What’s a small-town summer festival without great food? Eastern Iowa has plenty of celebrations overflowing with sandwiches, lemonade and homemade pie. But some go even further and name their festival after a favorite staple.
A few celebrations have already come and gone. Strawberry Point celebrates Strawberry Days in mid-June. In Cedar Rapids, the Czech community honors its heritage with Houby Days in May and the Kolach Festival at the beginning of June.
There’s plenty of eating left, though. We’ve mapped out the remainder of your summer. Go ahead. Eat your way through Eastern Iowa.
– Angela Holmes (special thanks to Kera Pederson for the cake creation)
Cedar Rapids (corner of Eighth Avenue and Second Street SE)
June 23-26, www.crbbqroundup.com
In its 24th year, the BBQ Roundup serves up some of the best barbecue across the country, including Famous Dave’s from Bloomington, Minn., Chicago BBQ Co. from Burr Ridge, Ill., Willingham’s from Memphis and Porky ‘N’ Beans from Port St. Lucie, Fla. Along with succulent ribs and sauces, entertainment and family activities add to the outdoor fair atmosphere. Bands include up-and-coming country group Bush Hawg and tribute bands Bad Medicine (Bon Jovi) and Cheap Rick (Cheap Trick).
Decorah, July 28-30, 1-(800) 382-FEST or www.nordicfest.com
This annual festival, which celebrates all things Scandinavian, offers plenty of traditional Norwegian foods, including lefse, kranskake (Norwegian wedding cake) and rømmegrøt (pudding). The folks at Nordic Fest love to share their heritage through food demonstrations and tasting opportunities. Cooks will be available to swap recipes and techniques of making pastries such as kringla, krumkakke and sandbakkels and more. If Scandinavian food isn’t your thing, traditional American food is also available.
Amana, 1 to 4 p.m. Sept. 4
Celebrate the unofficial end of summer Labor Day weekend sampling a variety of homegrown beers. In its seventh year, the festival gives patrons a taste of beers by Iowa breweries and home brewers. Live music and local food round out this popular event. As in previous years, attendance is limited to 1,200; tickets are available beginning July 1 through Millstream Brewery.
Solon, July 16 and 17, www.beefdays.com
Beef. It’s not just for dinner during Solon’s annual beef days celebration. Eat it for breakfast and lunch as well. Beef may be the center of attention, but food vendors will serve up other tasty treats as well. There’s a cow auction as well as plenty of meat-free ways to work off all that beef like a hay bale toss, kickball, bags and horseshoe tournaments, a fun run, fishing derby, pedal tractor pull and big wheels races.
Atkins, Aug. 5-6
Watermelon and summer are synonymous. There’s just something about slurping a ripe, red juicy slice of watermelon. Atkins is one of quite a few Iowa towns that feel so strongly about watermelon that they dedicate an entire day to celebrating it. Not that we can blame them. The celebration starts on Aug. 5 with live music and a kiddie parade. It continues Saturday with a 5K and parade. Plenty of food — including free slices — and fun follow, including watermelon bowling and, of course, a watermelon eating contest. You can also test your seed spitting skills.
Lisbon, Aug. 10-13
Blairstown, Sept. 2-4
Sauerkraut celebrations play homage to German heritage in Eastern Iowa. Lisbon residents have been celebrating sour cabbage for more than 100 years. Organizers tell us that the town was an early German settlement and in 1909, a local grocer had such an abundance of cabbage that he served up enough for the whole town. Now the four-day event includes a parade, 5K run, car show, cabbage weigh off, pedal tractor pull and street dance. In Blairstown, the two-day festival over Labor Day weekend always includes plenty of the aromatic vegetable as well as a parade and events for the whole family.
Let’s not forget Iowa-grown corn. Several streets in downtown Waukon close down for Corn Day. About 3,500 ears of corn are picked. Volunteers husk it Wednesday and boil it in two large cookers. The corn is free and other food is available to buy.
St. Jude Catholic Church, Cedar Rapids
Aug. 12-14, www.judes.org
Sweet corn is a hot commodity in Iowa, especially during the dog days of summer. For the past 36 years, St. Jude’s members and volunteers have shucked thousands of ears of corn to serve at the festival. Last year, 14 tons of Iowa-grown sweet corn were shucked — and eaten. While there are other festival-type foods at this event, including burgers, hot dogs and funnel cakes, at 50 cents an ear, the sweet corn is a best bet.
Walker, July 28-30
Walker is Licensed to Dill this year for the town’s annual celebration of pickled cukes. Of course dill isn’t the only pickle welcome at the party. There’s sure to be kosher, bread and butter and gherkins served straight up or deep fried. The festivities include a 5K run/walk and 1-mile fun run. There’s also a parade, games for kids, movie in the park, fireworks and live music.