From gobs to goulash, Fort Ligonier Days' food court has options
Preparations are underway to ensure everything runs smoothly for Fort Ligonier Days, which annually draws more than 100,000 people to the Ligonier area.
With the weekend quickly approaching, locals and tourists alike will soon be gathered around the Diamond sampling both sweet and savory foods from the variety of food booth options.
“Food is a huge part of Fort Days. People return year after year to see what's new. We try to keep it varied and interesting. We want the quality and quantity of the food to match the parade,” said Vic Smith, food booth committee chairman.
“Our mission is to promote our community and the fort, and it's a wonderful opportunity for our local nonprofits to make money,” said Smith.
New vendors at this year's event include Rizzo's Malabar Inn from Crabtree and Miss Meatball from Greensburg. Additionally, a Grove City establishment that serves wings and smoked turkey has been added to the list.
Twenty-eight food booths sponsored by local organizations will be set up around the Diamond. Smith said duplicate options are not permitted.
With a variety of options ranging from gobs to goulash, there is sure to be something for everyone.
Vendors on the Diamond include: Darlington VFD — roast beef sandwiches and fresh-cut French fries; Rotary Club of Ligonier — hot ham and cheese; Derry/Ligonier Lions — quesadillas, beef/chicken/veggie wraps and chocolates; Ligonier Valley swim team — pepperoni, white and cheese pizzas; Valley Youth Network — funnel cakes, pumpkin funnel cakes and fruit toppings; Tall Cedars — chicken/steak/lamb pitas, chicken/steak salads and kebabs; Weeders and Seeders — fruit pies, cobblers, crisps, ice cream sundaes, shortcake and fudge truffles; Eastern Star — crabcakes, coconut shrimp, rice and salads; Laurel Valley Senior Center Inc. — chicken meatballs with asiago bechemel, barbecue sauce with mushroom ragout or buffalo sauce; Action for Animals — gobs, cookies, scones, muffins and animal treats; YMCA Soccer — spiral fries, fried pickles, veggies, artichoke hearts, potato pancakes, fresh fruit smoothies; BPW of Ligonier Valley — gourmet grilled cheese; FLD Inc. — lasagna, gnocchi, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin pie, cake and cookies, cannoli and tiramisu; Ligonier Township VFD — meatball subs, pepperoni rolls, soup, nachos and popcorn; Wilpen VFD — haluski, pierogies and kielbasa; Valley Players of Ligonier — smoked turkey legs; Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor — wings, boneless wings, fries and lemonade; Bethlen Communities — Transylvania goulash/bread, Hungarian goulash/bread, crepes with fillings; Valley Center for Active Adults — chicken Parmesan, hot pepper sandwiches, chili, pasta and broccoli cauliflower salads, Italian ice and ice cream novelties; Antiochian Village — lamb and chicken gyros; Boy Scout Troop 372 — ham barbecue and nachos; Fairfield Boys Club — hot sausage sandwiches and soup; Laughlintown Community Center — ribs, pulled chicken/pork, potato salad and coleslaw; Kiwanis Club of Ligonier — hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken on a stick and fries; Ligonier Valley Marching Band — chicken salad sandwiches, pepperoni rolls, soup and baked goods; Chestnut Ridge Lions Club — apple dumplings and ice cream sundaes; Ligonier Valley Library — General Tso, sweet and sour chicken, vegetable fried rice and pork egg roll; Ligonier VFD — Philly cheese steak, chicken fingers, corn dogs and fresh potato chips.
“The consumer is more savvy than ever before,” Smith said, “They're really looking for that ‘wow' factor. All the vendors have stepped it up. In the past, it was hamburgers, hotdogs and apple pie. Now customers are looking for something more.”
Additional food booths, in conjunction with the Ligonier Valley YMCA and the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association, will be set up outside of those establishments as well.
“It's a nice way to spread the crowd out a bit,” said Smith.
Last year, judging among the booths took place for the first time.
“There were so many outstanding booths; it was hard to choose,” said Westmoreland County Community College professor, Mary Zappone of Greensburg, one of last year's judges.
Zappone and fellow WCCC faculty members in the Center for Culinary Arts-Hospitality department — Cindy Komarinski of Farmington and Laureen Lowry of Greensburg — will be judging this year's event on the following criteria: presentation of food on the plate, presentation of the booth and value of the food.
“We judge on everything but taste,” said Smith. “We prefer to let the consumer decide what they like.”
First-, second- and third-places will be awarded in each of the categories and an overall grand-prize winner will be chosen as well.
Zappone said she was pleased with the quality of food at last year's event.
“Sometimes at fairs the quality just isn't as good but I was very impressed with the food,” said Zappone, who added that she very much enjoyed visiting the booths last year and looks forward to judging again at this year's event.
With larger crowds attending Fort Ligonier Days, food booths are often run by professional vendors with the sponsoring organization receiving a donation from sales.
Smith estimated that approximately one-third of local establishments man their own food booths. A recent trend among the organizations is to have local food establishments run their booths.
“Volunteerism is suffering all over the county and it is here in Ligonier too,” said Smith, who added that running the booths is all about volunteers and manpower. “It's a big time requirement to run a booth for the weekend. It seems like every year we lose another local vendor running their own booth due to lack of manpower. My hope is to get to see more locals who wish to run their own booths.”
He said would also like to see more participation from local youth when it comes to running the booths.
With a growing number of vendors participating, this year's event will include a more high-tech electrical set-up compared to previous years, in order to keep up with the demand for more power. “We're slowly but surely trying to evolve,” said Smith.
In the past, vendors have relied on power from the streetlights to supply electricity for their food booths.
“The problem is, the lights are just not meant to supply that amount of power,” said Smith.
Smith said the food booth committee decided to rent generators to supply power to the booths for this year's event after the success the fort had supplying power this way when they presented the Westmoreland Symphony.
“The Cleveland Brothers of Monroeville have provided us with a bargain deal,” Smith said. “Two generators will supply power and a back-up will be on hand.”
With this system, vendors who used to be able to use about 25 watts of electricity will now each have 60 watts.
Smith said the Diamond will also be wired as it has in previous years, with one or two vendors plugged into each lamp post. That system will not be used unless absolutely necessary.
“We believe everything will smoothly with the generators, but we are prepared just in case,” Smith said.
Cami DiBattista is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.