Sunfest on tap Food, 'fly-in' among the features of annual Ocean City festival

September 20, 1992|By Pat Emory | Pat Emory,Contributing Writer

If you were to take away the arts and crafts and tournaments, the entertainment and the antique plane "fly-in," the precious jewel hunt and the boat show, and were left with nothing but the food, Ocean City's 18th annual Sunfest, which opens Thursday, would still be a guaranteed smash hit.

That's because the tons of food served up to the 225,000 visitors who cram the festival grounds at the Ocean City inlet each year have proven to be some of the best -- not to mention, most fun to eat -- cooking in Maryland.

Imagine, for a moment, biting into a big ball of crab meat like it was an apple, or, after downing a delicious taco salad, finishing off the edible tortilla bowl as well. Cookie Monster would have a feast.

And so do the visitors who walk into the food tent expecting to find booth after booth of burger stands, discovering instead a huge assortment of American, ethnic and eccentric foods to sample.

The food legend at Sunfest started with a simple mandate for the first festival 18 years ago: Everybody had to sell something different. No duplicates. Period.

Designed to give visitors a variety of foods from which to choose, the edict resulted in a sort of mini-food festival within a festival.

Today, 36 vendors, each with a different menu, sell everything from oyster fritters to egg rolls, waffles to funnel cakes, chicken kebabs to corned beef, along with the all-American favorites: pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs.

The best thing is that the munchies are mostly finger foods and sandwiches, with a minimal need for utensils.

Sandy Bruthers of Annapolis got her idea for a crab fluff you can grab like a softball and eat like an apple from crab houses around Baltimore.

Ms. Bruthers, who works in her husband's medical practice by day, grew up helping out at her father's restaurant in Millersville. Fifteen years ago, she developed her own batter and spices for a crab fluff. Ever since, she and her husband, Dr. Bill Bruthers, have operated a catering business built around the crab fluff; homemade onion rings; and chicken sandwiches.

Jack Hatley of Pennsylvania used to be a computer systems analyst, but the aroma of food proved to be a bigger money maker. Twenty years ago he helped out at a high school benefit and got hooked on unusual foods.

"He always wanted his own business," recalls his wife, Margaret, who gets left with the job of cleaning up the five trailers and the tent that her husband uses to cater his specialty of tacos, sausage sandwiches, funnel cakes and fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Because of the non-duplication rule, Mr. Hatley won't be serving funnel cakes or sausage at Sunfest, but hungry visitors can watch him fry his tortillas around a wire basket for a taco salad, served in the edible tortilla bowl.

Watching the preparation is just part of the attraction of the food tent. Many vendors, like Mr. Hatley, cook their foods in front of the crowds so people can enjoy the art of cooking before tasting the finished product.

In addition to viewing food preparation and eating, on Friday, Seafood Day, Sunfest-goers can learn the proper way to pick a hard-shell crab from champion crab picker Joyce Fitchett.

Ms. Fitchett, who is a professional crab-meat picker at Byrd's Crabhouse in Crisfield, won the title this year by picking 15 pounds of crab meat in 4 minutes and 18 seconds during a competition at Crisfield.

She will give her demonstration at 12:30 p.m. in the entertainment tent, then she'll invite spectators to try their hand at picking crabs.

Free crab meat samples will be handed out, compliments of Phillips Restaurant, which is also furnishing a ragtime band.

But Sunfest is far more than food.

The festival opens Thursday at 10:30 a.m. with the Hegeman String Band of Philadelphia marching toward the inlet, leading Mayor "Fish" Powell, council members and the fire prevention king and queen to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which takes place near the information tent.

Because Thursday is Senior Citizen's Day, there will a number of events geared for the enjoyment of Ocean City's older clientele, including, for the first time, a talent show with cash prizes for 40-year-olds and up.

Sunfest will have two big-top tents, crammed with 132 arts and crafts booths, where only authentic, handmade crafts are displayed and sold.

Once you've gorged on food and worn your shoes out browsing the craft booths, take a seat in the entertainment tent, which opens at noon each day, and enjoy performances by such varied groups as the Hollanders; Gang Plank; the Banjo Dusters; Len Gray's Orchestra, as well as traditional Native American dancing.

City-sponsored events at the inlet run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Sunfest has also spawned a series of other attractions outside the city's main venture at the inlet. The newest is an airplane "fly-in," which will be held at the Ocean City airport, three miles south of the city on Route 611.

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