National Hamburger Festival
Celebrate all things burger in Akron Aug. 13-14
By Lexi Hotchkiss
Just as soon as she quickly dumps her head into a plastic baby pool, the contestant hastily re-emerges with a foam hamburger filling her mouth. But it's her face - swim goggles adorned - that's drawing everyone's attention. It's now coated in a thick, copious layer of ruby red ketchup.
"What the wha?" you ask.
Yep, she's bobbing for burgers at the National Hamburger Festival. And, it's just as awesome as it sounds.
The food festival happens Aug. 13-14 at Lock 3 Park in Downtown Akron - just a short 40-mile drive from Downtown Cleveland. And, it's not one you'll want to miss.
"If you want to get the best hamburgers in the world, come to Northeast Ohio. We have the best of the best," said Drew Cerza, founder of the National Hamburger Festival and Buffalo's proclaimed "Wing King."
Frank and Charles Menches from Akron are credited with inventing the hamburger in 1885. (Yeah, yeah. We know there are about three others cities that claim the hamburger as their creation, but frankly, we're going with this version.)
It all happened when the brothers ran out of pork for sausage patties they were vending at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, N.Y. As a replacement, they decided to spice-up some beef (with coffee, brown sugar and other ingredients) and hock them as "hamburgers," so named for city in which the fair was held.
Later, they went on to open Menches Bros. Restaurant, which is still operated by family in Akron today. And, yep, they serve up the secret burger recipe from more than a century ago.
So, as the birthplace of the hamburger, it should come as no surprise that Akron is home to the National Hamburger Festival, which celebrates its 11th anniversary in 2016.
"There's a lot of civic pride for the city of Akron and their hamburgers," Cerza said.
But what makes a burger better than others?
"One of the beauties of hamburgers are the blends of meats. Of course, there's always the lean-to-fat ratio, like 90/10 or 80/20. But, there's also different kinds of blends of meat to make your burger," Cerza said. "Some restaurants differentiate themselves by the roll they use. Others blend different toppings and show how the flavors all work together."
The festival features a blind taste-tested contest of burgers. Vendors are allowed to enter any category they'd like, including Most Traditional, Most Creative, Best Cheeseburger and Best Burger Toppings/Special Sauce.
Don't be surprised if you spot a hamburger topped with peanut butter or one that's totally deep-fried. (Don't knock it ‘til you've tried it.)
This year, the festival has more vendors that you can count on two hands including Smoke the Burger Joint Original Crunch Roll Factory, Square Scullerly, The Slop Truck, SWAT Food Truck, Uptown Grill, Quaker Confections Icecream, and George's Lounge, just to name a few.
The good news is that they offer half-sized portions of burgers and, of course, cold beer to wash it down. This year will be the first annual Buckeye Brewfest, a one-day beer fest on Sunday, which will feature dozens of beers from more than 10 Ohio-based breweries. Guests ages 21 and older can enjoy beer samples, 6-oz. cups for $3 and 12-oz cups for $5.
But we'd still recommend you come hungry, because you'll also find good old-fashioned fair food like french fries, fried dough, lemonade and tons of desserts.
The festival goes beyond noshing with an array of quirky burger-related activities.
"Bobbing for Burgers is just a blast. We literally fill a kiddie pool with ketchup and then mix in foam hamburgers. Contestants then stand with their hands behind their backs and go head first to pull out as many hamburgers as they can in a few minutes," Cerza said.
You might be wondering why someone would do such a thing.
"It's a fact of life that anyone will do anything for a free t-shirt," he laughs. And, that's exactly what contestants receive.
Another popular event is the Hamburger Eating Contest. Try to imagine eight-10 people scarfing down as many burgers as fast as they can. (Yum?)
Other activities include the National Hamburger Festival Queen Pageant, Baby Burger Contest, children's inflatables and activities, and live music from Akron-based blues and jazz bands including Gaetano’s Underworld Blues Band, the Stingers, and also Fleetwood Mix (a Fleetwood Mac tribute band).
Admission is $5 for adults. Children eight and younger are free. Bring cash and park (for free) in the attached Lock 3 ramp.
For more information or to sign up to be a contestant for Bobbing For Burgers [you know you want to], visit HamburgerFestival.com.