Wren Gilbert dropped her used up cluck card into The Inked Pig’s people's choice voting box and everyone at the tent began to cheer. Wren, 5, was at the Spring Chicken Festival at Longwood Park Saturday, April 27, with her mother, Candace, and they had both just finished off a helping of the barbecue restaurant’s honey Carolina mustard chicken wings.
“It was so good,” Wren said.
The Gilberts were there early, but as the day went on, thousands of others showed up at the festival — which was held at Longwood Park as opposed to the downtown Gainesville Square for the first time — to taste some of the city’s best chicken as 21 teams competed in the cooking competition.
Some smoked wings or thighs while others fried them. Everything was slathered in sauce and the lines were worth the wait. Altogether, the city ordered 12,000 pounds of chicken to split between the teams.
The Inked Pig had already gone through 120 pounds by about 11:30 a.m. The event began at 11 a.m.
“It’s crazy,” said Jimmy Ellis, co-owner at The Inked Pig. “This whole smoker was full and we’ve already gone through that. So we’re waiting on the next batch to come out ”
As they waited, more and more people showed up to the park. Some came by boat, a new feature to this year’s festival. The impending development of the Parkside on the Square condominiums made the move to Longwood Park a necessity, and the more spacious park on the lake was a nice reminder to area residents and visitors that Gainesville has a lot to offer.
“People coming by boat, how cool is that?” said Nikki Perry, city spokesperson. “That is one of my favorite things about having it here is that we get to highlight the fact that we’re a lake community, which I think we kind of forget sometimes.”
Even though the move from the square seemed like a controversial one — a new
Downtown Business Coalition was formed in response — Perry knew it had to happen.
“It used to be great on the square and it used to be good on Roosevelt Square 10 years ago,” Perry said. “But it seems to keep growing and growing and here we are.”
Dixie Miller and Mike Boritz were at the festival for their first time after recently moving to the area from Pennsylvania. They heard about the Spring Chicken Festival from people around town and decided they had to check it out for themselves.
“I go to physical therapy and my therapist told me about it a few weeks ago, so we wrote it on the calendar, bought our tickets online and came on out,” Miller said.
They stood in the lines and both got their fill. Miller was surprised at how much she was served after going through just one line. Even though she didn’t think she could take any more as she stood in a sunny spot in the parking lot, Miller and her husband trudged on because they knew there were many more spots to try out.
The smells floating through the air wouldn’t let them leave quite yet.
“I am full and I still have like four punches to go,” Miller said. “We haven’t had anything bad yet.”