What's cooking? Coastal culinary celebrations range from educational to just plain fun.
Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival
Fernandina Beach, Florida
This Victorian town on Amelia Island, northeast of Jacksonville, celebrates its claim as the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry with a family-oriented party: free admission and no alcohol. Musicians play. Antiques, arts, and crafts go on display. Pirates invade (twice). And lots of shrimp gets devoured. The festival name refers to the eight flags that have flown over Amelia: those of France, Spain, England, the Republic of Florida (which lasted one day), a group of Scottish adventurers who raised the Green Cross of Florida flag, Mexico, the United States, and the Confederacy; 866/426-3542, 904/261-3248, or shrimpfestival.com.
Cooking for Solutions
Enjoy without guilt: This festival at the Monterey Bay Aquarium features sustainable seafood and organic crops―even organic wines. Celebrity chefs work their kitchen magic and lead field tours of organic farms and vineyards (with lunch!). Visitors can sample the offerings of some pretty good local chefs as well; 866/963-9644 or cookingforsolutions.org.
The recreational shrimp season in Hood Canal, a fjord west of Seattle, provides an excuse for an endearingly small-town-style celebration. Other shellfish also draw seafood fanciers to this rustic area. In fact, festival organizers suggest that you harvest clams and oysters at low tide on the nearby public beaches (license required). Other festival diversions include craft booths and belt-sander races (really). Proceeds benefit the Brinnon Community; 360/796-4809 or friendsofbrinnon.org/ShrimpFest.htm.
Port Clinton Walleye Festival
Port Clinton, Ohio
The Lake Erie waterfront festival here stretches the Memorial Day weekend to five days, with free live music the whole time. The big entertainment tent also serves fresh perch and walleye. It's all very friendly, very family-oriented, very Midwestern. These folks enjoy the Saturday parade so much they have another one on Monday; 419/573-9370 or www.walleyefestival.com.
Aransas Pass, Texas
Start toughening up those fingers for the shrimp-peeling contest. Not your idea of fun? No problem. The festival Web site promises, a trifle breathlessly, "There will be about 15 musical acts, entertainment from trick rope artists to clowns, from Frisbee dogs to hypnotists, from cooking competition to international beer sampling and carnival rides to arts & crafts vendors." You can even keep cool at ice carving demonstrations; 800/633-3028 or aransaspass.org/Shrimporee.htm.
New Jersey Seafood Festival
Belmar, New Jersey
Almost 40 restaurants show off their specialties. New Jersey wineries offer samples of their wares. Children get to ride ponies, listen to storytellers, or challenge the rock-climbing wall. The New Jersey Model Boaters put their miniature craft through their paces. And it all happens within a block or two of the Atlantic Ocean; 732/681- 3700.
St. Michaels, Maryland
The always wonderful Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum puts on this annual celebration. You can attend demonstrations and talks, learning fascinating tidbits about crabs and the life of Chesapeake watermen. Or you can just pig out. Watch the professional pickers, who pry every last delicious morsel from a steamed crab's armor faster than the rest of us can figure out where to start; 410/745-2916 or cbmm.org.
The Maine Lobster Festival
You may, if you wish, enter the crate race. Contestants tightrope along a line of partially submerged lobster crates, trying not to splash into the shockingly cold water. We'll just watch, thank you-and listen to the local and national music acts, wander through the art show, and eat lots of lobster; 207/596-0376 or mainelobsterfestival.com.
Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival
Morgan City, Louisianna
The name celebrates the two mainstays of Morgan City's economy. Petroleum-industry boats participate in the blessing of the fleet and boat parade. Otherwise, you'll find Cajun and zydeco music, arts and crafts, children's activities, and enough cooked crustaceans to fill an oil tanker; 985/385-0703 or shrimp-petrofest.org.
Chowder, Blues & Brews
After judges select a winner in the clam chowder cook-off, festivalgoers get to sample the entries and vote on the People's Choice award. How democratic. Everyone also gets to enjoy microbrew beers and Oregon wines, to the tune of live blues; 800/524-4864 or florencechamber.com/evchowder.html.
Published March 2004