This festival stinks, but it keeps coming to town and garlic lovers rejoice.
On Saturday, hungry throngs swarmed city gathering hot spot Old School Square for the 15th annual Delray Beach Garlic Fest, the city's signature and arguably most savory event. The last day of the event is Sunday.
Just beyond the gates, attendees were greeted by the pungent scent that awakened appetites. There was food galore: roasted garlic pizza, garlic curry chicken kebabs, corn on the cob with garlic butter, garlic funnel cake and bowls of roasted bulbs served with bread.
"It's a garlic fest, so they have to go away stinking," said Kevin Grim, owner of San Francisco Puffs & Stuff, of Fort Lauderdale, a vendor at the festival.
Also there to welcome the crowds: Tom Johnston, a schoolteacher, dressed as the festival's mascot in white tights and a matching bulbous suit. He has been hamming it up as "Mr. Garlic" for about a decade for festival-goers who flock to him for photos.
"It's fantastic. It's the best job to have this weekend," he said. "Puts a smile on everybody else's faces."
Jeannine and Anthony Romano, of Boca Raton, started off with a conch salad sprinkled with diced garlic that sparkled in the sun like tiny pungent pearls. It was their first time at the fest.
"What brought us here?" Anthony Romano said. "Garlic!"
Jeannine Romano raved about the sinfully good salad served in a martini glass. Of the garlic, she said: "It's definitely present, but not overpowering. There's a touch of heat in the background."
Although garlic played the starring role in many a savory dish, it also became a surprising ingredient in a few dessert offerings: garlic funnel cake and garlic ice cream. There were also jars of garlic honey with whole cloves suspended in the sweet nectar.
Gina Evans, who owns Taste & Tell Catering, said she concocted a funnel cake batter using garlic in two forms — pureed and powder — and in a quantity that kept it mild enough for most palates.
"At this festival, people always want to try something different," she said. "Everybody will try something at least once."
Vendor Thomas Carnahan brought 37 tubs of garlic ice cream — nearly 100 gallons — that he anticipates will sell out through the weekend. The ice cream is a blend of vanilla and about 125 pounds of roasted garlic.
"People just stop and wonder," he said. "They're curious."
Amanda Ben Simon gave it a try. "We came here to enjoy garlic," she said. There were no garlic chunks, just a smooth, creamy frozen treat with a punch of garlic that lingered in the mouth.
The Fort Lauderdale resident shared it with her grandmother, Patricia Goldstein, and mother, Christina Lattimore, just in case it didn't bode well. Just a few scoops and it was gone.
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If you go
The Delray Beach Garlic Fest is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday in downtown Delray Beach, on the grounds of Old School Square. Sunday's admission is $10 per person, and children ages 10 and under free, according to the event's website.