The 18 contestants were on display in a semi-circle of tents, proudly representing states like South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee and Missouri. The competition wasn’t a beauty contest – connoisseurs of barbecue ribs might disagree, though – but, rather, Forest Park’s 6th Annual Ribfest, held at The Grove, on Sept. 10.
Hosted by The Village of Forest Park and the Howard Mohr Community Center staff, the day’s highlight was the “Best BBQ Ribs” contest. It pitted several amateur chefs against each other, as they all strived for the judges’ collective palette. The criteria were simple: contestants could cook pork ribs (baby back or spare ribs), but assorted styles were welcomed.
“Everybody loooves my barbecue,” said Harry Linton, one of the competing chefs, with a laugh. “If you got one good eye and a tongue, you can see it and taste it. All I want to do is cook my best barbecue. People told me I should get into the contest [this year], so here I am cooking my St. Louis ribs.”
In tents near Linton’s “Team Blue” stand, other contestants also prepared their ribs with equally meticulous attention to detail. Forest Park resident Joel Albright made his South Carolina-style smoked baby back pork ribs, which featured the low country’s signature mustard and vinegar sauce. Albright’s culinary creation was inspired by his father’s pork ribs and pulled pork barbecue.
At Tent 13, Sidney Weaver, from Chicago, had his Mississippi Boll Weevil Barbecue Ribs ready to be judged by the panel and purchased by Ribfest patrons. All contestants offered two ribs for $3.00 on Saturday.
“I always [barbe] ‘cue in the backyard,” Weaver said. “One of my friends came up with the idea of calling my ribs Boll Weevil since my last name is Weaver. I marinate it with a dry rub and smoke it for about four hours.”
The ribs contest is no doubt the main event – Tim Clendenning won the $750 first prize this year – but pork isn’t the only fare that’s served up. There was standard carnival food like hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs, shaved ice, nachos and popcorn. But there were also more unique items like loaded baked potatoes, sweet corn and Wisconsin-style bratwursts.
Chase’s gourmet root beer stand routinely drew big crowds offering items like fried Snickers and Milky Way bars, as well as state-fair favorites like deep-fried or chocolate-covered bacon.
“We’re very pleased with this year’s Ribfest,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said. “We estimate over 4,000 people attended the event and everybody seemed to have a good time. We had a good group of vendors and sponsors. Between our police, public works and the community center, all of our [Forest Park] departments worked collaboratively to ensure a safe, fun event.”
Kids enjoyed attractions like face painting, a magic show, dog show, balloon twisting and a moon jump.
Adults were entertained by performances by area bands Stereola, Mr. Big Stuff, The Redstones and 7th Heaven. The bands played from noon until closing time, at 11 p.m.
“I like the set up because it’s small and you can get to everything quickly. I had some really good ribs and sweet corn. The people are friendly and the tunes are good. I’m really glad we checked it out,” said Mark Laudadio, who grew up in Forest Park.
Karen Dylewski, who oversees Ribfest as the Director of the Mohr Community Center, is proud of its wide-ranging appeal.
“Ribfest is an event that showcases Forest Park,” said Dylewski, a Forest Park native. “I see so many people in town come here, but, also, we draw people from Chicago and all over the surrounding suburbs. Everybody embraces Ribfest, and I just love the pervasive spirit of camaraderie and fun.”
Robinson’s Ribs, one of the event’s 25-plus sponsors, has a tent each year where it offers rib samplers, boneless rib sandwiches, chicken strips with fries, barbecue pulled pork and half-slabs of baby back ribs.
“We’ve been around for 29 years in the Chicago Metropolitan area,” said Robinson, who has multiple locations including one in Oak Park (940 Madison). “Forest Park is like home for us. We try to get some new folks to taste our food at Ribfest. I think it’s one of the greatest Ribfests that I’ve ever participated in. To see so many families and people out here having a good time is really wonderful.
“The event is promoted and advertised to well. Working with Tony [Calderone] and Karen [Dylewski] is just fantastic. I’m excited to be here every year and I hope we keep it going for a long time,” he said.