean adventures to creativity with carrion, gastronauts won’t go hungry at these degustation destinations.

Chicago Gourmet draws scores of food lovers to Millennium Park. Photo by Huge Galdones Photography.

Chicago Gourmet has flavors for all tastes. Photo by Huge Galdones Photography.

The Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival is the largest of its type in the world. Photo by Gabriel Madrigal.

Hundreds of meaty entries take center stage during American Royal's World Series of Barbecue.

American Royal's 34th annual World Series of Barbecue brings in the cream of the crop.

Bivalves under fire at Urbanna Oyster Festival's oyster shucking contest.

Mr Oyster is king of the coast at the Urbanna Oyster Festival.

As summer comes to an end, and hints of shorter days and cooler weather whisper across the U.S., our appetites are at full attention.

Fall, a season synonymous with bountiful harvests, overflowing apple orchards and pumpkins galore, is also festival season. Have a favorite food? High brow or not-so-high brow, there’s likely a festival for it. Oysters? Check. Whoopie pie? Check. Lobsters, barbecue and (fill-in-the-blank) gourmet? Check, check, check.

So load up the cooler with your favorite snacks and make your way to these unique festivals. Drive safely, but know that if you hit a rabbit or deer along the way, the Roadkill Cook-off in Marlinton, West Virginia is coming up, and they might just have an opening for you.

1. Whoopie Pie Festival, Strasburg, Pennsylvania.

The Whoopie pie—a thick ribbon of icing sandwiched between two moist circles of cake—is said to have originated with the Amish, who used leftover cake batter to create these tasty desserts. A wife would then send the pie off in the lunch pail of her husband, who, upon discovering the tasty treat, would exclaim “Whoopie!” With that, a star was born. That star is celebrated every year at the Whoopie Pie Festival in the Amish area of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Stop in for more than 100 flavors of whoopie pie, such as carrot cake, strawberry, peanut butter, s’more, coconut, and the list goes on, and be prepared to hear a whole lot of people yelling out, “Whoopie!”

2. Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival, San Pedro, California (20 minutes south of downtown Los Angeles).

If you love lobsters, you’d best start clawing your way to San Pedro, California, home of the world’s largest lobster festival. In 2009, the event won the Guinness World Record for the “Most Seafood Served at an Outdoor Event,” and the masses continue to turn out in force for a taste of fresh Maine lobster, flown in daily. In addition to the crave-worthy crustaceans, stick around for pirate entertainment, live music and more at this waterfront festival.  

3. Chicago Gourmet, Chicago, Illinois.

At Chicago Gourmet, there’s no “theme”—besides amazing food—and there doesn’t need to be. Here, creativity is key, as more than 100 chefs from Chicago’s best restaurants come together in Millennium Park to outdo one another. If you’re in the market for chef-spotting, keep your eyes open for renowned talents such as Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia, Terzo Piano, Bar Toma), Shawn McClain (Green Zebra, Sage) Paul Virant (Perennial Virant, Vie) Takashi Yagihashi (Takashi, Slurping Turtle) and more. In addition to food, wine, spirits and beer flow across the park, and master sommeliers and mixologists are on hand, along with a number of chefs and speakers, for live demonstrations throughout the weekend.

4. Roadkill Cook-off, Marlinton, West Virginia.

Squirrel gravy, mink stew, turtle soup, gator sausage—if you can hit it, you can heat it at this West Virginia festival. Past recipes have included teriyaki-marinated bear, squirrel gumbo and “deer poop soup” (made of hamburger and venison). And, while all of the proteins are critters you could find on the road, festival-goers may be relieved to know that, for the most part, the food they’re eating has not actually graced the bumper of a car. It’s an intentional kill, cooked fresh for the annual event. 

5. American Royal Barbecue Contest, Kansas City, Missouri.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your grills for the “World Series of Barbecue.” Hundreds of teams from across the world come together to compete in the largest barbecue competition in the world, drawing in nearly 70,000 people. Festivities include the World Series of Barbecue, Junior World Series of Barbecue, cooking demos, a Barbecue Hall of Fame Celebration, outdoor concerts, an exhibition hall (complete with mechanical bulls) and more. See why “Kansas City” and “barbecue” go together like “finger licking” and “good.”

6. New York City Food & Wine Festival, New York, New York.

Food Network favorites and top chefs come together for this annual culinary adventure. Look for appearances from TV icons, such as Mario Batali, Giada De Laurentiis, Guy Fieri, Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, Rachel Ray, Trisha Yearwood and more, along with an all-star line up of chefs. Dinners, seminars, tastings, brunches and other gastro-events are on the docket during this favorite in fests, and perhaps the best part is knowing that 100 percent of the event’s proceeds go to Food Bank For New York City and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

7. Urbanna Oyster Festival, Urbanna, Virginia. Shuck it up at this beloved bivalve fest. Sample oysters raw, fried, smoked, steamed, roasted and any other way you can think. While you’re at it, try your hand at the oyster-shucking contest.

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Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning freelance writer and editor with more than a decade of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in features, health, food and travel stories for print publications and websites. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Men's Health, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Southwest Airline's Spirit Magazine and many other outlets.

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