The celebration of delicious local flavors arrived on a beautiful afternoon, drawing a crowd ready to dig in. Food lovers attending the 36th Annual Chester County Restaurant Festival could find restaurant and truck vendors with menus to satisfy anyone’s taste. A popular event, both Market and Gay Streets in West Chester, Pa. were filled with great eats and artistic work for sale. Live bands added to the entertaining atmosphere at several points.
After finding a good parking space in a downtown lot, paying $5 for the day, it was just a short walk to the festivities. First stop for a bit to eat was a food truck called GiGi & Big ‘R’ Caribbean Soul Food. I tried a sample of their jerk chicken, which was spicy, a little more than I usually go for, yet not too much to handle. It was a very good quick-bite start to the day.
Continuing down Market Street, I browsed some framed artwork with themes including nature and pop culture. Even when I don’t buy crafts, I love simply admiring the creative talent it takes to make them. A grilled cheese vendor, Bees Knees, was set up nearby and just imagining the taste of melted (almost any cheese) had me hooked! A sandwich called the “Come Up” sounded particularly appetizing and with avocado in the mix of this cheddar delight, it was amazing! Bees Knees also offered beverages and several other grilled cheese works, along with gluten free and vegan choices. Each sandwich on the menu was priced at $8.
Several more arts and crafts vendors were in sight, one of which displayed necklaces sparkling in the sunlight. It was difficult to decide among an ornate heart-shaped pendant and many other designs. I looked around further, moving on to the next vendor while deciding on any purchases.
Funnel Cakes. That’s what a large yellow banner with uppercase red letters advertised at the Snack Shack. My favorite carnival (or boardwalk) food, I couldn’t resist a plate of this crunchy treat. Sometimes, I’ve seen funnel cakes come out a bit skimpy; at this vendor, they were of sharing proportion!
At some food festivals I’ve been to, it seemed that most people were eating as they walked. In this case, several tables were available at various points along the buzzing streets. Sitting down definitely made it easier to take turns breaking off a chunk of sugary funnel cake.
Just beyond the immediate group of tables, a row of business awnings were decorated with pretty strings of light. This is what I love, I thought to myself; a delightful ambiance to admire in a town!
An Italian restaurant called Mercato was among those with lights strung above the sidewalk and they were also one of the food vendors. It was too soon to eat again, so I took a photo of their meatball sliders as a reminder to try them later in the day.
For now, it was time to walk off the food eaten so far. As this two-sided sign showed, there were many more tempting dishes to try!
It seemed even more crowded while walking along Gay Street, where I spotted the tent for a familiar vendor: The Meat House. At the moment, I skipped it since my family knows where their store is and we’re all in the area often. Located not too far from my neighborhood, delicious food can easily be brought home. When we have a family get-together, we can stock up on their items.
Taking a short break from the street scene, I got a booth inside Ryan’s Pub and tried a tropical-flavored beverage. A waitress said they weren’t serving the full menu, due to the food festival. But I’d love to go back there again and stay a bit longer. I loved this Irish phrase over the doorway, welcoming patrons.
After more strolling up and down the street, I felt my appetite growing. This time, Iron Hill Brewery was the restaurant of choice and their pumpkin ale was back! Last year, we made a stop in here and I sampled a drink called “Ichabod imperial pumpkin ale.” Not much on drinking a full glass, I had another sample this time, along with a filling cheddar cheeseburger.
That would be it for the day. I wasn’t going to be able to try those meatball sliders after all! Of course, I could always come back to West Chester and dine at Mercato. Another option, Gadaleto’s, a seafood market. They had a tent set up for the festival and were offering lobster rolls. If only my stomach weren’t full at this point!
Before leaving, a stop at Carlino’s Specialty Market was a must for some great take-home food. If I lived in West Chester, I’d shop here all the time; they have a great selection and several tables at which to sit and eat. Outside, more tables were available for those who wanted to take in the nice weather as well. On this stop, purchases included a few slices of meat and cheese lasagna, a mini pumpkin pie and two packs of pizzelles (one chocolate, one vanilla).
Throughout the restaurant festival, I also took photos of stunning architecture I hadn’t seen before in West Chester. I’ll share those on a separate blog post. The fun foodie event was a two-for-one experience, giving me the chance to explore more of the town than in the past. It also inspired me to revisit this charming town and check out more dining establishments and entertainment. If you’re in the Chester County area when next year’s restaurant festival is held, it is definitely worth checking out!