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That faint, sweet-salty aroma of elephant ears, bacon, garlic and tacos reaching your nostrils is no lie: South Florida’s bounty of food festivals are back.
Starting with the deep-fried decadence of this weekend’s South Florida Fair (Jan. 14-30) and ending with more battered sea creatures at the Pompano Beach Seafood Festival (April 22-24), the calendar once again brims with food and drink, COVID be damned.
Call it a remarkable rebound, a testament to the resilience of the South Florida food community, which endured two straight years of COVID delays, postponements and outright cancellations. Just about every festival on this list has survived one pandemic burden or another.
South Florida Fair, a haven for deliciously sinful carnival foods on a stick, was forced to come back as a “mini-fair” in 2021 before returning in full force this month. Palm Beach County booted the South Florida Garlic Fest out of a county park in Lake Worth Beach in 2021, and now the pungent event has moved to Wellington – but without its usual amusement rides. Las Olas Wine and Food Festival sat on a shelf for 18 months before its comeback in November, and Pompano Beach Seafood Festival sat on a dock for its two-year hiatus. Meanwhile, the usually massive South Beach Wine and Food Festival shrunk, while nixing in-person events and adding COVID-sniffing dogs.
Here’s a look at the biggest food festival highlights this winter and spring.
Jan. 14-Jan. 30 at South Florida Fairgrounds, 9067 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach
Overlooked in the essential food groups is one category that often receives short shrift: carnival food. Deep-fry it, drizzle it in chocolate, stick it on a stick, and pray hard that nothing goes awry when pairing the meal with a stomach-churning excursion in the Gravitron. No one visits the South Florida Fair seeking fresh vegetables; these apples and pickles are triple-battered and caramel-drenched. (“The fried Snickers and the bucket of fries have my name on them,” confesses Vicki Chouris, the fair’s president and CEO.) Returning this year as a full-size fair (as opposed to 2021′s fun-size fair), the carnival is now charging $10 for parking on the fairgrounds. Main attractions will be pig rides, robot zoos, Ferris wheels, more robots, and that obviously rigged sledgehammer game where you impress your date with swinging feats of strength. No, we didn’t miss the metal pad on purpose. The deep-fried Oreos made our hands slippery. Info: $10-$20; 561-793-0333, SouthFloridaFair.com
South Florida Garlic Fest
10 a.m.-9 p.m. Feb. 12 and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 13 at Village Park Athletics Complex, 11700 Pierson Road, Wellington
When Palm Beach County raised a stink last fall about its presence at a county park near Lake Worth Beach, the Garlic Fest took its talents – and fragrant bulbs – to Wellington. For that, organizer Nancy Stewart-Franczak is thankful, because Village Park Athletics Complex is a spacious, pandemic-friendly 10 acres of open air. But the perfume of garlic will be everywhere, especially in Gourmet Alley, where 180 vendors will sell 100 garlic-infused menu items, from garlic shrimp scampi to garlic breakfast burgers to garlic gelato. And Mr. Garlic, a man who strolls the grounds in a garlic costume, will again be evangelizing the delicious properties of the bulbous plant. Nixed this year are Garlic Fest’s usual amusement rides, but there are human foosball, giant slides and bounce houses. Some 30 shuttles will transport the garlic-inclined around the park and to and from the Mall at Wellington Green, where offsite parking is also available. Attendance will be capped at 3,000 visitors. But it’s BYO Tic-Tacs, Stewart-Franczak says. “I’ve tried to get a breath-mint sponsor for years,” she says. Info: Free
The Seaglass Rosé Experience
7-10 p.m. Jan. 21, noon-3 p.m. Jan. 22 and 1-4 p.m. Jan. 23 on the sands of Fort Lauderdale Beach at 505 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd.
Forget confining your rosé drinking to the hot summer months: It’s a perfect elixir for South Florida’s balmy Januarys, too. We’re sure that was Carlos Suarez’s reasoning for organizing this month’s Seaglass Rosé Experience, a three-day wine appreciation on the sands of Fort Lauderdale Beach. Organized by Suarez (founder of Venice Magazine), the beachfront drink-a-thon features 30 rosé varietals, spirits, craft beer, live music and food pairings from local chefs José Mendín (Pubbelly Sushi), Nicole Rhone (Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach), Paula DaSilva (the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale), Taek Lee (Takato), and Steve Martorano (Café Martorano). Info: $99, $175-$5,000 for a VIP cabana.
South Beach Wine and Food Festival
Various times and venues spanning Miami to Fort Lauderdale, Feb. 24-27
Pack your favorite antacid: Broward and Miami-Dade county’s biggest and most celebrity-studded feast is back, and it comes with a Guy Fieri chaser. The Mayor of Flavortown and local patron saint of comfort food will host “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives LIVE” on the sands of South Beach (Feb. 24), where 25 mom-and-pop eateries spotlighted on Fieri’s Food Network show will create their signature dishes under a white tent. There’s some Miami representation here: Richard Hales (Blackbrick Chinese), Jimmy Piedrahita (Mojo Donuts & Fried Chicken) and Mitchell Sanchez (Latin House) will be on hand. There are 85 events (and still growing), mostly confined to Miami, but there will be two Fort Lauderdale dinners at Dune by Laurent Tourondel and Riviera by Fabio Viviani, and two family-themed food gatherings at Gulfstream Park. Missing this year are COVID-sniffing dogs, says festival cofounder Lee Brian Schrager, but guests and staff must provide proof that they’ve been vaccinated or tested negative at least 72 hours before entry. “We’re going to be following a lot of the same policies that were in place last year,” he says. Info: $15-$450 per event, SOBEWFF.org
Florida Taco Battle, a Fiesta Affair
7-10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26, at Sanborn Square Park, 72 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton
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Any day is a good day for a taco throwdown, but a battle for tortilla supremacy feels especially refreshing now, when live food events are scarcer. This inaugural taco-off from organizer Russell Spadaccini, who programs the popular Boca Burger Battle in summertime, will feature 10 local restaurants (and growing) serving scratch-made tortillas piled high with al pastor, birria (slow-braised beef dunked in spicy red consommé), carne asada and barbacoa. A panel of judges will assay the top taco, 21-and-over festivalgoers can vote for “People’s Choice,” while cocktails, beers, wines and live music will be in abundance. Info: $55-$85, $79 for VIP access and 6 p.m. early admission, TacoBattle.com
Las Olas Wine and Food Festival
7:30-10:30 p.m. April 22 on Las Olas Boulevard between Southeast Sixth and Southeast 11th Avenues, in Fort Lauderdale
Stalled by the pandemic for 18 months, this nighttime open-air showcase is making up for lost time, returning six short months after its revival last November. Tree-lined Las Olas will again be the fundraising party’s tony backdrop as 50 local restaurants and 40 national and international breweries and spirits companies plant their booths along four blocks of the boulevard. Valerie Roy, co-owner of festival producer CI Management, is still lining up participating eateries, and thinks attendance may exceed the 1,500 who strolled the bash in 2021. Info: $150 for unlimited tastings, with all proceeds heading to South Florida American Lung Association; each festivalgoer must complete a health screening questionnaire and consent waiver before admission. Go to LasOlasWFF.com.
Pompano Beach Seafood Festival
April 22-24 at Pompano Beach Community Park, 1660 NE 10th St., Pompano Beach
An ode to tasty sea creatures and the landlubbers who thoughtfully cook them, this 36th annual seafood bash is back after a two-year pandemic hiatus. The restaurants and bands are still being firmed up, but the action will sprawl out inside Pompano Community Park with all manner of battered and fried, grilled and blackened ocean delicacies, from coconut shrimp and lobster rolls to ceviche and conch salad in a pineapple shell. They will be paired with boat displays, three stages filled with live music, and arts and crafts vendors. Info: Tickets will go on sale sometime in February. Info: PompanoBeachSeafoodFestival.com