This weekend my wife Anne and I had the pleasure of attending the third annual Fantastic Food Fest at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. This annual event bringing together the best and brightest providers from numerous restaurants, markets, farms, caterers, bakeries, and other tremendous sources of locally sourced ingredients and cuisine under one roof for foodies to gather and escape winter doldrums. Year One’s big show kicked off our new yearly tradition with the perfect headliner, Chopped host and hometown hero Ted Allen. Year Two brought us the immense pleasure of meeting Chopped judge and Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli.
This year, we weren’t there for TV personalities or jazz-hands photo ops. If you know who TV chef and NPR contributor Sara Moulton is, or if you’re a fan of celebrated Hoosier chefs or food bloggers, this was the show for you. For us, this time was all about the food.
Several booths weren’t ready when the doors opened at 10 a.m., but eventually the party was in full swing. Vendors showed off their sauces, chefs provided free samples of their culinary arts, booth designers showcased their clients’ wares to maximum effect, and hardly an unhappy face was in the house.
Fun disclaimer before we proceed: all links to other sites throughout this entry are provided out of a personal sense of appreciation for all involved, as an opportunity for readers to check out some of the proud small businesses that call Indiana home. None of these links represent paid advertising, sponsored content, affiliated marketing, or favors for friends. The TL;DR version of my much longer bridge-burning tirade on this subject is that Midlife Crisis Crossover is quite simply not that kind of blog. Enjoy!
Setting aside the Chopped all-stars, our favorite part of every Fantastic Food Fest is the Tasting Pavilion, where a collection of local restaurants offer upscale fare for an additional upcharge. This year they changed up the format: instead of going with a carnival-midway-style ticketing system, patrons paid a flat fee to enter the Pavilion and gain the privilege to try unlimited wares from each of the participating vendors. This premium part of the FFF experience cost us a bit more this way than the system that worked for the past two years, but we were game to try anyway…although the format shift wasn’t clearly communicated in advance to at least one annoyed chef we spoke to, who was still working through their reaction when we approached.
Another change implemented this year: instead of the same set of restaurants populating the Tasting Pavilion all-day both days of the show, a Pavilion schedule was instituted with four separate sessions, two per day, each spotlighting a different foodstuff. We missed the late afternoon taco theme, and will be missing the respective Sunday sessions for pastries and cheese. Saturday at noon came the first session, “BBQs and Brew”.
Anne and I aren’t drinkers, but they had us at “BBQ”. The following wares were among our favorites of the day that were both tasty and photogenic. Sorry, shreds of meat in a condiment cup can be delicious, but they’re an awkward thing to photograph for posterity.
Once again we came away from the Fest with an armload of inventive new groceries to enliven our pantry and get us through this boring winter. Many hands made great works at the fairgrounds today, but special thanks go to the following very good people who convinced us to exchange money for bonus groceries:
* Risin’ Creek Dairy & Creamery — herb-tastic goat cheese
* Newfangled Confections — pralines and sweet-‘n’-spicy pecans
* Gallery Pastry Shop — macaroons
* Dudley’s Toffee — dark chocolate toffee chunks
* Best Boy & Co. — hot fudge topping, with all proceeds donated to charity
* Master’s Hand BBQ — a longtime MCC favorite mentioned here multiple times; Anne needed to stock up on barbecue sauce
* Tell City Pretzels — Salty Caramel pretzel chunks, a pleasingly crunchy change of pace from all the softer paleo fare
* Fish Lake Organic Berry Patches — black currant jelly (this Amish business out of Goshen, IN, has no website, not even an official Facebook page — which, y’know, is logical enough — but this article nicely sums up their skill sets)
Once again Fantastic Food Fest gave us a successful, enlightening, filling experience with a lot of takeaways to bolster our mealtimes in the days ahead. Lord willing, we’ll be there again next year, with or without the cast of Chopped.