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It's not all so healthy, but festival food sure is good

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

You usually can depend on a few things at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

There will be rain at some point, usually when your favorite band is playing. There will be carved driftwood artifacts, and paintings of cats peddled by ponytailed artisans. And there will be endless arrays of kiosks hawking mostly overpriced, not-particularly-healthy and delicious festival food.

All the old friends are here: gyros, hamburgers, lemonade, chicken-on-a-stick, even deep-fried Oreos. Although street food and creative-gourmet food trucks are the rage now, this is largely a venue for the tried-and-true: sweet-fruit crepes, smoothies, Italian sausage on a hoagie, cheesy quesadillas.

One stand features a smattering of Eastern European fare -- potato pancakes, stuffed cabbage, pierogies and halushki -- that seems more suited to chilly November pre-game than a bright, hot June afternoon.

"There is going to be a steady flow of people all day," noted Christina Elderton, 21, of the South Hills, as she shoveled mountains of onions off a hot grill, next to stacks of hot sausages.

A booth with a sign labeled "Fajita-Ville" was trying something different. In addition to quesadillas, they have something called an "Edible Salad Bowl" ($9 to $10), which, basically, is a salad in a bowl of fried dough.

Fajita-ville vendor Sam Nhet says they've been coming to the Three Rivers Arts Festival for 20 years. They go where the events are, and just got here from Maryland.

Christine Falva, 29, of the North Hills, handed a plate of rice and chicken-on-a-stick to her daughter. She looks forward to Arts Festival food every year, though she hasn't seen her favorite, yet.

"Fudge from Fudgie Wudgie," she says. "It's heat-resistant. It holds up -- that's why it's also beach food."

Michael Vitanovich, serving up gnocchi, ravioli, cheese tortellini and sausage-stuffed peppers at Tambellini's Italian Grill's booth, says the Arts Festival, generally, is good business when it's not raining. They have three mobile locations and a long-standing sit-down restaurant Downtown.

"The busiest are the Regatta and the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix," Vitanovich says. "The Regatta is just two days, so all the business is compressed into that time. The arts festival lasts weeks."

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