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National Hamburger Festival brings sizzle to Downtown Akron

8/18/2011 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Ellie Falb, of Newton Falls, takes a bite from a hamburger at last year’s National Hamburger Festival.
Photo: Ken Love
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Organizers of the sixth annual National Hamburger Festival in Akron were thrilled to see the event highlighted as one of the best food events in the country in Parade magazine a few months ago.

The Aug. 20-21 festival was listed in “Eat your way across the U.S.A.,” which put the spotlight on food festivals taking place throughout the summer. The article featured one event in every state, with the Hamburger Festival being Ohio’s standout.

“It was quite an honor,” said Drew Cerza, festival founder and organizer. “It’s a nice festival, a fun festival. We’re really proud of it.”

Cerza said one of the reasons he thinks the festival has been successful is because of the efforts of the city of Akron. The event takes place at Lock 3 Park and on South Main Street.

“Lock 3 Park is beautiful,” Cerza said. “It says a lot for what the city has done.”

There are some changes and new features for this year’s festival, Cerza said. For one, the date was pushed back a month.

Akron Deputy Mayor David Lieberth said earlier this summer that the Hamburger Festival was going to take place after two weekends of food-filled events, the Rib, White and Blue Festival and the Italian-American Societies Festival, which took place July 1-4 and July 8-10, respectively. But city officials later thought it might be better to push the hamburger event back a few weeks, and Cerza agreed.

“There’s so many events in July in the area, it got jammed up,” he said. “We were the third weekend after two great events. We talked to the restaurants, and a lot of them were happy because August is a slower time of year.”

Cerza is also hoping that with the later date the festival can avoid some of the high temperatures that have tended to strike during previous years.

Among the new features this year is a contest for the Cheesiest Couple sponsored by Yancey’s Fancy Artisan Cheese Co., a Buffalo-based cheesemaker whose products are available locally. Four couples will compete against each other, with semifinals set for 5:45 p.m. Aug. 20 and the finals at 8 p.m.

Yancey’s Fancy also will be onsite with a booth featuring its products in gourmet burgers, Cerza said.

Highland Square’s Metro Burger will be one of 15 vendors at the festival and will feature a new concoction specially made for the event — the Deep Fried Hamburger.

Cerza said he and Metro Burger’s Scott Burford developed the burger after discussing their love of both hamburgers and chicken wings, and wondering if the two tastes could be combined.

“It’s a great combination,” said Cerza, who got his start as the founder of the Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival. “It’s not something for someone who has a steady appointment with a cardiologist.”

Cerza added that Metro Burger also will offer a vegetarian burger for more health-conscious diners.

Other burger vendors are Barley House, Eat ‘n Park, Hackers Bar & Grill, Hodge Podge, Inferno Gourmet Burger Bar, Menches Brothers, Midway OH Boy, Pittsburgh Burger Co., Spinelli’s, the Steel Trolley Diner, The Stew Pot Kitchen, White Castle and Zydeco Bistro.

Also new this year will be a classic car demonstration Aug. 21. The Packard Auto Museum in Warren, the Canton Classic Car Museum and the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum of Cleveland will provide demonstrations of some of America’s oldest cars, including a 1904 St. Louis, a 1903 Packard and a 1900 Packard. 

Musical entertainment will take place throughout the weekend. On Aug. 20, Jon Mosey will perform from 2 to 3:30 p.m., Abby Normal and the Detroit Lean will perform from 4 to 8 p.m. and Changes in Latitudes, a Jimmy Buffet tribute act, will perform from 8:30 to 11 p.m. On Aug. 21, which will highlight country music, Todd Patrick and Laredo will perform from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and Lawless from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Returning this year will be contests such as Bobbing for Burgers and the Ohio Hamburger Eating Championships.

The festival’s hours are Aug. 20 from noon to 11 p.m. and Aug. 21 from noon to 7 p.m. Admission costs $5, with children less than 48 inches tall admitted for free. A portion of the admission fees will be donated to Akron Children’s Hospital, Cerza said.

For additional information, go to www.hamburgerfestival.com.

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