An estimated 50,000 people filled downtown Hamburg and the streets seemed to be more crowded for the 15th annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival on Sept. 1.

Fried beef and baked treats scented the air and colorful burger hats were seen bobbing around on visitors’ heads.

The hats were sold by the Our Town Foundation, which runs the event that draws up to 40,000 to the small town each year. OTF also staffed a welcome booth, where office assistant Lori LaPearl handed out event maps and answered questions.

“It’s going so well this year,” she said, “and I love being here near across from the music while interacting with people.”

Live music was played in several locations in town, and 30 burger stands lined the streets and were staffed by restaurants, food trucks and community groups. Tucked between food stands were artists booths, business tables plus information on animal rescues, local churches and more.

Father and son Michael and Maxwell of Himmelberger came from Reading to try the Luther, a festival favorite prepared by Deitsch Eck Restaurant of Lenhartsville. The Luther is served up on a fresh Dutch Maid glazed doughnut and was awarded the 2018 People’s Choice award, an honor the restaurant has claimed for 10 of the 13 years it’s been at the festival.

“We got up early and got here because of the Luther,” Michael said between mouthfuls, noting that last year the line went around the block and they missed out on the burger.

“It’s so good,” Maxwell added, “a flavor explosion in your mouth. You would never expect this combination. It tastes like heaven.”

On 3rd Street, the booming voice of Pastor David Long invited all to try the Heavenly Hog Burger by Salem EC Church of Lenhartsville. The church has a proprietary beef and sausage patty, topped this year with sliced sausage, apple slaw, cheese and chipotle-citrus BBQ sauce. The sandwich was named Grand Champion in the organization category.

“It’s a real group effort to run the burger stand,” Long said, noting some preparations begin weeks in advance. “We’re so happy that people like our burger, and we also love the opportunity to meet new neighbors plus visitors to Hamburg. One family told me they come from Brooklyn, N.Y., just to eat burgers!”

A block away, Danielle and Joel Smith prepared burgers from their Smith’s Homestead Kitchen food truck of Bernville. This was their first year making burgers at the festival (in years past, they concentrated on baked goods and sold out). They had two burger options, one topped with mac-n-cheese and the other served on a homemade cinnamon bun.

“The Luther kind of gave us the idea,” she said of the Cinnaburger, which was named Newbie best burger this year. “We’ve been making the cinnamon buns forever and we just tried it, played around.”

It was when they added bacon jam from the Offbeat Gourmet that the Smiths felt they hit on the right combination. Midway through the festival, Danielle noted the Cinnaburger was outselling their other items.

Sweets were also popular at the burger-centric event. Many stands offered fresh-pressed lemonade or root beer. Guests tried burger-shaped woopie pies and cupcakes, others noshed on ice cream. Another popular option was chocolate-dipped frozen fruits from Zuzu Confections of Bethlehem.

“This is our second year at the festival,” Karen Sauter said as she dipped a customer’s fruit in dark chocolate, “and the people here are the best.”

The Hamburg Area Art Alliance welcomed a special guest to visit the festival, Cuban artist Julio Cepeda, who transforms odds and ends into three-dementional masterpieces. He used a box of items donated by the community to begin crafting a special Hamburg piece, which he worked on throughout the festival.

“The material is what inspires me,” he said after attaching one item and stepping back to survey the effect. “This will be something that represents this place.”

Cepeda uses found objects and eventually applies glue, etching and paint to create an aged, patina effect.

“You take the trash, and make some beautiful stuff,” he said. “It’s a long process.”

Hamburg Mayor George Holmes stopped by to greet Cepeda and presented him a special Hamburg coin, an item usually given to police officers and other public servants.

Nearby, several large wooden cows were decorated for the event by local organizations. Festival guests could vote for their favorite with dollar bills, with proceeds split between each organization and the festival. Across the street, children and families decorated smaller wooden cows.

Other artisans sold their wares throughout the festival, among them Duane High of State of Mind, Perkasie. It was High’s first year at the festival, and he stocked his booth with hand-made signs incorporating letters from license plates to create unique statements.

“I enjoy that people get enjoyment of out the pieces,” he said. “When they laugh, they smile.”

At another stand, husband and wife Igor Kulagin and Kim Herrick of Scranton sold matryoshkas, or nesting dolls. Kim explained they obtain the wooden forms from Igor’s native Russia, and her husband then hand paints each set.

“Matryoshkas comes from the word motherhood,” she said, and, like the nesting dolls, “one gives birth to another, and then another.”

The forecast was problematic earlier in the week, but storms failed to materialize on festival day and mild temperatures prevailed during the event.

“I’m very thankful the rain came through yesterday and not today,” Deena Kershner, OTF executive director, said mid-event. “It looks like we’ve had a really good turn out. It’s all good.”

Other first-place winners at the Taste of Hamburg-er Festival included Blazing Swine BBQ (best mobile food trailer burger), and Spuds (best restaurant burger). Overall winners of the Dine and Dash race, which benefits Blue Mountain Wildlife, were Dale Schneck and Melissa Langston. Team Chimera (Andrew Maoury, Brett Cooper and Troye Cooper) won the amateur burger eating contest, and Bob Shoudt, of Royersford, won the professional contest after consuming 24 burgers.

First place in the Relish the Burger art contest went to Petra Martin. Winners in the cow contest included Natalie Eshbach (first, ages 2-4), Kallie Strunk (first, ages 5-7), Kennly Chwatek (first, ages 8-10), Gracie Long (first, ages 11 and up), and Joscelyn Arena (first, family category).

Kolleen Long writes for Berks-Mont Newspapers.

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