Tops Great American Rib Cook-Off & Music Festival, May 27-31
It's National Barbecue Month, and Cleveland celebrates its pork eatin' in style. The Rib Cook-Off brings the best barbecue cooks in the country to show off their grill skills for five days. Rib lovers can taste-test the best porkers around, then cast votes on Memorial Day for such honors as greatest ribs, greatest sauce, and the all-important people's choice award. Tunes come courtesy of Saliva, with special guest Shinedown (Thursday, May 27); Donnie Iris & the Cruisers (Friday, May 28); Tommy James and the Shondells, with co-headliner Spyro Gyra (Saturday, May 29); Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and Gavin DeGraw (Sunday, May 30); and brat-band brothers Hanson (Monday, May 31). All concerts are included in the $7 admission (kids under 12 enter free). A limited number of VIP reserved-seat tickets are available for $20 through Ticketmaster.
Tower City Amphitheater, 440-247-4FUN, www.cleveland.com/rib
Festival of the Fish, June 18-20
Family, friends, and fish -- what more could you want? Feast on the famous perch fish-and-chips combo and then move on to the crawfish, Italian sausage, cabbage and noodles, gyros, pizza, sirloin steak, apple dumplings, ice cream, gumbo, fried pickles, cotton candy, and cheese dumplings before crawling back to the car. But don't miss the ever-perilous crazy-craft race, in which contenders race their homemade watercraft, competing for such honors as "Most Waterlogged" and the coveted "Oops" category. All this, and fishing and ring-toss games for kids, a crafts bazaar, a sand-castle-building contest, nightly entertainment, and the dusk lighted-boat parade. Free admission.
Victory Park, 5495 Liberty Avenue, Vermilion, 440-967-4477, www.vermilion.net
London Strawberry Festival, June 23-26
That delicate, heart-shaped berry is the fruit of choice in London, Ohio. Every June, the city celebrates with strawberry concoctions galore -- ice cream, floats, shakes, smoothies, strawberries on a stick, shortcakes, elephant ears, and the festival's oddball strawberry BBQ. And when you can't eat another strawberry, go enjoy the rides, games, and entertainment, including 40 arts-and-crafts vendors, a bicycle tour, a climbing wall, and a not-so-sweet mechanical bull. The little ones can watch or enter the Baby, Little, Young, Junior, or Miss Strawberry Queens contests, while you catch such national recording artists as the Four Mints ('60s R&B and rock) on Wednesday and Kevin Sharp (country) on Friday. And if you're feeling generous, hit the Double Venom Cobra car event on Saturday: More than 275 cars come to Courthouse Square to raise money for cystic fibrosis.
740-852-1582 or 614 879-5726, www.londonstrawberryfestival.com
Lorain International Festival, June 21-27
For seven days in June, Lorain County becomes the U.N. of northern Ohio food fests, serving up 55 different national foods and 23 hours of worldwide entertainment. From Friday to Sunday, the Lorain International Association Bazaar will be cooking up all types of global gastronomy -- Greek, Hungarian, Chinese, Dutch, Vietnamese, Mexican, Polish, German, Portuguese, British, American, and everything in between. So go try some tasty foreign food, grab a drink, and watch some ethnic entertainment (including blues and rock bands) at the new Black River Landing (it's the festival's second year on the waterfront). But even before the weekend bazaar, there's a number of concerts and contests leading up to this year's fiesta -- events like the Cultural Night, the Heritage of Sacred Music concert, and the International Princess Pageant, whose contestants compete in singing, dancing, and presentation. This year's festival spotlights African American foods and music.
Black River Landing and locations around Lorain County, 440-282-6263, www.loraininternational.com
Canton Pizza Challenge, July 7-8
For nine years now, Canton's Pizza Challenge has given pizzerias the opportunity to battle for pizza-lovers' hearts -- and stomachs. Such regional purveyors as Cricalino's Pizzeria, East of Chicago Pizza, and Ermanno's 3 Guys Pizza compete for top honors in five categories: thick crust, thin crust, specialty, classic, and people's choice. Occupying three blocks of Canton's Central Plaza, the Pizza Challenge also serves up a kids' thrill zone, full of inflatables, face painting, caricature artists, and coloring contests. Then there's a boccie tournament, fireworks, and area bands like Friq & Fraq, Dartanion, and Oblivion (the headliner wasn't booked at press time). That's in addition to stuffing your pie hole with slice after slice.
Downtown Canton, 330-458-2072, www.pizzachallenge.com
Wellington Cheese Festival, July 17
Slicing and dicing oodles of dairy delights, the city of Wellington cuts more cheese than any healthy Ohio town probably should. Luckily, it's all in honor of the annual cheese festival -- a celebration of crafts, rides, live entertainment, and most of all Wellington's cheesy history. (With 40 factories, Wellington was known as the country's cheese capital throughout the 19th century.) Enjoy the grub -- cheese on a stick, cheese hot dogs, cheese popcorn, cheese pizza, and a variety of unique dairy blends -- while participating in a variety of activities that include the cheese olympics (with a cheese shot put), kids' cheesefest (mold chunks of Velveeta into . . . anything), and the cheese festival parade (full of floats, marching bands, and your favorite farm animals).
Downtown Wellington, 440-647-3987, www.festival.downtownwellington.com
Balloon Classic Invitational/Jackson-Belden Food Fest & Fireworks, July 30-August 1
More than 60 eye-catching hot-air balloons will compete at the annual Balloon Classic Invitational in Kent. Around 25 vendors will be cooking up first-rate foods for balloon gawkers -- sausage and pulled-pork sandwiches, homemade ice creams, ribs, apple and cherry cobblers, wine and beer, and yes, even corn dogs. The festival will also have its share of pyrotechnics -- at the Saturday-night fireworks display as well as the Friday-night "Glow," when the balloons tether to the ground and fill with propane.
Kent State Stark Campus/Stark State College of Technology, 330-456-7253 or 800-533-4302, www.profootballhoffestival.com
Canton Ribs Burnoff, August 5-7
Canton loves its pigskin. So it only seems fitting that three glorious days in August should be set aside for local rib revelry. The Canton Ribs Burnoff (part of the two-week Pro Football Hall of Fame celebration) attracts award-winning rib runners from all over the country. Entertainment this year includes Huey Lewis and the News (remember them?). Reserved grandstand access is only $5, but only 1,800 grandstand access tickets will be sold, beginning in July at the Canton Chamber of Commerce offices and at the Ribs Burnoff site. All other admissions are free.
Stark County Fairgrounds, (800) 533-4302, www.profootballhoffestival.com
North Ridgeville Corn Festival, August 13-15
Roasted? Popped? Buttered? Raw? However you like it, the North Ridgeville Corn Festival can deliver your favorite cobs cooked to perfection. It's a maize craze, with rows of corn stands peddling tons of Ridgeville's prime stalk -- more than 700 ears will be cooked up each hour. Visitors can salt, pepper, butter, and repeat, then mill about the festival inspecting musical entertainment, the arts-and craft-show, carnival rides, or the antique-car show. Both Friday and Saturday nights will end with sizzling fireworks displays. Just beware of those creepy children of the corn. No, seriously, kids dressed in corn-people outfits will stalk festivalgoers. Free admission and parking.
North Ridgeville, 440-327-5144, www.nrcornfest.org
Bucyrus Bratwurst Festival, August 19-21
Summer wouldn't be the same without some fat, juicy grilled bratwurst -- like the more than 27 tons of it cooked up at the Bucyrus Bratwurst Festival. For three days, the city will celebrate its favorite weenie, cooking up tasty bratwurst to this year's festive theme -- "Brattie Takes the Gold." More than 100 stands will dish up a variety of sausages, each with its own special seasoning perfected by local butchers whose families emigrated from Germany. And when you're not stuffing wieners in your mouth, hit the beer gardens, or try your hand at rides, games, craft booths, and even a bratwurst parade (starting at North Sandusky Avenue and traveling into the heart of downtown).
Bucyrus, 419-562-BRAT (2728), www.bratwurstfestival.org
Ninth Annual Taste of Cleveland, September 3-6
Chefs will step out of their Cleveland kitchens to serve sample-size portions of their scrumptious menu specialties, vying for such awards as "Best of the Fest." Native smells and tastes will be matched to lively music (from hip-hop to bagpipes) and ethnic performances (like last year's Lebanese Folklore Dancers and the Sezatoare Romanian group). It's a great way to appraise local food hot spots, including Saffron Patch, DeBonné Vineyards, Isabella's Cafe, Mekong River, and Great Lakes Brewing Company. Well-known national bands usually accompany the festival too, but they weren't slated as of press time. Admission is $7 (kids under 12 are free) and includes all performances.
Tower City Amphitheater, 440-247-4FUN, www.cleveland.com/taste
Vintage Ohio, August 6-7
More than 20 Ohio wineries will pour 150 regional vintages -- Pinot Gris, Chardonnays, Cabernet Francs, Rieslings, ice wines, and grape juices for the youngsters. We suggest that you pick up your souvenir wine glass and conduct your own taste test while sampling the highbrow cuisine: lobster bisque, grilled shrimp, strawberry crêpes, ostrich burgers, steamed clams, stone-crab claws, gourmet cheeses, St. Louis-style ribs, gnocchi, and dozens of other dishes. Home chefs can watch Loretta Paganini's School of Cooking (recognized as one of the best in the Midwest), joined by celebrity chefs, present more than a dozen food and wine demonstrations. And once you're done stuffing your face, relax and listen to live music on two stages, featuring smooth jazz and classic oldies from the likes of Roberto Ocasio's Latin Jazz Project, the Essence Band, and others. A Friday-night fireworks display and an arts-and-crafts fair are also slated.
Lake Farmpark in Kirtland, 800-227-6972, www.ohiowines.org
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