Florida is known as the nation’s winter salad bowl, with a whopping 80 percent of US fresh produce grown in the state between January and March. And nearly all year-round, something comes into season. All that natural goodness has inspired a delicious menu of food festivals across the state. Whatever the season, there’s something caloric worth celebrating at one of Florida’s many food festivals.
Cheer on your favorite crustacean at a blue crab race and see some serious slurping during oyster eating and shucking contests. This annual and oldest seafood festival in the state takes place every autumn at the mouth of the Apalachicola River in the crook of Florida’s panhandle. The Apalachicola oyster is known worldwide for its smooth -- never slimy -- flesh. Also served up are various shrimp dishes, fresh fish and crabs. Concerts, parades and an official blessing of the commercial fleet and private fishing boats by ministers from local churches add to the festivities.
First held in 1930, this festival takes place in one of Florida’s most important winter strawberry growing regions, spanning some 8,000 acres. In addition to various strawberry snacks for sale (chocolate-dipped, nut-coated or lathered with whip cream, to name just a few), the festival’s pure Americana fun includes rides, concerts, livestock exhibits and arts and crafts vendors.
Celebrity chefs, culinary personalities (think Anthony Bourdain) and food, food and more food draw more than 50,000 people to this annual bon vivant gathering in one of Florida’s most scenic and celebrated beach towns. Presented by the Food Network and Food & Wine magazine, the South Beach Food & Wine Festival showcases what could easily be called gastronomic decadence. Crowds of beautiful people swirl between tasting tents set up on the beach to sample delicacies that include New Zealand wines and delicate dim sum. Definitely throw your diet out the window for the duration of this event.
Zellwood corn kernels are so soft, they barely need cooking to be table ready. During this 2-day festival in a corn-growing region just a short drive northwest of Orlando, you’re most likely to find the cobs boiled and served alongside some mighty fine barbecue pork sandwiches, platters and ribs. Along with the sweet corn, live country music is a big draw. A lineup of Southern rock bands and soulful crooners singing moody folk songs take to the stage throughout the weekend.
Sarasota is a classy town with many cultural highlights. Among the notables is the Ringling Museum of Art, one of the supporters of the Florida Winefest and an important supporter of other city cultural events. In addition to Sarasota’s cultural slant, it’s a town where restaurants take their wine lists seriously, with boutique vineyards and top imports represented at even the smallest local bistros. So it’s no surprise that Wine Spectator magazine puts its name behind the annual Florida Winefest held here every year. Most of the wineries that serve up tastings during the event are small boutique types from both the western United States and abroad. So don’t come expecting to find your favorite supermarket bottle here. In addition to tastings, there are winemaker dinners at area restaurants (in which vineyard representatives guide you through their offerings), as well as food and wine seminars, a beach party and a charity auction.
Did all that foodie talk whet your appetite for more? Consider these festivals merely an amuse-bouche to sample Florida’s many food festivals happening throughout the year.
Based in Cocoa Beach, FL, Terry Ward’s favorite Florida cracker fare is alligator tail.