by Ann M. Colford and Susan Hamilton & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & Y & lt;/span & ou've got to love Spokane's civic truth-in-advertising. Across the country, cities host epicurean fests that delight the palate, events with classy names like the Phantom Gourmet Food Festival in Boston, the Taste of Chicago and the oh-so-demurely named Bite of Seattle. Clearly the point of these festivals is to sample as wide a variety of food as possible, but they rely on the elegant names to avoid implying that their events are simply sanctioned gluttony.
But not here in Spokane. Here in the straight-shootin' Inland Northwest, we believe in calling a pig out a Pig Out. At Spokane's six-day event, the booths of our fine restaurants sidle up next to traveling vendors; Pig Out is all about variety, quantity, economy and strategy.
And strategy is critical. Even if you ate every meal for all six days at Pig Out, you'd be limited to less than 10 percent of the 250-plus food items being offered by about 50 different vendors. Careful meal selection is crucial.
One thought is to go with a like-minded friend who's willing to share. That's twice as many dishes to sample at no more cost per person. What's not to like? When two food writers scope out the offerings at this year's event, here's how the planning unfolds ...
Susan Hamilton: I never miss AZAR'S booth. With my first bite of gyro -- marinated, rotisserie-grilled lamb and beef drizzled with tahini or tzatziki sauce stuffed in a pita -- I'm right back in Athens! And the hummus plates are great appetizers. I can't pass up the rich, multi-layered baklava for dessert. Did you know Azar's has a vegetarian booth this year, with spanakopita, falafel appetizers and sandwiches?
Ann Colford: I love falafel! You know, one of my favorites is the New York-style Italian sausage sandwich from ELDON'S ITALIAN EXPRESS. Must be my East Coast roots showing. This is a three-napkin sandwich, thanks to the savory tomato sauce that covers the grilled, mildly spiced sausage -- definitely not a meal for the first date, but it's well worth the mess and effort.
SH: I love spicy, aromatic Thai food. Chef Matavee Burgess' southern Thai cuisine at THAI BAMBOO is the best. I can make a meal of her Pad Thai, with its stir-fried rice noodles, egg, green onion, spicy sauce and chicken or tofu. But I have to save room for chicken satay with peanut sauce or red chicken curry. You've got to try Burgess' fresh mango, sweetened sticky rice. It's a heavenly dessert.
AC: Hmm, dessert again. I can see where your attention is. Before I get to the sweet stuff, though, I've got to stop by the CLINKERDAGGER booth for some pea salad and a pulled pork sandwich. The pork is braised and pulled apart, then piled on a toasted bun with barbeque sauce that's balanced right in the middle of the sweet-smoky-spicy matrix. Then, in the Mississippi/Tennessee tradition of barbecue, they top it with crisp, cold coleslaw, so the flavors all meld, the textures and temperatures contrast, and the juices run down your arms. Better hand me more napkins.
SH: ARACELIA'S Albuquerque-style Mexican cuisine is another favorite of mine. Everything's homemade, including the tortillas. I like the chicken enchiladas with red sauce. My husband goes for the grande burritos with shredded beef and the works. Have you tried Aracelia's nachos with seasoned ground beef, tons of cheese, pinto beans and homemade chips? Don't even get me started on the deep-fried banana chimis topped with caramel sauce and walnuts.
AC: I could go for some nachos, but I'm reaching my limit. Is there anything else I should be sure to try?
SH: Have you tasted the shrimp tacos at BAJA BABES? They are so addictive! Sisters Amy Wycoff and Kellie Butterfield got their recipe from two sisters who serve these tacos in northern Mexico. Amy and Kellie deep fry the beer-battered shrimp and serve it with Baja sauce and fresh salsa. They've also got cheese quesadillas for kids.
AC: This is what I love about Pig Out -- I get to eat my way across the globe without even leaving downtown. So what do you think? Are we ready for dessert now?
SH: Pig Out wouldn't be Pig Out without MARY LOU'S ICE CREAM. What's your favorite? I'm partial to huckleberry. My daughter always goes for bubble gum. My husband can never decide between maple nut or banana. Mary Lou's secret? They only use high butterfat cream and make just two tubs of ice cream at a time.
AC: "High butterfat cream" -- that's music to my ears. I really should branch out and try other flavors, but the huckleberry gets me every time. Now I have just enough room for a frozen banana dipped in Swiss chocolate and rolled in nuts, from BOEHM'S CHOCOLATES. Then what do you say we waddle -- er, wander -- over and listen to some music?
Pig Out in the Park runs through Monday, Sept. 4, from 10 am-10 pm daily at Riverfront Park. Admission is free, and no food item costs more than $7.25. Visit www.spokanepigout.com or call 921-5579.
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