Gilroy Garlic Festival 2013
Three years ago we came to the Gilroy Garlic Festival, and honestly we didn’t have a good time. We felt that parking was too far from the festivities, the garlic ice cream samples were miniscule, and there wasn’t enough garlic-laced food for eating there – plenty of garlicky sundries for taking home, but limited to the world-famous garlic fries and garlic ice cream to eat on site. Since then we’ve been telling people that it’s a “once in a lifetime” event because it’s only worth going to once, just to say you’ve been. Now that we have Seasoning And Salt, we wanted to return and find out if things were the same. We brought Zach’s brother Will to help us compare, and let’s just say, we’re eating crow for dinner.
We lucked out that today was about 15 degrees cooler than average, but we thought we were going to have to trek down and then up a gargantuan hill on a dirt path. It was a huge surprise, then, to see chartered buses taking guests to and from the main gates! Lots of buses meant we didn’t have to wait at all in either direction.
The food center known as Gourmet Alley is in the middle of the whole event. Leading up to and around it are multiple other food vendors, and we were so thrilled to see more than garlic fries and garlic ice cream! The first stand we saw with garlic food was Olde Tyme Kettle Korn, all the way from Pennsylvania. They created a garlic popcorn that was sweet with a strong garlic flavor, fresh, perfectly popped, and didn’t get any of those hard bits stuck in our teeth.
Jeepney Guy from Santa Clara is working up to a Filipino-inspired food truck, so catering in general is the focus for now. By attending events such as this one, they get great practice for the street food demand! The Karubi pork short ribs are smoked for five hours, and we guess that the eight in the smoker pictured above got eaten pretty quickly.
We tried the Karubi pork in the Flip-Dip adobo sandwich, with a side of atchara. The pork was so smoky, juicy, and tender, we couldn’t hold ourselves back from eating the whole thing, even knowing that we had much more food to get to. It was served on a soft telera roll (kind of like ciabatta) spread with garlic aioli, and the savory adobo dipping sauce complemented the sweet garlic very well. Atchara is a condiment in the Philippines, made of pickled unripe papaya, carrots, red bell peppers, garlic, sweetened rice wine vinegar, and lime zest. It was like a refreshing salad with a bit of spice, but the pickle flavor prevailed.
You can purchase a ticket that includes a plate to sample four items from Gourmet Alley. There are two combo plates to choose from, so naturally we got in different line so that we could get a bite of everything. Combo Plate #1 has half of a pepper steak sandwich, calamari, pasta con pesto, and garlic bread. The pepper and onions in the sandwich were well cooked, matching the tender beef with a good amount of garlic. The calamari had a basic red sauce, perfect for the garlic bread. The pasta con pesto was super garlicky with mild basil on al dente noodles.
Combo Plate #2 offers half of a garlic sausage sandwich, scampi, marinated mushrooms, and more garlic bread. The sandwich had crunchy peppers and onions with a very strong-tasting sausage. The scampi had tender, sweet, and succulent shrimp in an extremely garlicky and savory buttery sauce. The mushrooms could have used a bit more salt, but otherwise the spices were good.
If you visit Gourmet Alley, be aware that most of the festival is run by 4,000 volunteers, so quality control might be a little spotty. Forgive the hard workers burning up in their makeshift kitchens for the occasional raw garlic or undercooked/overcooked meat.
Two of the three of us liked this dessert from Salinas’ Works of Wonder. A tender butter waffle was made with garlic, then covered with a sweet pineapple compote and rich whipped cream. What makes this work is that the garlic is completely cooked, turning it sweet. The pineapple is tangy while the garlic is earthy, but both are sweet and strangely, they worked together.
From Orange County came The Bamboo Hut with their impressive garlic egg roll. A crunchy wrapper was folded around fresh vegetables with an extreme garlic flavor. The garlic was so strong, we could taste it before biting into the crisp vegetables through the wrapper. When we told them we’d be taking pictures for Seasoning And Salt, they graciously gave us a second one, which was devoured almost instantly.
It’s a Melone Family tradition to come to the Gilroy Garlic Festival as themselves, not as a business. We thought it was endearing to see a family working together in this context – doing it just to do it for fun. We tried their garlic onion rings, which were admittedly prepared from a frozen state, but fried just right. The garlic was fresh, but it was the dip that caught us off guard because it wasn’t plain mayonnaise but garlic mayo. Its flavor was very rich and brought a creaminess to the crisp rings. This was a simple item, but very good.
Castro’s BBQ Shack and Filipino Food from Manteca added heaps of caramelized garlic on top of their traditional pansit of sweet and savory noodles. We recommend that you squeeze on the lime juice to add some zing to the exceptionally fresh, crisp vegetables.
Hercules, the town represented at the festival that is most local to us, is the home of the Powder Keg. When possible, they use organically grown herbs and vegetables in collaboration with the Hercules Community Garden, and it would be nice to think that we tasted some of those herbs in this half-pound of mussels. Sauteed well, the mussels were tender and meaty, enhanced by the garlic sauce.
California Lavash, local to Gilroy, makes flatbreads like lavash, naan, noor, and sangak. Today they turned some into pizzas, and we tried the vegetarian version. Artichoke hearts, mild feta and mozzarella cheeses, spinach, garlic, and tomato sauce were layered for a delicate and savory pizza.
During the last 35 years of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, over $9 million has been donated to various charities. This year, proceeds of the garlic fries go to YoungLife.
In reality this is soft-serve, not ice cream, but it’s still delicious. Over 100,000 people from all over the world come to Gilroy for this one weekend a year, and the garlic ice cream is one of the main attractions. Smooth, creamy, and sweet with natural garlic flavor, very few people dislike this confection.
We met Alex, proprietor of The Garlic Shoppe and Rapazzini Winery. From the Garlic Shoppe stand Zach picked out a garlic hot sauce, a garlic lollipop, and garlic chocolate. We haven’t tried the hot sauce yet and we’ll probably save it for a product review, but we have to chuckle about the last item in particular. There are only two food groups in the world: foods enhanced by garlic, and foods enhanced by chocolate. This was the first time we saw them together, so we couldn’t pass by without snatching it.
Alex offered to let us sample the garlic wine from his winery. That is not a typo, garlic wine. There is cooking garlic wine, both red and white, and that we totally understand for a sumptuous saute. What puzzled us, but ended up pleasing us, was the drinking garlic wine, also in red and white. We tried both the red and white drinking garlic wines, and they had a distinctly green, raw garlic smell. That smell, though, was more intense than the flavor. It was more mild in the mouth, with the white wine being particularly tart and refreshing.
Don’t be alarmed by the dozens of CHP cars waiting on the side of the road as you drive up to the festival. Four thousand volunteers do a lot behind the scenes, but of course we always need security to be present and visible. The mounted officers were happy to pose for us with their beautiful steeds.
Sweet Delights of Stockton had a broad menu, and the potato chips were the most different from what we had already seen. Thinly sliced, the chips were very crunchy and made in the kettle style with the skin still intact. A bonus is that you get a huge helping, so this satisfies lots of people.
Walking by Sandi’s Shaved Ice, we jokingly lamented that there wasn’t any garlic shaved ice. Then August looked up at the menu and saw that garlic was an option! With the sweetness of roasted, caramelized garlic plus sugar, this was a shockingly tasty treat.
With four stages well spaced from one another, music was constantly playing while not clashing with each other. In the evening we strolled by Steel Horse, motivating the crowd to rock out to Bon Jovi covers.
We couldn’t leave without garlic souvenirs. After sampling a few jerkies from The Jerky Hut, aka Papa Dan’s (two branches of the same company), we picked two to take home. The garlic jerky’s recipe was developed by co-owner Tracy, and it is impressive. The texture was ideal, and the flavor was deep. We plan on doing a product review of the second jerky, and in the meantime if you’d like to order your own from the Jerky Hut, try the promotional code JERKY1 for a surprise!
The bulb on the left is what you’d find at your typical grocery store. The bulb on the right is just daunting. If you were to pick only one item to bring home, grab an elephant garlic bulb.
One bulb isn’t enough for our household. Lane Enterprises of Bakersfield brought all kinds of braids, and while three feet might have been too much, a large braid (furthest to the left) should cover us for six to eight months. Stored properly, these braids will last up to a year, so every time you cook with this garlic you can bring your senses back to the festival.
After our experiences today, we will never speak ill of the Gilroy Garlic Festival again. That last time must have been on a full moon or something, because today was vastly different from what we went through three years ago. This time we were impressed by the thoughtful amenities like parking transportation, dozens of hand-washing stations, and free cups of water by the exits. Even more amazing was the garlic, the mere fact that there was such an abundance of it! There were many garlic items that we saw but didn’t try, like garlic corn, garlic steak tacos, and garlic hamburgers and other sandwiches, and six varieties of garlic ice cream. Three people can only try so much food, so we had to pick and choose what we thought you’d like to read about the most. Of course there were plenty of non-garlic foods, but why come if that’s all you’re looking for? No vampires will approach the guests of the festival for months, and that’s the way we like it.