To Anthony Anderson, a food festival combines the best of both worlds: a chance to explore a new place and to eat some incredible food. The guest judge on Iron Chef has just launched Eating America With Anthony Anderson, a Food Network series running Mondays through Sept. 15 (9 p.m. ET/PT) that has the actor exploring and tasting his way around food festivals. "It's a natural for me," he says. "I grew up watching Julia Child and The Galloping Gourmet." He shares some favorites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
New Orleans Wine and Food Experience
Anderson had no trouble getting into the spirit of this festival in what may be the country's top eating city. He sampled dishes from dozens of restaurants strutting their stuff in the convention center. Then he joined in with the city's top cooks in an Iron Chef-style seafood contest. "They were using crawfish, shrimp and things out of their local waters. Hands-down, it was my favorite," he says. It's held every spring.nowfe.com
World Championship Steak Cook-off
Magnolia Blossom Festival, Magnolia, Ark.
It's not easy to cook a good steak, Anderson says, so he enjoyed sampling (and learning from) the dozens of vendors at this event, held every May. "They let me in on their searing process, including a reverse sear: smoking the meat first, then searing. It was delicious." 870-234-4352; blossomfestival.org
Trout Creek, Mont.
The humble huckleberry stars in this annual celebration in the Northern Rockies, where the fruit has long fueled bears and summer visitors. The small-town event, Aug. 8-10 this year, includes jam, jelly and dessert competitions, along with a guaranteed-to-be-messy pie-eating contest. Days start with huckleberry pancake breakfasts in the Fire Hall, along with a parade and a Huckleberry Hound dog agility competition.huckleberryfestival.com
Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival
Fernandina Beach, Fla.
Not only was Anderson won over by the shrimp at the May event — "Any way you can think of it, you could have it: fried, grilled, broiled" — but he also enjoyed celebrating the area's marauding heritage with a pirate battle. Still, the crustacean took center stage in kabobs with strawberries, shrimp gumbo, shrimp pie, low-country boil with shrimp, and many other dishes. "Shrimp had to be the star of the show, and it was."shrimpfestival.com
Texas Crab Festival
Crystal Beach, Texas
This Mother's Day weekend festival is timed for soft-shell crab season, and Anderson couldn't have been happier. "They prepared it all kinds of ways. There was a crab-guacamole dish, and garlic, butter and crab rice with crab meatballs wrapped in bacon, and a crab pie." And that's not even mentioning the gumbo cook-off.texascrabfestival.org
Like the city itself, there's a no-nonsense vibe to this June festival, at which 50,000 pounds of pork are consumed in one weekend, Anderson says. "It was nothing but ribs, nothing but meat. No pirate games, no Ferris wheels, no bounce houses. It was just smokers lined down the street." ribfest-chicago.com
Blue Ridge BBQ Festival
Anderson says he was skeptical when he rolled into tiny Tryon for its June festival. "We were in the backwoods, population just a couple thousand," he recalls. Then he noticed the smoking pits. His biggest surprise: two gentlemen in camouflage gear, beards and bandannas, cooking duck confit with bacon. "I had to apologize to them. I learned you cannot judge a book by its cover." blueridgebbqfestival.com
L.A. Taco Festival
Boyle Heights, Calif.
While there's never a problem finding a taco in L.A., this annual fest, Aug. 16 this year, not only gathers some of the top purveyors in East Los Angeles, but it also supports a charity that finds housing for homeless young people. There's musical entertainment, and though tacos start at just a few dollars, a $45 premium all-you-can-eat ticket includes VIP seating and tequila tasting. latacofestival.com
Long Grove Strawberry Festival
Long Grove, Ill.
Anderson wasn't sure what to expect at this early-summer fruit fest. "Some people had made simple dishes, others had strawberry ravioli with delicious cream sauce, and I couldn't believe what I was tasting," he says. He particularly liked one dish with a surprise ingredient. "I had never had a steak sandwich as tender, and the best thing was the strawberry salsa." visitlonggrove.com
Rockwood Ice Cream Festival
Ice cream lovers will find scores of flavors, vendors, dairies and restaurants at this down-home early-summer celebration. "You think ice cream is a simple thing, but you get there, and there's nothing simple about it," Anderson says. "There were some pretty decadent things, (such as) homemade caramel corn with bacon on top of a sundae." rockwoodicecream.com