- Lake County PerchFest
If you don't fit into your swimsuit yet, it's time to give up. So put down your calorie guide and pick up this one: a map to the greatest and quirkiest food festivals in Ohio. Trust us, you'll be back for seconds.
Tops Great American Rib Cook-Off
May 26-30, Tower City Amphitheater
Cleveland hosts the ultimate backyard barbecue at Tower City Amphitheater. In addition to 11 master grillers from eight states (and one from Australia), this year's cook-off will feature a new event: the Tops Chef Amateur Grilling Competition. There's also a nice soundtrack to all the messy eating: Eddie Money, John Waite, Flogging Molly, Dave Mason, Donnie Iris and the Cruisers, Blue Öyster Cult, Better Than Ezra, Ruben Studdard, and the Saw Doctors.
New Straitsville Moonshine Festival
May 26-30, New Straitsville
Prohibition may be long gone, but New Straitsville still has a taste for moonshine. Part heritage festival and part summer fair, the Moonshine Festival features a Chinese auction, NWA Wrestling, carnival rides, games, vendors, and a working still. (Sorry, no drinking -- it's for demonstration purposes only.) Test your stomach at the Dill Pickle Eating Contest or your voice at a karaoke competition. You'll also want to try the festival's unique offerings of moonshine burgers, moonshine pie, and moonshine doggies. It's the perfect alternative for those who want the alcohol, but not the hangover.
Port Clinton Walleye Festival
May 27-30, Port Clinton
A Port Clinton tradition continues on Memorial Day weekend with the 25th Annual Walleye Festival. In addition to amusement rides and vendors serving up all manner of tasty treats, a variety of educational demonstrations will take place. To honor the celebration's silver anniversary, this year's fishing derby has been expanded, as has the grand parade. It will all be capped off with a fireworks display on the 29th. Free admission.
Festival of the Fish
June 17-19, Vermilion
Enjoy some fish and chips, then participate in some of the festival's unique events. The ever-popular Crazy Craft Race will feature contestants piloting homemade watercraft, and a Lighted Boat Parade will cater to those who favor sturdier vessels. The athletically inclined can work off calories with a 5K Run on Saturday, June 18, sponsored by the Vermilion Family YMCA. The list of daily offerings includes the Sand Castle Contest, live entertainment, kids' games, craft booths, and a wide variety of food vendors.
Lorain International Festival
June 20-26, Lorain
What better way to celebrate diversity than by throwing a party? At the Lorain International Festival, attendees can enjoy an array of events that include the Lorain International Association Outdoor Band Concert, the Heritage of Sacred Music program, a night highlighting Greek culture, and the Princess Pageant. It all culminates in the festival and bazaar on Black River Landing in downtown Lorain, featuring culinary delights from around the globe.
London Strawberry Festival
June 22-25, London
Strawberry shortcake is one of the simpler pleasures of a summer evening. The central Ohio town of London will pay tribute to the dessert (and lots of other strawberry delights) when it hosts its annual fruit fest. There's a little something for everyone: food, cake- and cookie-decorating contests, a strawberry-themed art show, a pageant, and parades. Live entertainment includes McGuffey Lane, Pete Schlegal, and Bantasia. And starting June 24, the London Cobra Car Show will show off classic cars to benefit cystic fibrosis research.
Central Plaza, downtown Canton
It's a staple of the college years, so why not celebrate it? Canton will do just that during its annual Pizza Challenge. The event spans three city blocks, with Central Plaza in downtown serving as its epicenter. It's the second year that the event has been expanded to two days, all the better to squeeze in contests, live entertainment, kids' activities, and prize giveaways. Admission is free, meaning you can use your hard-earned cash for something else . . . like paying off your student loans.
Wellington Cheese Festival
July 16, Wellington
It's an homage to fromage in Wellington, when the town hosts its annual cheese festival. Why cheese? In the 19th century, the town was home to 40 factories involved in the production of the dairy staple, thereby earning Wellington the title of "Cheese Capital of America." There will be cheese aplenty, of course, but that's not the only attraction -- games and rides will entertain the kiddies, while contests, craft vendors, and an antique-car show will occupy their parents. The festival happens from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and admission is free.
August 5-6, Lake Farmpark in Kirtland
Wine connoisseurs will descend on Lake Farmpark in Kirtland to sample Ohio-produced wines at this year's Vintage Ohio. For $20 at the gate (or $18 in advance), samplers take home a souvenir wine glass, enjoy live music and food from regional restaurants and caterers, and see cooking demonstrations and works by regional artists. Designated drivers get a discounted rate of $8.
North Ridgeville Corn Festival
August 12-14, North Ridgeville
Corn is easily one of Ohio's most plentiful crops, so it's about time it got a little respect. From August 12 to 14, North Ridgeville will honor the staple grain with rides, an arts-and-crafts fair, a car show, and free entertainment. Also, be on the lookout for the Cornpeople -- costumed revelers on hand for special events and ceremonies.
Feast of the Assumption
August 12-15, Little Italy
One of the most well-known religious celebrations in Cleveland, Little Italy's Feast of the Assumption is also one of its most unique food fests. Marking its 107th anniversary, this year's family-friendly event features carnival rides, games, Italian foods, live music, a casino, cavatelli dinner, the official Feast gift shop, and a shrine to the Blessed Mother.
Bucyrus Bratwurst Festival
August 18-20, Bucyrus
"We are Ohio's eatingest festival and also -- by decree of the home of the bratwurst in Germany -- the bratwurst capital of the world," says festival director Francis Reddy. About 150,000 people will descend on the town for the free event, with vendors sprawling across five city blocks. Two stages will feature live entertainment, and eating contests will abound. Just don't compete after spinning around on the amusement rides, climbing the rock wall, or riding the mechanical bull.
Taste of Cleveland
September 2-5, Tower City Amphitheater
The Tower City Amphitheater will once again cap off the summer with the 10th Annual Taste of Cleveland. Chefs from around Northeast Ohio will prepare their very best offerings, allowing patrons to sample everything from tacos to tiramisu. And in the evening, the stars come out, including LeAnn Rimes, Michael McDonald, and Rick Springfield.
Milan Melon Festival
September 3-5, Milan
The people of Milan have nice melons, and they're not afraid to show them to the world. The town's annual festival features an antique car show and a melon-eating contest. Sunday will see two special events -- a two-hour grand parade and the Milan Fireman's Chicken Barbecue. Monday wraps things up with a 10K run, a children's pedal-tractor pull, and Spongebob and Scooby Doo on the Main Stage at 1 pm. Be sure to try the festival's specialties: watermelon sherbet and muskmelon ice cream.
Lake County PerchFest
September 9-11, Lake County
As if being Ohio's largest Lake Erie perch fish fry weren't enough, this event was also featured in five six-minute segments on the Travel Channel. The PerchFest features live entertainment as well as a chance to win some cash. American Idol wannabes can try their luck at a karaoke contest with a $500 first prize, and for the tone-deaf, there's a perch-fishing tournament with a $1,000 first prize.
A Taste of Little Italy
September 18, Little Italy
Close out the summer by helping to support the Montessori School in Cleveland's Little Italy. For $60 in advance or $70 at the door, you'll enjoy live music while sampling food from nearly 40 of the city's finest Italian restaurants and bakeries. To help wash it down, there are 200 Italian varietal wines. The event also features silent and live auctions, as well as a homemade wine competition.