Mr. K and I joined the masses of garlic lovers this past weekend at the 35th annual Gilroy Garlic Festival where we explored a bounty of dishes celebrating the stinking rose, rows and rows of arts and crafts booths, live entertainment and some serious cooking competitions for a $5,000 prize. This year’s Cook-Off Theater was hosted by ABC-TV’s Chef Carla Hall (co-host of The Chew and Top Chef fame) and the inaugural Garlic Bowl, where teams have one hour to prepare, plate and serve two dishes– each recipe incorporating six cloves of fresh garlic– to a panel of five judges.
The three-day summertime celebration is made possible by the work of 4,000 community volunteers and over 34 years of operation the Festival has entertained 3,938,036 guests and provided over $9.7 million to local non-profit organizations. Near the entrance is a flaming bulb proclaiming an up to the minute dollar amount, I’m glad to be able to help these local organizations by our gustatory efforts.
Teams are busy tending to smoky grills filled with slabs of marinated meats. The compelling aromas tempt you onwards.
The exhibition kitchens delight the crowds with pyrotechnic flares ups while cooking up the dishes that are served at the booths of the Gourmet Alley.
I purchased discounted tickets ahead of time, $25 to get in which includes a combo plate, saving us $4 each. Gourmet Alley was just around the corner from the entrance, which is where you will find the featured dishes of the Garlic Festival. These fellows are very focused on preparing the peppers and onions that we enjoyed on sandwiches.
We looked at the huge portions of the $12 combo plates being served and decided to start off by sharing one so we wouldn’t fill up straight off the bat. Our big ole heavy duty Chinet trencher was loaded up with half of a garlic sausage sandwich, garlic scampi, marinated mushrooms, and two pieces of garlic bread.
The tender shrimp are swimming in a thick buttery sauce that set off taste bud fireworks when scooped onto the garlic bread. The marinated mushrooms were harsh and overpowered from the chopped raw garlic, which transformed me into a garlic-fume breathing dragon. Vampires beware! The garlic sausage was surrounded by savory peppers and onions in a tomato sauce and seemed to be wrapped in garlic bread. That was a lot of food, and we decided that we wouldn’t do the combo plate in the future, because it really limits your ability to continue on with any kind of appetite to sample the other dishes!
Mr. K liked the looks of Calamari in red sauce being cooked in the exhibition kitchens, so we picked up a bowl of it. The pieces of calamari were sweet and tender and we wanted to mop up every drop of the sauce with the bread.
We picked up the other combo plate later after walking through the festival and checking out our options. It was another platter piled with half of a peppersteak sandwich, more of the calamari with tomato sauce, pasta con pesto, and more garlic bread. I really liked the pesto noodles, which were lightly aldente with a delectable and savory cheesy sauce. Even though we were getting full, we couldn’t stop dunking the garlic bread into the garlicky tomato sauce and I liked the calamari mixed in with the noodles… We tried a few bites of the sandwich, which was piled full of juicy slices of tri-tip that seemed to be stuffed into garlic bread.
Another plate we have to order at the Gourmet Alley are the stuffed mushrooms ($7), baby portobellos filled with garlicky parmesan and baked until the mushrooms begin to release their juices and the cheese softens and browns on top. Get these, not the marinated ones
BBQ Oysters on the half shell ($8) were big and meaty, the succulent flesh was sweet and tender, the shells were filled with the released oyster liquor and a lip smacking garlic butter with chopped fresh parsley. We wished for more garlic bread to mop up the elixir which we sipped directly from the vessel-like shells.
The stuffed mushrooms were also good dunked into the buttery oyster broth too.
And who can resist the Garlic Ice Cream? One scoop for $5, which immediately began to melt in the hot sun.
I asked the server which was her favorite, and she recommended the newest flavor, which was Garlic Walnut. It was delicious, rich and creamy with just a light taste of garlic, vanilla and full of pieces of toasted walnut.
Our bellies were stretched to the limit and we continued on checking out the sights. There were so many other dishes that sounded intriguing, a Filipino booth with Garlic Lumpia, Garlic Pancit; other booths offered fried garlic lobster balls on a stick, garlic crab topped fries, garlic onion rings, garlic frog legs, garlic kettle corn, zesty garlic fried calamari, garlic sauteed mussels, many booths offered garlic fries and I was sorry to miss out on the garlic pineapple upside down waffle. Next time we will have to skip the huge combo plates and I recommend that you bring friends or family so you can try more dishes, because the servings are pretty big!
We took a peek at the Garlic Cook off which Mr. K was keen to visit as a co-worker was participating on one of the teams as sous chef. Unfortunately we just missed it, but later heard that her team won for their presentation of Carnival Style Fish Sticks with Lemony Jalapeno Mayonaise and Spicy Apple Kohlrabi Slaw . Woohoo, congratulations, and wished we could have tried it! To avoid the crowds and heat, we arrived early (but it still took us 30 minutes to park) so there were hardly any lines at the booths and it was easy to find shady spots to sit and eat our food. On the way home the traffic was backed up for miles in the other direction, which we had to assume was due to the festival…