Summer in Kansas City means braving the heat and humidity for the metro's many outdoor festivals, where snack offerings are so plentiful and varied that we asked our food critics for guidance on navigating the options.
"Sometimes in those festivals, you can get foods that you can't find in any restaurant in Kansas City. It's a real treat," said Charles Ferruzza.
Our critics had wide-reaching recommendations, but the Ethnic Enrichment Festival was a favorite for all of them.
"I look forward to it every year," said Carlton Logan. "I look forward to the culture, I look forward to going through the shops, but I look forward to the food most of all."
Logan, Ferruzza, and Jill Silva joined Central Standard host Gina Kaufmann to share their choices for the best festival food in Kansas City.
Carlton Logan, KCFoodGuys.com:
- Favorite foods at the Ethnic Enrichment Festival: Some of my recent favorites have been the sambusa from Kenya, jerk chicken from Jamaica, arepas from Venezuela, the Norwegian Kringle, and the Pad Thai.
- Espinaca Grilled Cheese at the Grilled Cheese Festival (August 4). The festival is new this year, and I am very excited by the idea of a festival centered around melted cheese and toasted bread. Several food trucks will be in attendance at Berkley Riverfront Park. There will be a grilled cheese eating contest as well as an opportunity to vote for the best grilled cheese sandwich in Kansas City. My vote right now is for the Espinaca Grilled Cheese at Best Regards Bakery and Cafe.
- Thai Chicken Pizza at the Plaza Art Fair. Now in its 87th year, this event is still an opportunity to see an eclectic range of art and taste some great food. For sentimental reasons, I can't leave without a slice of Thai Chicken Pizza from The Classic Cup. I always have a slice, but will also usually look for street tacos, truffle fries, or something else new and different.
- Deep-fried Oreos are usually at fairs along with deep-fried Twinkies, candy bars, and cheesecake. I used to turn up my nose at the idea, but after I tasted my first one, I softened a bit. Draftcade in Zona Rosa serves it with vanilla bean ice cream, drizzled with Nutella.
- Funnel cakes are another staple at fairs and festivals. I first fell in love when I was working at Worlds of Fun as a teenager. I had never had this "cake" made out of batter and dusted in powdered sugar. It reminds you of eating a donut. You can always find them at Palateria Tropicana or The Funnel Cake food truck.
- Scotch eggs are common at most Renaissance festivals and British-style pubs in America. A boiled egg is encased with pork sausage, breaded, and fried, and usually served with mustard. It can be found at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival in Bonner Springs from Labor Day weekend through October 14. Brady's Public House on 54th and Troost also serves Scotch eggs on its regular menu.
Jill Silva, food writer:
- Favorite foods at the Ethnic Enrichment Festival: Some of my favorites are the giant coconut macaroon from Israel, the crepes from France, the Jamaican jerk chicken, and the Filipino cantaloupe drink. I also like the spicy mango shake from Pakistan, and am looking forward to trying lemonades from around the world this year.
- Lemony Spinach Almond Crostata at the Lenexa Spinach Festival. This festival is a tribute to Belgian farmers, whose work helped Lenexa achieve the title of "Spinach Capital of the World" in the 1930s. In the past, I've been a judge in the spinach recipe contest. Some of the recipes I tried were the Lemony Spinach Almond Crostata, Spinach Pakoras, Popeye's Power Bowl, Spinach Bites, and a Spinach and Pork Wrap. Visitors can also taste the worl'd largest spinach salad, enjoy an array of food trucks, and even pose for photos with Popeye and Olive Oyl.
- Anousone's Mobile Cuisine at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. Chef Anourom Thomson offers some phenomenal dishes, all served in a paper boat. He sets up his giant trailer at the Shakespeare Festival every year. My favorites include the papaya salad, steamed buns, sticky rice, and meat dishes.
- Copenhagen Dog at Krokstrom Klubb & Market. This is a pickled polse, which is a cartoonish-looking hot dog made at Fritz's. It's slathered in curry ketchup, mayo, lightly pickled crunchy cucumbers, and topped with fried onions.
- Donado at Donutology. An ice cream cone in a swirling chimney cake, these are a popular street food in Budapest, where they are sold on street corners as "chimney cakes." Donutology owner Andrew Cameron changed the named because he thought the treat looked like a Midwestern storm.
- Chilaquiles at Port Fonda. These are day-old corn tortilla chips drowned in salsa de molcajete, creme and onion, radish, cilantro, and topped with a fried egg. They were originally served out of the the Port Fonda food truck window, and are now a staple on the Westport menu. One of my absolute favorite foods.
Charles Ferruzza, KCUR food critic:
- Corn dogs and candy apples at the Amelia Earhart Festival. There are traditional fair food favorites, including hot dogs, lemonade, and funnel cakes, but two of my personal favorites are corn dogs and candy apples. This is the kind of food that you only crave when you're at a fair.
- Cider donuts at the Louisburg Ciderfest. I look forward to this every year. The cider donuts alone are worth the drive to Louisburg, but there are lots of things to buy at the Country Store and the vendors are good. Best apple slushies ever.
- Apple butter at the Weston Applefest. The whole festival smells like apple butter made over an open fire. Local churches and other groups sell apple dumplings, apple pies, and cookies. You can catch a quick and tasty bite at the Applefest Food Court, or you can enjoy the cuisine at one of the several fine restaurants in Weston.
- Corn dogs at the Missouri State Fair. There are several corn dog makers there, but there's one in particular I love. I've been going there since the '70s for the very same corn dogs. I usually don't eat hot dogs, but something about that corn dog really grabs you.
- Deep-fried peaches are kind of like peach cobbler, with cinnamon sugar or brown sugar. They're crispy, and it's not a heavy batter on them. I had them at a food truck in Wichita, Kansas.
- Home-made root beer and local honey sticks at the Johnson Country Fair.
- Grange pups at the Old Settlers Day Festival. They start off with a hot dog, and they're dipped in a batter and deep-fried like a corn dog. But there is no corn in this thing. The secret is in this weird batter that's on the outside. There's a secret ingredient. If you grew up in Southern Johnson County, you grew up eating these.
- An Indian Taco is a flatbread preferably made with Bluebird Flour. Check the Haskell Indian Art Market or graduation powwow for these.
- Alligator on a stick at the now-defunct Spirit Festival. It was the most incredible thing I've ever had, and I've never seen it since.
- Pizza on a stick. It was hugely popular in the 1980s at the Renaissance Festival.
- Homemade pie at the Vinlin Kansas Fair.
Claire Verbeck is a freelance contributor to KCUR.org. Find her on Twitter @TheVeebs.