A record crowd of more than 50,000 attended Our Town Foundation’s burger extravaganza, the 16th annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival in Hamburg on Aug. 31, featuring contests, entertainment, arts and crafts and lots of burgers.
Festival newcomers Bob and Jan Steigerwalt of Orefield tried a classic cheeseburger for her and a Fluffburger, with a marshmallow sauce, for him from Pop’s Original food truck.
“I don’t know what I’m getting, but I’m going to try it,” Bob said.
This year’s event included 38 burger vendors and flavor profiles ranging from spicy to tropical to sweet. A perennial favorite is the Luther, a cheeseburger served on a Dutch Maid glazed doughnut. Prepared by Steve Stetzler and staff at Deitsch Eck Restaurant, Lenhartsville, they brought 2,200 patties and sold out before the end of the festival.
“The weather really predicts my mood for the festival,” Stetzler said about an hour into the event, “and my mood is very good this year.”
He grinned as he surveyed the crowd. His restaurant has stayed with the same menu for the past few years. This was a good choice, as the restaurant nabbed the People’s Choice award, an honor they’ve received 11 times. Runners up were Dawn's Deli of Lenhartsville in second, Lucky Penny Burger Co. in Mechanicsburg in third and Christ Evangelical Free Church of Bethel in fourth.
Jon Diddler, executive pastor, said Christ Evangelical offered a different burger for each of the eight years they participated. This year’s offering was Old Town Brew, a coffee-spice rubbed patty with a Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce. The church organized a “Stacks on Stacks” challenge, where for the cost of a mammoth, four-patty version, any contestant who finished the burger in 15 minutes got their money back.
Of course, burgers weren’t alone on the menu. Two beer gardens were set up across town and more than 30 performers cycled through five stages, with styles ranging from acoustic rock and polka to magicians and impersonators. Intermingled with the rest were other food options like coffee and ice cream plus business and community group stands and artisans selling hand-made wares.
Janelle Myers, owner of Sweet Mattie in Bethel, was one of several vendors from Lazy Dog, a vintage market on State Street. She sold home décor from her stand. Participating for the first time, she said, “I know that the festival draws in large crowds and this is a great community event.”
Charlotte Golden offered samples of black lava salt and herb-infused olive oil, items she makes and serves at her bed and breakfast, The Bismarck, on Fourth Street in Hamburg.
“It’s already crowded,” she said, “and we’ve had a great response from people. I’ve met people from Hamburg and people from much farther away.”
Visitors could purchase Hamburg Strand t-shirts and blankets or, for a donation, receive a sloppy kiss from Bear, a standard poodle, or Buddy, a golden retriever. The Smooch the Pooch booth raises money for the historic theater. Guests were also invited to come inside to sit in air-conditioned comfort and enjoy classic comedies like “I Love Lucy” and the “Three Stooges.”
In the crowded streets, groups scoped out stands and strategized ways to taste as many burgers as possible. Others enjoyed activities including a walk-climbing wall, cow-decorating station and even a burger-themed race.
The 7th annual Dine and Dash is a two-mile course sponsored by Blue Mountain Wildlife, which oversees the preservation of the wetlands and trails along the Schuylkill River. Contestants chow down a burger, run a mile down the trail, then eat a second burger before running back.
“It’s a fundraiser, obviously, to raise awareness of our group and the trail,” said Gregg Adams, “but it’s also fun. It’s a fun race and a fun festival.”
“It’s changed a little over the years,” added Amy Browder. Dogs are now welcome and runners are encouraged to wear costumes. “This year, we have a vegetarian running and 1787 [Brewery, which provided burgers] was able to accommodate that runner.”
First-time participant Jordan Boyer, Hamburg, was inspired by his father, who ran the Dine and Dash in the past. Boyer is a long-time runner, “but not a long-time fast eater, so we’ll just see how it goes.”
Pretty well, it turned out. Boyer finished first in the race among 28 runners. Also placing were 1st place overall woman, Hanna Nowatarski; Fastest male (16-39), Nicholas Wardle; fastest female (16-39), Tabatha Scheipe; master (ages 40+), Dale Scheck; best costume, Keith Reeser & Cash; fastest dog, Ryan Whitman & Finn; and judge's choice, Jason Weirich and Marissa Rinaldi.
Among the 38 burger vendors, judges picked the standouts. In the restaurant category, Kooper's Chowhound won best overall and taste; Spuds won best appearance and originality.
In the organization category, Salem Church, Lenhartsville, had best overall and originality, while Boy Scout Troop 184 won for appearance and Leesport Odd Fellows for taste. In the mobile category, overall and taste went to Uncle Paul’s Stuffed Pretzels, appearance to Blazing Swine BBQ and originality to WOW Foods. The Newbie Award went to Lucky Penny Burger Co.
For the amateur eating contest winners were first, The Burgers of Calais (Jim Shulman, Jeff Hanover, Lance Heinrichs); second, Stars and Stripes (Rob Twaddle, Jim Kelly, Oliver Wilfong); and third, Low Expectations (Doug Pidkaminy, Tony Santiago, Jeff Wertz).
Professionals only took the stage for the National Burger Eating Competition, sponsored by Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. Molly Schuyler, the top ranked independent female competitive eater in the world, took first overall, eating 20 burgers in the 10 allotted minutes. Behind her were Dan “Killer” Kennedy (18 burgers) and Bob “Notorious BOB” Shoudt (15 burgers).
WEEU (830AM) Radio from Reading broadcast from the festival and hosted a mooing contest. Winners were 1st place, Brian Trump; 2nd, Robin Christman; and 3rd, Henry Seidel.