On the same day the Miss America contestants were wowing crowds in a lavish Boardwalk parade, crabs, fish and clams were doing their part Saturday to promote Atlantic City tourism.
They selflessly cooked on grills, broilers and stoves to satisfy the taste buds of thousands of visitors at the second annual Atlantic City Seafood Festival.
Pleasantville resident Darrick Moore, who already had eaten a crab cake, was munching on a serving of clam strips and fried shrimp. He planned to try more seafood later. His wife, Maisha, who was holding their 8-month-old daughter, Millani, had snacked on some clams on the half-shell.
"The whole point of the seafood festival is to taste everything here," Moore said, smiling.
Vendors prepared an array of culinary delights. The menu included scallops, sushi rolls, steamed clams, fish tacos, lobster patties, oysters and shrimp kabobs.
The seafood was the main attraction, but the festival took on an everything-for-everybody atmosphere. Organizers billed it as an extravaganza of fun, food and entertainment.
The festival's location, the former Bader Field airport, had its runways transformed into a carnival-like setting of vendors, amusement rides and live music. Giant kites streamed overhead. Sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70s provided ideal weather.
Jon Henderson, the festival promoter, estimated Saturday's crowd at 7,000. The event continues today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Henderson noted Saturday's crowd nearly matched the total weekend attendance of 8,000 last year. There are plans to bring the festival back during the same weekend next year.
The festivalgoers provided a boost for local businesses during what is usually the post-Labor Day tourist slowdown. However, this year the festival occurred during the same busy weekend as the Miss America Competition, Miss America parade and the Atlantic City International Triathlon.
"We built a really cool weekend of major events. There are a lot of synergies. For a lack of a better term, we stacked the deck," Henderson said.
Festival crowds took advantage of free admission. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the state agency that oversees the Atlantic City Tourism District, supplied a $25,000 grant to defray the festival's operating costs. That allowed the organizers to have free admission, although on-site parking is $10.
One of the centerpieces of the festival is a huge sand sculpture of mythical sea god Neptune created by Matt Deibert Sr. and his son, Matt Jr. The elder Deibert, who lives in Galloway Township, said it took 20 tons of sand to make his ocean-themed artwork.
"It's a creative piece. I think it gives the crowds some entertainment. It creates a wow factor," Deibert said.
Sand sculpting was part of the family-friendly atmosphere that the festival promotes. Children had their choice of different types of rides and amusements, including face-painting.
William and Natalie Vaughn, formerly of Atlantic City but now of Cherry Hill, brought their 3-year-old daughter, Paige. Paige, whose face was painted like a cat, bounced around on some of the kiddie rides.
"I didn't expect to see all of these rides. I thought there might be one, but actually there are five, six or seven. It's pretty cool," William Vaughn said.
"It's great," Natalie Vaughn added. "The festival has a nice community feel."
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Atlantic City Seafood Festival
The Atlantic City Seafood Festival continues 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today at Bader Field. Admission is free. On-site parking is $10.