Monday, September 10, 2007

Hampton Beach Seafood Festival

I watched the weather forecast every day since Labor Day to see how the weather would be this past weekend.


The weekend after Labor Day is the annual Hampton Beach Seafood Festival!

The forecast initially showed good weather, but later in the week, it was warning about scattered thundershowers and rain.

We decided to go, anyway.

Hampton Beach is more or less New Hampsha's only ocean beach town (there are a couple of others, but Hampton is probably the most popular). If you check out the town, you'll mostly see your typical souvenir stands, fast food joints, arcade parlors, and a rather long expanse of beach that is meticulously "combed" every night. The water of the North Atlantic is pretty cold year round. During the off-season a lot of the stores are closed, although the town isn't dead by any means. Still, I'm not really a beach person, so I tend to avoid Hampton Beach, since it's usually very crowded in season.

The festival has been happening in Hampton since 1990, and I guess I've been going since 1999 or so. The idea is to showcase the various specialties of the restaurants on the seacoast. State Route 1A, also known as Ocean Avenue, is closed between H Street and the Memorial Statue and eleven tents are set up, housing crafts vendors, food vendors, a separate "beer tent" (Gladys and Louie's Pub), a culinary demonstration tent, souvenir and local vendors.

The Seafood Festival is also, without a doubt, the most crowded you'll ever see Hampton Beach: over a hundred thousand people attend the three day event!

So, what kind of food is available at the festival? Glad you asked!

One place that's a favorite of Sandra's and mine is called "Grater Tater," which is run by Casino Fast Food. A single potato is peeled and processed by a machine that looks like a drill press mounted sideways resulting in a single elongated spiral "potato chip," which is deep fried and served as a huge pile on a paper plate. According to one of the people that worked at the Grater Tater booth, this snack is only available at the festival; none of the Casino Fast Food sites serve it any other time of the year.

There is also standard New England seafood fare, such as seafood and clam chowders (some in bread bowl), lobster rolls, fried and BBQ shrimp, fish and chips, boiled lobster, steamers, and other tasty treats.

Sandra and I arrived in Hampton Beach around 10am on Saturday. Although there is free parking and shuttles in Hampton, we decided to park closer to the actual festival. We took Rt 101 into Hampton Beach, taking Brown Avenue to arrive on Ashworth near the Casino Ballroom. On the way, we passed a few parking lots that wanted ten and twenty dollars a day for parking, but since the Casino parking lot was only fifteen bucks and was pretty well centrally located, we decided to park there.

We wandered from one end of the tents to the other. One of our favorite food vendors, the Hampton Firefighters, had just stopped serving one of our traditional "first meals" of the festival--delicious omelet muffin sandwiches... apparently, they ran out of eggs. They promised that they'd have more on Sunday, but we were not going to be there that day. Sandra and I promised ourselves we'll arrive a bit earlier next year.

In the craft tents, we found a vendor selling some interesting sun catchers, and we purchased a special gift from a place called "Family Signs," where we visited a teacher from the kids' middle school, Mr. Cullen, who is usually working the craft tent. (He asked about the kids and told me to tell them he said "Hi!" and good luck in college!)

The "Beer Tent" is traditionally the most popular place in the festival, being that it not only serves beer, but has the only tables where you can sit and enjoy your purchases from the food tent. This tent fills up quickly when it opens at 11am, and Sandra and I managed to find a table that had a couple from Leominster, MA. The beers at the tent were Budweiser and Bud Lite, Widmer and Long Hammer IPA from Red Hook brewery, and a Bacardi cooler. The Red Hook brews probably appeal to beer snobs like me, whereas the Anheuser Busch beers are more universally enjoyed.

The heat was pretty oppressive on Saturday; I saw a Weather Channel update that said that nearby Portsmouth, NH reached a record 93 degrees. The humidity made it even more uncomfortable, and later in the afternoon, we could see the storm clouds in the sky. By mutual consent, Sandra and I left earlier that we originally planned, missing the fireworks, but we had a great time anyway.

Will we go again next year? You bet!

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