June 04, 2006

Tamales and gyros and cheesesteak... oh my!

Lemonade stands...

Grill supplies and patio furniture on sale...

Strawberries, cherries & asparagus...

Weekend food festivals...

Summer's a great time to fuel an obsession with food in the Bay Area.

Saturday found us splitting our time between two south bay events: San Jose's Story Road Tamale Festival in the morning and the Greek Festival at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in the afternoon.

The tamale festival was a new experience for us -- an article in the local paper piqued our curiosity and we had to check it out. Sponsored by the Story Road Business Association as a family event celebrating the culture and history of the neighborhood, the festival "celebrates all things associated with tamales, [paying] homage to the rich heritage of civilizations like the Mayans, who revered the essence of tamales, corn as part of their culture." It sort of fit that the event took place in Emma Prusch Farm Park -- one of San Jose's last reminders of it's agricultural heritage. I enjoyed the feeling of community here -- missing from some of the bigger and more commercial wine/art/food festivals we attend. Kids playing with frisbees and foosballs on the lawn. Couples cuddling under shady trees. Families gathered around picnic table. All in celebration of the tamale.

After window shopping our way through the couple dozen stands, we opted for two tamales from the winner of the 2005 festival: Mex-Tamal. Pork with red sauce for John and a delightful cheese-with-spicy-diced-pepper-and-corn-kernel selection for me. Having skipped breakfast in anticipation of the indulgent day ahead, I dug in without hesitation.

From there we headed to the Greek Festival. I hesitate to over-criticize, since it was getting hot and I was getting cranky, but we've attended a fair number of Greek festivals in our summers together, and this one just didn't measure up. We chose gyros and calamari and were uniformly disappointed. The calamari was greasy and just short of rubbery. And the gyro just really didn't go anywhere. We both drew the line at loukoumades covered with canned Hershey's syrup. Cutting our losses, we headed to the car and put the Belmont festival on our calendar for Labor Day.

Sunday had us meeting Daniel, Tracy and Heather at the Walnut Creek Art & Wine Festival at Heather Farm Park. The antithesis of Saturday's tamale festival, the Art and Wine Festival is 20-some years old and boasts over 90,000 attendees. It's evolved over the years we've attended, and not necessarily for the better in all cases. We opted out of the $20 for a souvenir glass and four wine-tastes and wandered around in search of food. Past events have included food booths from some of our favorite restaurants. Not so this year -- we ended up splitting a rather unsatisfying Jersey cheesesteak sandwich. Not that the sandwich itself was bad -- but it certainly wasn't the stuff of which gourmet dreams are made. We wandered the art booths -- the usual mix of some really great stuff and 'what the hell??' for as long as John and Daniel could tolerate it before calling it a day and a weekend and heading for home.

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