Swine Dining

by ANN M. COLFORD & r & & r & FESTIVAL Spokane's tribute to food, glorious food, showcases new faces and familiar favorites & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & ix solid days of gorging on meals from more than 50 food vendors: That's how Spokane bids farewell to summer. The vendors, both locals and visitors, offer about 250 different food items for sale, with nothing priced more than $8. Granted, that top price has crept upward since the event first began, but you can still find some good bargains, especially if you're into sharing.

Among the food-mongers this year are a few who are relatively new to the Pig Out experience. One newcomer is Spokane's WILD SAGE, whose inaugural Pig Out effort is being spearheaded by floor manager Garth Hicks. "This will be good exposure for us," he says. "It's a nice way to meet clientele who might not come in to the restaurant. It gives us a chance to show people what we can do, both in the restaurant and for catering."

Wild Sage will offer two different wrap sandwiches ($7 each): a blackened chicken Caesar wrap, with the surprising addition of pumpkin seeds, and a Hawaiian-style pulled pork with jasmine rice, Asian slaw and a sweet chili-pineapple salsa. The pork is lean, smoky and pull-apart tender, and the rainbow slaw adds a contrast in flavor, texture and color. Fragrant jasmine rice holds it all together.

Hicks has worked a lot of food events in the past, and he says he's the one who risked the ire of the rest of the staff and recommended Wild Sage's participation in Pig Out. "It's a great community event, and we want to be part of it," he says. "Although I think [chef] Alexa [Wilson] is probably cursing me about now." Hicks will be the mainstay at the booth, but the chefs and owners will all be there at various times.

Vendors who want to serve beverages at Pig Out aim to bring in something unique, says Hicks, "and we're lucky, because [unique drinks] are such a big part of what we do." Wild Sage will offer its Virgin Hibiscus Mojito ($4), a delightful refresher made from scratch with fresh mint leaves, lime juice, cane sugar syrup and hibiscus tea. "It's nice to get a floral flavor without too much sweetness," Hicks says. "And the Incas used hibiscus to lower blood pressure naturally." So there you go: It's colorful and tasty and good for you besides.

Of course, it's not a meal without dessert, and the kitchen staff at Wild Sage created a thematically appropriate one: a giant pink-frosted lemon shortbread cookie in the shape of a pig ($3).

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & R & lt;/span & eturning for a second round this year is GARLINI'S, an iconic family-owned Italian restaurant in East Wenatchee. Craig Still handles the restaurant's traveling food booth -- under the banner of Pasta Express -- and spends many days on the county fair and festival circuit each year. He says Pig Out is well known and respected among traveling food vendors.

"Pig Out is the best-run event that we do," says Still. "The communication is great -- we have vendor meetings every day. It's a big team thing. It's competition, yes, but it's friendly. If you do Pig Out and you do it well, it's a coveted thing."

Garlini's does handcrafted Italian foods at their restaurant, and they'll be bringing a sampling of favorites to Spokane: chicken penne pasta with Alfredo sauce; spaghetti and meatballs with house-made marinara; Caesar salad and garlic bread and an Italian-style steak-and-cheese sandwich.

"We also do European-style crepes," Still says. "I'll have a chicken-artichoke crepe with lots of fresh veggies, and a seafood version. And for dessert, I'll put our chocolate-strawberry crepe, made with Guittard chocolate and fresh strawberries, up against anything."

There's a big difference between cooking in the relatively controlled environment of a restaurant and preparing meals outdoors in a park in the middle of a city, Still says, and vendors who tackle the event have to come with their game faces on.

"I love working Riverfront Park," he says. "It's such a great place for a festival. But it's a tough place to work. At an event like this, as a food vendor, you need to bring the food you're the very best at preparing -- it's not the place to experiment with an item, just to see how it goes. You need to be prepared so that you can put out a quality product consistently and quickly."

In addition to these relative newcomers, plenty of old favorites will be back: the Milk Bottle (burger and fries) and Mary Lou's (huckleberry ice cream); Clinkerdagger (pulled pork) and Catacombs (Philly-style cheesesteak); Leonardo's and Lylo's, Baja Babes and Boehms; everyone from Azar's (gyros and baklava) to Zips...

Six days. One mouth. Time to start planning strategy.

Pig Out in the Park runs 10 am-10 pm daily through Sept. 3 in Riverfront Park.