Esquimalt’s Ribfest 2017, Five Years and How to Grow It

IMG_7060Now in its fifth year, Esquimalt Ribfest is growing in popularity and it may well be exceeding the capacity of how many people can be at Bullen park. I finally made it back to this show. For once, I was not ill or down with a sprained ankle. Three years have passed since I was here last, and while nothing much has changed — especially when it’s moreorless the same group of ribbers — I feel changes are needed if it’s to accommodate an ever increasing crowd and be versatile. Grizzly BBQ is a new entrant, but their scents were not enticing as I was letting my nose be my guide for which ribber to hit.

James went on Saturday with a date (he’ll argue otherwise and I was amazed). When he told me, of course I had to ask him for his thoughts so I can provide a summary about this event. He too thought it needs changing. He hoped to get his drinks and meat side-by-side than to hop across the field. I told him that’s how this event has always been, and it’s his fault for not getting his alcohol first and meal second. He arrived during the mad dinnertime hours and lucked out getting in. People were entering in small numbers, equaling those who left. Once inside, he looked at the scary lineups of everyone craving protein and was thankful the time it took to get to the till was not long. He enjoyed the food and wasn’t here to review since he was with his girlfriend. But I grilled him for opinion anyway and he had a lot to say in how space was used. He did give high marks for Gator BBQ‘s beans tho’. He thought it included either honey or molasses.

When he looked at the vendor space, nothing stood out. He thought their presence was really weak. When I asked him what should the organizers do, he said they should get rid of them; get more food options in or do a better job at boosting their presence. He thought what was offered was like going to a flea market, and I agree with him when I was here the next day. One glance was all I needed to know nobody was paying attention to these operators. I could have looked deeper but with no nerdy attractions, I had zero interest. Plus, I had a beef rib craving to sate and investigated each rib shop for where I could find this treat.

I was thinking of going to the Crabfest at Port Angeles this year, but so much for that idea. I only have so much money for big food events. Since I have a bit more experience than my friend with this show, I was not surprised the prices remained the same and no matter how hard it is to spend less than $20 (the cheapest bite is $13), I end up spending three times that amount to curb my appetite. James told me about seeing full rack of bovine offered at $60 and he went to another ribber. He settled for pork instead, being the cheap Scot he is.

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I bought more than I should have and have leftovers to tide me over for two days. I had to get some pulled pork and ribs. Now, as I pen this retrospect, I realize I should have not done so: I eat too much pig and have grown tired of it. Not even a delicately bbq’ed up piece with the right sauce and smoke treatment can save this meat from mediocrity. I sampled Smoke and Bones BBQ‘s pulled pork and rib as its fresh off the grill, and there was no spring to it to make me decide to continue on. I figure I can save it with a braise of apple cider vinegar and now I’m drooling. With the said update, they were fantastic on hard tacos, with garden fresh tomatoes and cabbage topping which I made the next day.

My main meal was Gator BBQ’s full rack of beef ribs, and I must say their jalapeno sauce is tops! My impressions of this three day show is that you are here for the entertainment moreso than the food. The latter is just a bonus on a warm summer night …. well, the first two days were wet as it rained. I’m sure not everyone was out when temperatures dipped as night fell. Jackets were definitely required because I was wearing one Saturday night to see the new IT movie. I guess James date did not work out since he joined me for that.

One detail I’ve noticed is when Esquimalt Ribfest takes place. Has the event gone from late September to early? After Greek Fest which I rarely attend, foodies have Ribfest on following weekend. I think more time is needed so stomachs can digest all this food! Or even better, hope to see greater variety. With Grizzly, I know bear it out of the question, but c’mon, let’s offer game meat for those willing to try bison or other types of venison!

Also, not every major food festival needs to be attended every year. When both how many people can enter the event has to be monitored and driving around aimlessly until parking space can be found becomes an issue (which happened to me), just where can this event relocate to? The Roundhouse at Bayview Place is zoned for other uses and there’s no other bigger space available in this municipality. I think the field behind Esquimalt High School might work.

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