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Vendors, festival-goers happy for resumption of annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival

Like a lot of seasoned attendees of Hamburg’s annual burger festival, George Domenici likes to go with a group and sample as wide a variety of burgers as possible.

What they’ll do — and they’re not alone in this practice — is cut a burger into quarters to share.

Even so, Domenici, who had an hour’s drive to Hamburg on Saturday from Kunkletown, Monroe County, had consumed so much burger by Saturday afternoon that all he could do was accept a toothpick sample of a “city chicken,” a deep-fried hamburger, from Hess Catering.

Reading Eagle/Steven Henshaw

Sandy Hess of Hess Catering, Schuylkill Haven, hands a “city chicken,” also known as “The Skook,” to Tom Kosiba, Palmer Township, Northampton County, during Saturday’s Taste of Hamburg-er Festival. (Steven Henshaw — Reading Eagle)

The Schuylkill Haven business offered only that one burger at its stand on State Street. It’s a misnomer in that there’s no chicken in a city chicken burger.

Owners Gary and Sandy Hess explained that the city chicken burgers have long been popular in Schuylkill County.

During the Depression, Gary explained, chicken was scarce, so first-generation European immigrants substituted pork and veal, and ate it on a stick like a drumstick, hence the name.

Sandy Hess said they added beef to their city chicken burgers for the Taste of Hamburg-er Festival because of the venue’s rule that burgers must contain some beef.

They also gave it a second name, “The Skook,” because not many people on this side of the Blue Mountain were familiar with the name “city chicken.”

Now in its 18th year, the Taste of Hamburg-er Festival started out as a three-block event to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the borough and to support the downtown businesses and community organizations.

It has grown to an eight-block event featuring four entertainment stages, beer and wine gardens, children’s activities, artisans and crafters and dozens of stands serving burgers and other food.

Deena Kershner, executive director of Our Town Foundation, the nonprofit charged with reviving the borough’s downtown area, said organizers heard a collective moan when they announced last year that the 2020 festival would not be held.

The year before, an estimated 40,000 people attended part of the daylong festival.

“We heard so many comments that we need it and we need it and then we made the announcement on our Facebook page in May that we were having it,” she said. “It just went viral.”

Still, Kershner said the crowd sizes appeared to be small this year.

Domenici was asked what drew him to Berks County for the festival.

“The uniqueness of it,” he said. “All burgers are handmade and they’re unique.”

But it’s more than the food.

“Where can you get this many people together and they’re respectful and courteous and happy to be together?” he said. “At a time in our lives when we’ve been locked down for so long, it’s just great to be out.”

Another of the vendors, John Meyers of Meyers Catering, Quakertown, Bucks County, also likes the uniqueness of the festival.

“It’s fun and it’s different and you get to see a lot of different burgers and what people can do with their skills and talents,” he said while cooking his Italian burgers, which are covered with provolone cheese and a layer of marinara sauce.

Every year, festival judges crown two champions, one for food businesses and one for organizations.

Volunteers with Salem Evangelical Congregational Church, Lenhartsville, were proudly displaying their four championship plaques in the organization category at their stand on South Third Street.

Church member David Long was like a vendor in a ballgame, pacing in the middle of the crowded street while holding a 7-foot staff topped by a smiling hamburger balloon.

“Step right up,” he proclaimed. “This is more than a burger. It’s a blessing for your mouth.”

Reading Eagle/Steven Henshaw

David Long, a member of Salem EC Church, Lenhartsville, directs the crowd to the congregation’s award-winning Heavenly Hog burger stand during Saturday’s Taste of Hamburg-er Festival. (Steven Henshaw — Reading Eagle)

Salem Church’s Heavenly Hog burger is beef-and-pork patty topped with provolone, Fuji apple slaw, a thin slice of Italian sausage and citrus-chipotle sauce, served on a brioche roll.

One of the vendors was serving up meat that it raised on nearby farm

Chad and Alice Kamp, owners of ACEC Farm & Market, 469 Adams Hotel Road in Perry Township, decided to be part of the festival for the first time to promote the business they operate with sons Collin and Evan.

Reading Eagle/Steven Henshaw

Chad and Alice Kamp, owner of ACES Farm & Market, Shoemakersville, operated a stand for the first time at Saturday’s Taste of Hamburg-er Festival, selling burgers made with their farm-raised meat. (Steven Henshaw — Reading Eagle)

They made a sign that was a blown up version of their business card for that purpose. They were selling three varieties of their bacon-and-cheese-infused burgers: Sloppy Sow, BBQ Boar and Big Bacon Burger.

Their first time serving as a vendor was a bit of a learning experience.

In the Beer & Burger Beer Garden at Second and State streets, the shoulder-to-shoulder audience cheered as Nick “The Speedo Guy” Sokolovich of Bernville won the amateur eating contest, downing six burgers faster than his five competitors.

Reading Eagle/Steven Henshaw

The crowd in the Beer & Burger Garden at Saturday’s Taste of Hamburg-er Festival cheer as Nick Sokolovich of Bernville, left, gets across the finish line first in the burger-eating contest He downed six burgers in well under eight minutes (Steven Henshaw — Reading Eagle)

Sokolovich, wearing tights in the pattern of the American flag, flexed his muscles in celebration as he waited for his competitors to determine the second and third place finishes.

He said he could have drowned at least a couple more burgers if he had to, but everyone in this contest was given the same number to finish in the timed event.

Sokolovich said he previously won a hotdog-eating contest at the shore, but he has yet to go on the power-eating circuit.

“I don’t have a pro card yet,” he said.


Source: Berkshire mont

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