The Florida Strawberry Festival has made a name for itself with its stellar music lineup, but what about the festival itself? Like any county fair, it's pure Americana with a lineup of midway rides and deep-fried wonders and all manner of meat on a stick. But there's also lots of free entertainment to occupy the crowds. Here are highlights.
Jump! The Ultimate Dog Show: These rescue dogs turned entertainers perform daily at 1, 4 and 8 p.m. The star of the show is Nubs, a three-legged rescued pit bull who dock-dives more than 20 feet.
Swamp People: RJ and Jay Paul Molinere from the History channel's Swamp People will be signing autographs and posing with fans March 7-10 at numerous times.
Lizard Lick Towing & Recovery: Fans of the TruTv reality show about the towing and recovery company owned by evangelist Ronnie Shirley and his wife, Amy, can meet the stars and crew of the hit series. His partner, Bobby Brantley, will be doing meet-and-greets today through Sunday, and he and the whole crew will be at the festival March 7-10.
Karaoke contest: This was such a big hit last year that the festival has added a second day. Warble out your best tune Friday or March 8 at 7 p.m. at the Sweetbay Supermarket Showcase Tent. For information, visit talentquestflorida. com.
Since this is strawberry country, it's a must that you try some ruby-red goodies. One of the most popular is the make-your-own-strawberry-shortcake stand. Don't let the lines that wrap around the midway put you off. It moves quickly because you simply choose a cake or biscuit and top it with sweetened strawberries and whipped cream, and you get a fresh berry as a topper.
There are also strawberry milk shakes that defy straws because of the big chunks of berries dotted throughout. The Food Network named Plant City's Parkesdale Farm shake one of the top 10 best desserts in the country.
If you still have room, check out the strawberry cookies — declared "my favorite" by 2012 Florida Strawberry Queen Chelsea Bowden — or the strawberry pizza.
A must-try, according to festival spokeswoman KeeLee Tomlinson, is the deep-fried corn on the cob. It has a light batter coating, she said, and doesn't even need butter. Just the sweet gush of corn kernels hiding underneath. "It is so incredible," Tomlinson gushed. "It gets a crust on it and when you bite through the crust, the corn is moist and juicy."
Maybe that's why the festival is adding a deep-fried corn-eating contest to its games this year. It will be held on Friday night for eaters 18 and older.
Don't go home empty-handed. There are stalls jammed with jams and flowers and packed with produce. You can get a flat of fresh strawberries for less than $10 and know that the farmers pride themselves on picking only the very best for the festival stands. There are also extensive craft booths selling quilts, jewelry, toys, needlework, home decorations and all manner of berry-themed artwork.