Food festivals come in many varieties. Some really do center on food; others offer food as a sidelight. We like to go for the food even if everyone else is watching the fun run. We'll never forget the grilled chicken at the volunteer fire department fundraiser, that piece of homemade buttermilk pie, the cheese samples, the cream puffs, corn on the cob, bratwurst, fried fish. There's a festival somewhere in the state just about every weekend, but this list should point regional eaters in the direction of the more interesting collections of food, preferably with the hardest-to-pronounce names.
We recommend confirming event details before making any long drives.
Isthmus a la Carts
May 11, Olin Park, Madison, 4-8 pm
Bringing together a wide variety of food carts from the Square, Library Mall and other sites in the city, with a view of the city from beautiful Olin Park. Featuring craft brews by Leinenkugel. Time to try a new cuisine, close to home.
May 18-20, Stoughton
This is a major U.S. celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day, with quite a bit of traditional Norwegian food. Look for lefse wraps, burgers, brats, Norwegian cookies, fresh cream puffs and strawberry shortcake; plus, Norwegian meatballs, lefse, sandbakkels and herring. 608-873-7912.
May 19-20, Muscoda
Morels can be hard to find. Last year was particularly tough, and the festival was offering to buy morels through announcements on local radio until shortly before the fest. Amateurs can spend hours poking under dead leaves for the elusive 'shroom, but you can also head straight to Muscoda, where they're served fried. Or buy a bunch to cook at home. 608-739-3182.
May 25-28, Festival Grounds, Burlington
Highlights include wine and chocolate pairings, chocolate chip tastings, cooking demonstrations and a candy-bar-eating contest. 262-763-3300.
May 25-28, Willow Island, Alliant Energy Center, Madison
Choose from Wisconsin-made Johnsonville brats, Oscar Mayer hot dogs or veggie Boca brats.
June 1-3, Doyle Park, Little Chute
Dive into the cheese breakfast, cheese curd-eating competition or the sweet cheesecake contest. 920-788-7390.
June 1-3, McKee Farms Park, 2900 Chapel Valley Rd., Fitchburg
The Italian Workmen's Club of Madison hosts a celebration of Italian food and culture that's more than just an average spaghetti-and-meatball dinner. 608-258-1880.
June 2, Madison
Go to the Capitol Square from 8 am to 1 pm to see cows and sample milk, cheese and ice cream. 608-250-4257.
June 2, Hart Park, Wauwatosa
This year we thrilled at the words "Haggis by Don Hensiak" on the website. 414-422-9235.
June 9-10, Fireman's Park, Hwy. 33, Hillsboro
The Czech dinner (roast pork, dumplings and sauerkraut) is at 11 am Saturday until the food runs out. Take home some Czech bakery goods, like yummy kolaches (fruit-filled pastries). 608-489-2521.
June 15-17, Henry W. Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee, Noon-midnight Fri. & Sat., noon-10 pm Sun.
It's hard to beat the filled dumplings known as pierogies, and Milwaukee is a stronghold of great pierogies. Or try bigos (hunter's stew), zupa grzybowa (mushroom soup), paczki (like a Danish), chrusciki (deep-fried pastry) and more. Special vodka tastings will be held each day with Polish vodkas, mead and liqueurs. 414-529-2140.
June 23, Little Norway, Mount Horeb
Enjoy a traditional bonfire and Norwegian foods. 608-437-8211.
June 23-24, Cedarburg, Sat. 10 am-6 pm, Sun. 10 am-5 pm
Berries are available by the quart from Schmit's Berry Farm, or atop shortcake, in pie, filling crepes, dipped in chocolate, as a part of Schaum Torte, the basis of blush wine, or a slushie, your pick. We do not, however, know what to make of the menu item billed as "Hoffman's Original Strawberry Brat." What a country. 888-894-4001.
July 12-15, Thurs.-Sat. 11 am-11 pm; Sun. 11 am-9 pm. East Town / Cathedral Square Park, Milwaukee
Festival-goers can sample Cajun, Creole, Canadian and French cuisine at sidewalk cafes while enjoying live music and street performers. The mini-Parisian atmosphere is completed with a 43-foot-tall Eiffel Tower replica. 414-271-1416.
July 21, Port Washington
Billed as the "World's largest outdoor one-day fish fry," Fish Day features nine stands selling fish and chips or shrimp and chips, or either without any chips. Have it your way.
July 26-29, Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee
This is one of the biggies, with brats, potato pancakes, sauerkraut, pastries, tortes and strudels. Not just any sauerkraut, either: German Fest sauerkraut comes from a secret recipe. 414-464-9444.
July 28-29, Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Seventh Street & East Washington Avenue, Madison
One of Madison's favorite street fests. Traditional Greek-style roast lamb and chicken dinners, spanakopita, gyros sandwiches, Greek salads, honey puffs, baklava and Greek pastries. 608-244-1001.
August 2-5, Kiwanis Park, Sheboygan
Sheboygan is Wisconsin's bratwurst mothership, and this is the festival where you can eat a brat on a stick while listening to live music on five different stages every day. Pay for the brat; the music is free. Look also for brat tacos, brat eggrolls and this year's Brat-B-Q. 920-207-6606.
August 16-19, Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee
Irish food like soda bread, corned beef and colcannon join other fair fare. 414-476-3378.
August 16-19, Angell Park (Hwy. 19 and N), Sun Prairie
Cardboard baskets of fresh hot sweet corn on the cob. Pull down the husk and rub the corn in butter and salt. The salt shaker is on a string. Corn served Sat. and Sun. noon-7 pm. 608-837-4547.
September 3-4, Sat. 2-8 pm, Sun. 11:30 am-7 pm, Capitol Square, Madison
Sample food from more than 80 area restaurants. 608-276-9797.
September 7-9, Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee
New: Tribal Farmers' Market. Native American offerings include Indian tacos, buffalo, venison, fish, wild rice casserole and more. 414-604-1000.
10 am, September 8, Chandler Park, Pardeeville
Free watermelon slices starting at 11 am. Baked goods; live auction at 11:30 am. Speed eating, seed spitting, watermelon carving and largest watermelon contests at 1 pm.
September 8, Deacon Mills Park, Green Lake
Chefs from around the Midwest come to compete for the title of "creator of the best chili in Wisconsin," plus other entertainment. Cooking starts at 11 am; judging at 3 pm with sampling afterward. 920-294-6504.
September 8, intersection of Canal and Henry streets, Edgerton
Chili cook-off, 11 am-midnight (registration begins 7 am, cooks' meeting 10 am, chili tasting 3 pm). Also a salsa contest, but only for those also entering the chili contest. $6 (ages 12 & under free). 884-3358.
September 15, downtown Madison
REAP Food Group offers a focus on local food.
September 28-30, Warrens, 7 am daily
Cranberries, they're not just for Thanksgiving anymore. Here, taste cranberry creampuffs, cranberry pies, cranberry jam, cranberry fritters, Swedish pancakes with cranberry syrup and cranberries jubilee. 608-378-4200.
September 29-30, Gays Mills
This is truly an epicenter of southwestern Wisconsin orchards, and driving from one to the next along the ridge that overlooks the town is half the fun. Celebrate the apple with plenty of fresh varieties, apple pies and more. 608-735-4341.