When it comes to Creole tomatoes, New Orleanians can’t get enough.
We enjoy these plump and juicy treats when they are simply sliced and stacked on soft Leidenheimer bread or stuffed with fresh seafood.
This weekend, the 29th annual Creole Tomato Festival celebrates this beloved food item with inspired festival fare, music and kid-friendly fun.
The two-day event is launched by a second-line on Saturday morning and the First Bite of the Fest, with the first 100 festgoers receiving a complimentary Creole tomato to use for the First Bite.
The festival spans three blocks of the six-block French Market District And for the first time, the Abita Beer Main Music Stage will be situated at the Old U.S. Mint.
“We’ve never used the Mint for the festival before, so it really extends our footprint and gives us a nice, wonderful space,” said Amy Kirk Duvoisin, the marketing director of the French Market Corp.
She noted that there will be seating around the patio area of the U.S. Mint, along with a grassy area that is perfect for hula-hooping. Also, the historic building offers festgoers respite from the summer heat and a chance to view the exhibits, located on the second floor.
The Abita Beer Main Music Stage will be the setting for live music, featuring acts by Flow Tribe, Honey Island Swamp Band and others.
Musical performances also will take place at the Cathead Vodka Stage in the Dutch Alley Performance Pavilion, between St. Phillip and Decatur streets, and at the NOLA Baby & Family Magazine Stage.
Eleven food booths will be stationed near the Old U.S. Mint, serving a variety of dishes that allow the Creole tomato — the star ingredient — a chance to shine, along with summer cocktails.
Innovative menu items include: homemade boudin links with Creole mustard sauce and peach sangria, from Chartres House; Louisiana crab and crawfish mac and cheese and bourbon watermelon mint punch, from Food Drunk Food Truck; rice and andouille fritters with Creole tomato aïoli, and pink Cathead Vodka adult lemonade from Purloo; and Creole tomato shrimp ceviche and frozen French 75s, from Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar.
The festival has two signature cocktails, made with Cathead Vodka and prepared by Locally Preserved — the Creole Tomato Cooler and the Strawberry Mint Sipper.
Festgoers also can stroll through the new Farmers Market, with full-service eateries and vendors selling fresh produce, seafood and specialty foods.
Creole tomatoes will be sold by local vendors, but customers who spend $30 in a French Market retail shop will receive a free bag of the signature crop.
The Louisiana Cookin’ Culinary Stage, located at the intersection of Gov. Nicholls and French Market Place, will feature cooking demonstrations, culinary conversations and contests to determine who can devour the most Creole tomatoes.
The kid-focused section is staged in Dutch Alley, with interactive craft booths where children can create Creole tomato-themed items, such as “Mr. Tomato Heads” and fashion accessories. There will also be face-painters and magicians on hand.
In the air-conditioned New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, the family fun includes storytelling and a Creole tomato cabaret with the Chorus Girls Project.
Children can dance to the cheerful sounds of Johnette Downing and other entertainment groups. Snoballs and a special sorbet, made with Creole tomatoes and strawberries, will be available.
“We really pride ourselves on how expansive, interactive and interesting the children’s area is, because these artists — who come back every year — know what to expect,” Duvoisin said.
Dutch Alley is the perfect setting for these activities, since it is next to a toy store, a shop with children’s books and cafés.
But the entire festival, because of its location, allows visitors an opportunity to experience the Flea Market, the Farmers Market and the new shops that have opened in and around the French Market.
“Locals tend to rediscover the Quarter in summer months, but it can still be hard to wrap your mind around coming in June when it’s so hot,” Duvoisin said. But, she said, the festival organizers provide misting fans and a couple of air-conditioned venues, so guests can keep the summer heat at bay. “It’s just a very pleasant experience for families.”