Wednesday, July 11, 2012

National Cherry Festival

The Cherry Festival is one of the crown jewels of the Traverse City festival season.

There is a certain food here in Traverse City that out-ranks every other food. It is not the steak, nor is it the burger. It is not duck, asparagus, foie gras, pork or buffalo.

It is the Cherry. And it rules all things. Especially during the first part of July……every year.

That’s right folks! As it is Wednesday, July 11, 2012, we Traverse City-ites sit in the midst of the internationally known and renowned National Cherry Festival. It began last Saturday and it ends when the midway closes and the fireworks explode this Saturday (July 14).

The carnival is fun, but the real heart and soul of the Fest is through this archway!

It celebrates all things Cherry, of that there is no doubt. You can score some Cherry drinks (alcoholic and not), Cherry cotton candy, Cherry jelly/jam, Cherry butter, Cherry clothes, Cherry pie, Cherry burgers, Cherry EVERYTHING! You can even tuck into some actual Cherries, locally grown, straight from the farmer’s hands, while conversing with the Cherry Queen (a past queen happens to be a friend of mine)!

But, amidst all of this Cherry goodness, there is another, some would say, larger theme: Traverse City.

Traverse City's Cherry Festival is certainly full of carnie food!

While there is a midway with an increasingly fun set of rides (they added a tower drop to this year’s offerings) and an ever present grouping of typical carnie fare, there is also a grand showcase of Traverse City’s local cuisine.

After you visit the midway and spend a Benjamin on tickets, cross the road, walk underneath the huge Cherry Festival archway and enter a world that brings many folks’ memories and loves of Traverse City to life in one glorious setting.

This area is where the local flavor of Traverse City comes to life.

After walking through said archway, you find yourself bordering Traverse City’s Duncan L. Clinch Marina and the Open Space. Turn left and you will see two huge, open air stages. The first stage is known to locals as the “free music stage.” That stage showcases some amazing acts, many local, for free, hence the moniker. In front of this stage you’ll notice a plethora of seating/table choices. A closer inspection of the surrounding area will clue you into why there are so many tables.

It's true, the Cherry Festival is certainly full of cherries!

Surrounding the free music stage is an orgy of local food vending tents. Almost any taste and budget can be satiated at one of these tented kiosks. Local area restaurants bring down some of their favorite menu choices and offer them up to the hungry, walking masses that flow through the Festival gates. My favorite stop is at the Agave tent (a GREAT local Mexican restaurant that will be featured on this blog shortly) for some seriously satisfying nachos! No worries, though. If you’re not into nachos or Mexican fare, there are plenty of mouth-watering locales to choose from. This part of the Cherry Fest is always the hardest for me. I have no idea where to start when laid out before me are so many amazing restaurant names.

This guy's favorite fair food is in Gibbyville!

Now, from the archway, if you take a right, you’ll be walking toward Gibbyville! At first glance, Gibbyville seems to be an extension of the carnie’s food efforts. There are quite a few food trailers touting what, at first glance, appears to be typical carnie fare in loud colors and bright designs. Don’t be fooled! This is NOT typical carnival food! This is a local family that is serious about kicking up their carnival based creations a few notches.

Does Gibby’s follow around travelling carnivals? Yup. Do they know a lot of carnies? Yup. Do they serve the same thing that the carnies do? NO!!

And this is my Cherry Festival tradition.

As far as carnival fare goes, my obsessions are simple. I need an elephant ear and a turkey leg. No one does these wonderful creations better than Gibby’s! Do yourself a favor, put on your local’s cap, step into Gibbyville and order yourself some grub! You will not be disappointed!

Don't miss the Cherry Festival's local vendor tents!

Again, from the archway, you venture straight this time. You’ll notice, at the back of the free music stage area, a long line of tents. Housed within these tents are some outstanding local craft foods dealers. Take a walk down the line and see if you don’t stop and sample some goodness.

Naturally Nutty knows their stuff!

Especially at the Naturally Nutty tent. Oh my goodness, do these guys know how to work magic with their spreads!

The Cherry Fest's beer tent is one of the best I've ever been in.

Continue straight and you’ll see that ever present favorite playground for adults, the Beer Tent. You’ll need to be 21 and you’ll need a festival pin to enter. The pin is $5 and is available from wandering Festival folk who will be parked at the front of the tent. You’ll then buy beer tokens, $3 a pop (I think, I can’t remember…..I had a good time, what?). Then, you’ll mosey on up to the bar and order a brew! They have the usual suspects along with a nice selection of craft brews as well. There is also a decent selection of liquor available at the tent.

What's not seen in this shot is that the patio of the beer tent is quite large with ample seating.

While most beer tents are thrown up haphazardly on the outskirts of some random celebration, this one actually has quite a bit of thought behind it! It’s perched right on the edge of the bay and features a lovely, large patio with ample seating overlooking the water and the surrounding festivities.

The Cherry Festival is TC's family event!

I know that there are a few locals who really don’t think too highly of the Cherry Festival. I am not one of them. I love observing the sea of humanity that descends upon our Northern Michigan town, I love how the Cherry Fest showcases Traverse City and I love how this festival is only the beginning.

And I love the food. Wow, do I love the food.

Gotta love Gibby's.

If you’re in Traverse City right now, get down to the Open Space and grab some tasty nosh! If not, keep your eye on the Cherry Festival’s site and come to the party next year. It’s an amazing place to be!

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