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What do you get when you mix a perfect fall day, dozens of vendors, an all-star collection of Little Rock food trucks, and a set of shirts commemorating the various poses of Burt Reynolds? Block off a section of Kavanaugh and stir in some $2 drafts from U.S. Pizza, and you've got HarvestFest, the annual celebration of fall held in historic Hillcrest. This year's celebration was especially festive given the incredibly hot summer that baked Central Arkansas to a frazzled crisp, and the only unhappy notes we heard during the festival on Saturday were the wails of children who couldn't quite keep a grip on their helium balloons. As for me, I managed to maintain a state of foodie bliss down the entire stretch of the festival scene, starting with performing the enviable task of judging some cheese dip at the Kroger HarvestFest Cheese Dip Contest. Despite a small group of competitors, I'd have to say that the quality of the melted cheese more than made up for the quantity of contestants, and it was tough to pick a winner from the pack — but after some delicious deliberations, we (along with all the other folks who voted) came up with the following winners:
People's Choice (Professional): U.S. Pizza Co.
People's Choice (Amateur): Burt's 'Stache
Judges' Choice (Professional): U.S. Pizza Co.
Judges' Choice (Amateur): Cheese Dip Team
Best Booth: The ConcheeZtadors
The people's choice winner, in addition to their excellent Burt Reynolds theme, had a dip that was smooth and loaded with chunks of savory Italian sausage. I'm not normally a big fan of cheese dips that incorporate meat, but this dip was quite well done, and the exuberance of the team serving it only helped increase the fun-factor. The winner of the Judges' Choice (and my personal choice), The Cheese Dip Team, served a basic cheese and milk dip that became something else entirely with the addition of a very scary-sounding ingredient: a healthy dose of pepper sauce made from the famed and feared ghost pepper. The peppers themselves were grown by the monks of Subiaco Monastery — and as we've mentioned before, these monks know a thing or two about the hot stuff. The dip-makers didn't overwhelm us with heat, though, striking a nice balance between the ghost pepper spice and the creamy cheese.
Professional winner U.S. Pizza was a winner by default (they were the only professional entry), but don't let that fool you: their Judy's Favorite cheese dip is very good, and makes a nice pairing to their wide variety of sandwiches, salads, and appetizers. Along with the amateur groups, U.S. Pizza should make a strong showing at this year's World Cheese Dip Championship in October. Of course, cheese wasn't the only thing happening at Saturday's festivities, so we'll have a few more pictures after the jump.
River Market favorite Le Pops had a mobile cart available, and as the day wore on and warmed up, the folks lining up to get their hands on a gourmet ice lolly grew and grew. If you haven't had a chance to try one of their ice pops, you're missing out — these are some of the freshest tasting treats in the city. The Le Pops crew has been running daily trivia contests on their Facebook page, so give them a follow and test your wits for a chance to win some goodies.
There were also several of our local food trucks and carts present, including Hot Dog Mike, The Southern Gourmasian, K-Bird, Banana Leaf, and Philly's To Go. That's a line up that I don't think can be beat anywhere: gourmet dogs, cheese steaks, Thai food, Indian food, and Southern-Asian Fusion all on one street? Throw in Hillcrest staples like Hillcrest Artisan Meats and an assortment of other fair-food style trucks and there's no way you could get away from HarvestFest hungry.
It's always a fun time of year when the orange and brown of fall decorations starts appearing, and I don't think I could think of a better place to celebrate the change of the season than with the fine folks of Central Arkansas. To all the sponsors, organizers, and vendors, I offer a hearty "job well done," and I hope that everyone who attended the event has as fun a time as we did. Fall is here, so let's enjoy it!