Food for thought: What’s a festival without food?

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The Ithaca Festival is just around the corner, bringing with it four days of music, arts, and food. Though the tagline “Community Festival of Music & Arts” establishes a clear focus, the food is an equally important part of the experience for festival-goers. For this year, the festival organizers have developed a few new avenues to support our small businesses and to open the event up to first time participants.


On Thursday, May 30 the festivities kick off with the beloved Ithaca Festival Parade, directly followed by a concert by Danielle Ponder and the Tomorrow People at the Bernie Milton Pavilion. Accompanying the music will be five vendors providing bites for $5 and under: local favorites The Piggery, Agava, and Lou’s Dogs will be joined by first-timers Akemi Food (Japanese rice balls and soba noodle bowls prepared by Chef Yuko Jingu) and Mama Loye’s Café (West African and Southern-style dishes prepared by Chef Akua Akyea). Local wine, cider, and beer will be poured by Ithaca Beer Co.


On Friday the Festival begins in earnest, with five performance areas and several blocks of makers, artisans, and food purveyors.


One booth has been set aside specifically to showcase smaller-scale businesses who wouldn’t have the capacity to set up for the entire weekend. These food entrepreneurs will have the booth to themselves for four hours each, offering samples and selling their culinary products. Bethany Dixon, baker and owner of Pies & Pinups, was thrilled to sign up. “[It’s] a lovely idea … the festival is often so prohibitively expensive for vendor fees that it’s out of the question.” She’ll be baking cookies, fruit pies and tarts, and the colorful French macarons that have become her signature.


Food & Ferments will also be popping up, serving fresh kombucha, lemon and honey switchel, beet kvass, naturally fermented kimchi and sauerkrauts, and fireside tonic shots and bottles. GreenStar staple Laurie’s Grain Free Bakehouse will be sampling different breads, cookies, and muffins – all of which are made without grains, gluten, dairy, and nuts. Hector-based WineFlour will offer truffles, cupcakes, and crackers with a twist: after wine grapes are pressed, the skins and seeds are often discarded; Owner Hilary Niver-Johnson takes this byproduct and makes flour which adds flavor, color, and nutrition to ordinary baked goods.


In addition to this sampling booth, there will be 26 vendors offering prepared meals, from local foods like Dancing Turtle’s organic salads to international dishes such as momos from the Tibetan Momo Bar. All of them are just as excited as we are for the event.


“Ithaca Festival when I was a little kid was such a special thing and it’s just fun to be part of it!” said Mandy Beem-Miller, Owner of The Good Truck. “Even though it always rains at least one day it’s a nice summer kick-off.” The Good Truck will be serving up salads, sandwiches, and tacos. “We focus on seasonal food so our menu throughout the season changes based on what we can get that week.” Over the past eight years, they’ve established direct farmer relationships with Plowbreak Farm, Remembrance Farm, and Nook & Cranny Farm for their produce. For protein, they work with Red Gate Grocer – an Ithaca-based brand which sources high-quality products from farms in central New York and northern Pennsylvania. “[Tacos] really work with the seasonality. It really works for people with a lot of different food needs … and I think everybody loves a taco.”


Devon Van Noble, of Van Noble Farms in Trumansburg, returns this year with their signature pig roast, which can be enjoyed as a smoked pork sandwich or on a platter with several sides. Other menu items include sausage and peppers and a new bratwurst and red cabbage roll. “I’ve been farming for eight years,” reflected Van Noble. “I was just wholesale selling. After a handful of years … I had to find other outlets and catering became the next step; the next iteration.” Van Noble caters many weddings and he’s found he really enjoys mixing it up with the energy of a festival. This year, “I’m most excited about getting to showcase our new smoker and our pigs. I love talking to people about our pigs and that it comes from our farm, and they love understanding how our business works.”


Newcomer Eat The Foood! first came on the scene last June, so they’re just shy of a one year anniversary. Owner Jordan Rosenbaum is quite confident that their gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches – ranging from Cubans to Philly Cheesesteaks – have the right qualities to attract a crowd. “We want you to be having a great time at the festival and if you drop a piece of it on your blue jeans you’re like ‘this is so good I’m picking it off my jeans!’ We want it to be sloppy, fun food.” There are some clear consistencies in their menu: all the bread is preservative-free, freshly baked from Felix Roma’s bakery in Endicott; all the sandwich names are punny; and of particular pride to Rosenbaum: “We’re from Broome County, so all of our protein – chicken, steak, and pork – is in spiedie marinade.”


On the other end of the spectrum, MacDonald Farms will be set up with their naturally fermented probiotic foods – pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi – served as a ready-to-eat platter or sold in jars to take home. While most vendors are amping themselves up for the hustle of the Festival, veteran vendor Shelley MacDonald is very relaxed. “We go to about 12 festivals a year, and Ithaca Festival is a little low-key,” she said, then offers some perspective: “We have lived in the Ithaca area and have been growing organic food and making these products since 1979 … we know lots of people! So it’s wonderful to see people we know.” With 40 years of experience, her calm is understandable.


With so much delicious food, the hardest and most exciting decision will be what to eat. Katie Foley of Silo Food Truck has some advice: “Street food has played this incredible role in passing down tradition and culture. … If you walk up and down the food alley there are lots of traditions that are represented. ... I think it would be fun for everyone to have a sense of adventure in their mind! The festival brings unique flavors to the table. Whether it’s having some amazing Cambodian food [from Khmer Angkor] … or some classic fried chicken [from Silo Food Truck] … there’s a lot of diversity to choose from.”

Food For Thought is a monthly column highlighting the hidden gems of the culinary world across Tompkins County. Sarah Barden is a dedicated foodie who, along with her husband, shares her passion with neighbors and visitors through their business Ithaca is Foodies Culinary Tours. Find more information at IthacaIsFoodies.com.

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