by M.C. PAUL & lt;BR & & lt;BR & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & ugust 1997 was my first Pig Out in the Park. Then in its 18th year, the event was only four days long. New to town, not knowing anyone to go with, I set out on my own.

The morning was warm and moist, the sun shining pleasantly. I parked near the Flour Mill and strolled leisurely along the blue bridge and across an expanse of neatly manicured city park. Heavenly smells greet me as I got closer: spicy barbecue, sweet garlic, warm bread, roasted corn, noodles and so much more.

Feeling like a 12-year-old in charge of dad's wallet, and of the firm belief that dessert ought to come first, I bought a big hunk of rich, sweet, flaky baklava filled with walnuts and sticky with honey from AZAR'S, and then decided I needed ice cream to go with it.

BOEHM'S CHOCOLATE'S was unknown to me then -- until I tried cheesecake dipped in a thick layer of their amazing Swiss chocolate (chopped nuts optional). And the huckleberry ice cream from MARY LOU'S ICE CREAM, made from "high butterfat" cream with hand-picked huckleberries -- it makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Thank goodness they're always at Pig Out.

Finding a seat and shade, I dug in for my first desserts. How fun! What deliciousness on a plate! How convenient that there's no witness to my decadence.

Not quite woozy from all that sugar, I wanted ... nachos. Then, as now, ARACELIA'S MEXICAN RESTAURANT (2008 marks their 20th year at Pig Out) offered a heaping plate of home-style tortilla chips intermingled with seasoned ground beef, pinto beans, tomatoes, onions, olives, jalape & ntilde;os and more than enough shredded cheddar and Monterey jack cheese to keep it all together. Yes!

Enjoying food as much as I dislike crowded public events, I decided to rest a bit, maybe pop a Tums or two, and come back for dinner.

In those days, vendors were limited to a smallish section of the park, and when I returned a little after 5 pm, it was soon butt to butt, cheek to cheek, riverbank to city street full of people, many pushing strollers, or lugging child carriers, kids of all ages laughing and running through the crowd. This collected mass of humanity kicked up dust as the sun blasted through post-Ice Storm trees. Lines sputtered along as we made our determined way toward the best communal dinner in town.

Veni. Vidi. Vamoose.

I came. I saw. I went home.

There were way too many people for me. But, of course, I came back early the next day, and the next, and the next, trying as many items from as many places as possible.

Time passes. I make friends and go to a couple more Pig Outs, but then move away from Spokane. More time passes. I move back and discover that now food vendors set up in the Gondola Meadow, the Clock Tower Meadow and on the Howard Street Bridge.

The vendors of my memory are back. Guess where I'll start this year? Yep, dessert is still first in my heart. (Insert cardiac joke here.)

BEN & amp; JERRY'S ICE CREAM has about 14 of their most popular flavors featured at Pig Out. A "regular" size made-on-site waffle cone ($5) is a great starter. Lori, the store manager, assures me there's something for everyone: "nothing with nuts because of nut allergies, sorbets for the ones who can't have dairy, and flavors with no sugar added for the ones who can't have sugar."

For a different dessert, I'm off to SPOKANE SUSHI for their Maui-Sadas: vanilla and coconut cream-filled doughnuts. While I'm there, and since I'll be needing something more ... substantial, I'll try a plate of their Korean-style Pulehu short ribs. Marinated in teriyaki sauce and grilled to crispy-brown perfection, this is a whole other kind of barbecue I have got to try.

LONGHORN BARBECUE serves loads of "traditional" ribs and such. Assistant Manager Erin Miller tells me to try the "Baby Backs." How good are they? "They are to die for," she says. "They're my favorite thing here. I took some home with me last night." We're talking more than a pound of extra-tender, slow-roasted pork that's been hand-rubbed with Longhorn's seasonings then covered in their zesty sauce. There's a list of eight sides to choose from, so I gotta try that, too. Thank goodness for friends to share with.

One way or another, I have to seek out TASTE OF INDIA for Chicken Tikka -- basically, Tandoori chicken without the bones -- and for those times when I'm trying to be a bit healthier, the pleasingly spicy vegetarian Chana Masala made with garbanzos, tomatoes, onions and cilantro is just what I need. Add a piece of naan and there's a meal.

For more traditional "event food" -- and a bargain -- PIZZA RITA will offer their "Giant Slice" of extra cheese or pepperoni and cheese ($2) that ought to keep us kids happy without spending a fortune. I just wonder what they have for dessert...

Spokane Home & Garden Show @ Spokane Convention Center

Sat., April 20, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sun., April 21, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
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