Saturday wasn’t a good day to be a fish. But it was a great day to be a fish eater.
Fish and other delicious things plucked from the ocean were filleted, fried, grilled and steamed at the Atlantic City Seafood Festival.
The menu included mahi tacos, lobster bisque, crab cakes, seafood chowder, shrimp kabobs, scallops, calamari, clam strips, oysters, mussels and more. Oh, yeah — if seafood wasn’t your favorite dish, there were plenty of sausage sandwiches, black angus burgers and other landlubber fare to go around.
“I’m having a mahi taco. It’s very good,” said Mike Costello, 48, of Linwood, in between bites. “Earlier, I had the crab ball. It was awesome.”
After a six-year hiatus, the seafood festival returned to town at a new location that featured the towering casino skyline as the backdrop. Organizers estimate a crowd of 10,000 to 15,000 will attend the two-day event at Bader Field. Today, it runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Organizers billed the festival as an extravaganza of fun, food and entertainment. Festival-goers are treated to dishes prepared by local restaurants and culinary personalities.
This year, Bader Field was chosen as the location, providing more space for exhibitors and other attractions, including a petting zoo. The festival was last held in 2006 at the Historic Gardner’s Basin maritime park, which is tucked away in the city’s northeast tip, farther away from the main tourist haunts.
Jon Henderson, the festival producer, said plans are already being made for a return to Bader Field next year. The former city airport’s now-closed runways had been transformed into an expanse of everything seafood.
“We already have 2,000 people,” Henderson said at about 1 p.m. Saturday. “It’s pretty much a no-brainer that we’ll hit 10,000 before the festival is over.”
The festival has provided a boost for local businesses following the traditional post-Labor Day tourist slowdown, Henderson and exhibitors said. It was made bigger by teaming it up with the second annual Atlantic City International Triathlon, which drew about 1,200 competitors.
“Atlantic City is OK in July and August, in the middle of summer. It’s during the off-season when the number of visitors drops off,” Henderson said. “By holding this event in mid-September, it’s a way to build extra business during the shoulder season.”
The festival unfolded Saturday under sun-splashed skies, with temperatures in the mid-70s. A comfortable breeze blowing off the waterways easily kept an array of kites flying overhead.
One of the centerpieces of the festival is a 9-foot-high sand sculpture crafted by Matthew Deibert, 47, of the Smithville section of Galloway Township. Deibert explained that it took 15 tons of fine sand — brought in from a Cape May County sand and gravel business, not from the Atlantic City beaches — to make his ocean-themed artwork, topped by an octopus holding a knife and fork.
“It started as a big pile of sand,” he said. “Next, I spent six hours wetting and packing it to hold it together. Without water, every sand sculpture will crumble, even the ones on the beach.”
Deibert’s sculpture added to the family-friendly atmosphere. So, too, did a petting zoo that included a farm-like collection of animals. Festival-goers could also hop aboard a camel or ponies for a ride.
“This seems like a lot of fun. There are a lot of different things to do. We see a lot of families here,” said Amy Lodise, whose family came from Havertown, Pa.
Lodise, who had competed in the Atlantic City triathlon, toted around her 6-month-old daughter, Claire, at the festival. She was also accompanied by her husband, Matt, and 3-year-old son, Matthew Jr.
Matthew jumped in with the animals at the petting zoo and chased the sheep around, smiling with glee and playfully throwing his arms in the air when they would scamper away.
“He’s a running guy. There he goes,” Matthew said of one sheep.
The fish, though, were unable to get away on this day.
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