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Summer is ripe with food festivals

Competitive eater Joey Chestnut battles three-time Wingfest champion

Competitive eater Joey Chestnut battles three-time Wingfest champion Sonya Thomas in the United States Chicken Wing Eating Championship at the 2010 Buffalo Chicken Wing festival. Photo Credit: Joe Casio

Blueberries, garlic, chicken wings -- so adored, they're the stars of their own annual food festivals in the Northeast. These multiday affairs draw thousands of patrons who turn out for parades, rides, games and live entertainment -- but admittedly, it's the food that's the biggest draw. Local purveyors serve up incarnations of the featured fare in snacks, desserts and drinks. Here are five food fests that are road-trip-worthy.  

Wilton Blueberry Festival

WHEN Aug. 5-6 in Wilton, Maine

207-778-4726, wiltonbbf.com

ADMISSION Free

From blueberry pancakes to blueberry pies to a blueberry bazaar, Wilton's 29th annual Blueberry Festival has blueberry lovers covered.

The fest at Wilton Farms offers hayrides, boat tours, live music, a parade and fireworks. Families can enjoy activities such as puppet shows, face painting and firetruck rides, while shoppers have an array of quilt and rug shows, crafts and book sales to choose from. For those coming strictly for the food, there's a blueberry cook-off (which includes items such as blueberry lobster salad), a (blueberry) pie-eating contest and cake sale. You can also pick your own blueberries at the farm.

WHERE TO STAY Wilton has two hotels -- the Wilson Lake Inn (from $79, 207-645-3721, wilsonlakeinn.com) and the Comfort Inn & Suites (from $140, 207-645-5155, choicehotels.com).  

Tomato Festival

WHEN Aug. 18-21 in Pittston, Pa.

570-655-1424, pittstontomatofestival.com

ADMISSION Free

Tomato, tomahto, however you pronounce summer's most popular fruit, the people of Pittston are capitalizing on it for the 28th year. This former coal-mining town, about a 21/2-hour ride from Manhattan, maintains that its rich, acidic soil produces a unique variety of tomatoes that other regions can't replicate.

The four-day event attracts more than 50,000 people for its parade, arts and crafts vendors, and a slew of homemade Italian foods to feast on. Farmers compete for titles of the largest, smallest, ugliest and most perfect tomatoes, and restaurants square off in a "Sauce Wars" competition.

Those looking for something with a bit more bite can go hog wild in Pittston's Tomato Fights, a local version of the world's biggest tomato fight in Buñol, Spain. Squash, stomp or throw rotten tomatoes at fellow tomato flingers to your heart's content. A $5 entry fee includes protective goggles.

WHERE TO STAY Pittston has several budget chains -- accommodations can also be found in nearby Wilkes-Barre.

Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival

WHEN Sept. 3-4 at Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo

716-565-4141, buffalowing.com

ADMISSION $5 (free younger than 8)

This is the mecca for chicken-wing fans: a festival where only the true chicken-wing lovers can survive. Drawing a crowd of more than 71,000 people last year and serving up 2.4 million wings, Buffalo's wing celebration is one of the most popular food festivals in the country.

Lighthearted entertainment includes a 5K "chicken run" and a Miss Buffalo Wing Pageant. Festivalgoers can watch or partake in wing-eating contests -- or simply devour their weight in sauced wings from food vendors. Several merchandise, sauce and restaurant vendors will be on hand (including Pepto Bismol, for those who overdo it).

WHERE TO STAY Hotel chains abound in downtown Buffalo, from Embassy Suites and a Hyatt Regency to Comfort Suites.

Cheese and Harvest Festival

WHEN Sept. 10 in Plymouth, Vt. (at the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site)

802-672-3773, historicvermont.org/coolidge

ADMISSION $7.50 ($2 ages 6-14)

The annual festival is a chance to sample some of Vermont's greatest cheese, tour the Plymouth Cheese Factory and take a wagon ride through the countryside.

This one-day festival features award-winning cheese samples through the Vermont Cheese Council members, cheese recipe cook-off contests and historic farm and craft demonstrations.

WHERE TO STAY Local lodging choices include the Hawk Inn & Mountain Resort (from $239, 802-672-3811, hawkresort .com) and the Farmbrook Motel (from $75, 802-672-3621, farmbrookmotel.com).

Garlic Festival

WHEN Sept. 24-25 in Saugerties, N.Y.

845-246-3090, hudsonvalleygarlic.com

ADMISSION $10 (free younger than 12)

Roasted, stuffed and fried -- indeed. At the Saugerties Garlic Festival, anything goes. Garlic lovers can pick through pounds of fresh organic garlic to buy, eat, plant or just hang in their kitchen. More than 67 types of garlic are incorporated into hundreds of marinades, soups, dressings and rubs, which visitors can sample and buy. Vendors sell unusually infused food, such as garlic chocolate and ice cream.

While the brave sample, other family members can take refuge at the children's activity tent, shop arts and crafts tables or listen to live music.

It's about a two-hour ride from Manhattan.

WHERE TO STAY Saugerties hotels include Howard Johnson (from $159, 845-246-9511, hojo.com) and Comfort Inn (from $135, 845-246-1565, choicehotels.com).

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