Photo illustration by Ben Hillyer
Photo illustration by Ben Hillyer

Let your taste buds fly at festival

Published 12:06am Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Doug Hosford doesn’t want to take any attention away from the dozens of balloons participating in this year’s Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

He leaves that to his burgers.

The former Natchez resident owns Fat Cow Burgers in Baton Rouge and has participated as a vendor at the balloon race off and on for four years.

“It’s definitely one of our highlights of the year to be able to come back to Natchez for the balloon race,” Hosford said. “It’s like the whole city comes alive, and Natchez really puts on that great hospitality to welcome everyone.”

Fat Cow prides itself on its gourmet burgers and salads, and Hosford said he always looks to bring the tastes of his restaurant to the balloon race festival grounds.

“We cook everything on site using our big charcoal grill, so it’s fresh made to order just like in the restaurant,” he said. “When we fire up that grill, everyone is going to smell our burgers.”

Hosford said one of Fat Cow’s signature burgers, the smoke stack burger, is always the crowd favorite — at the balloon race and at the restaurant.

The burger includes smoked cheddar cheese, apple smoked bacon, fried onion straws, lettuce and tomato and is drizzled with barbecue sauce.

No matter what the Fat Cow crew is serving up, Hosford said being back in Natchez and reuniting with friends and family makes the trip worthwhile.

“It’s like everyone comes in town for that weekend and you get to see everyone,” Hosford said. “It’s one of the best times of the year.”

Joining Hosford inside the festival site at the Rosalie Bicentennial Gardens are a number of local restaurants, including Slick Rick’s of Natchez.

Slick Rick’s will offer a combination of fast food, such as chicken tenders and other finger foods, while still serving up some Southern staples such, as poboys and biscuits.

Chief operation officer Dee Boyte said this year will be the third Slick Rick’s has participated in the balloon race.

“It’s something we look forward to every year,” Boyte said. “We always have a great time.”

Boyte said crews will begin cooking at 5 p.m. Friday on the festival ground site.

“That way everything is fresh,” Boyte said.

Other vendors include Billy Joe and Shirley Frazier, who don’t own a restaurant, but have been serving up traditional New Orleans dishes at the balloon race for five years.

“We get to meet people and hear different bands that we normally wouldn’t get to listen to,” Shirley said. “I enjoy the race, and I think it’s a good thing for the city.”

With the help of Shirley’s mother, the family-operated enterprise — appropriately titled “Cajun Sensation” — prepares dishes such as jambalaya and red beans and rice.

“She doesn’t cook too much anymore, but she always helps us with the balloon race,” Shirley said. “My mother owned a restaurant in New Orleans and came back here after (Hurricane) Katrina and wanted to keep cooking.”

Shirley said the family will begin cooking Thursday starting with stuffed bell peppers that are then frozen until Friday.

“We cook most of the stuff at the house,” Shirley said. “We tried cooking on site one year, but it didn’t work out.”

Even though she’s learned a few of her mother’s recipes over the years, Shirley said she won’t be taking over the responsibility of head chef whenever her mother decides to hang up her apron for the last time.

“I don’t want to start being the cook of the family just yet,” Shirley said. “She does a gumbo that I want to learn, but if you learn everything else than you’ll never stop cooking.”

Outside the festival gates, Fat Mama’s Tamales will host a beer garden with five beers on tap and artists’ booths featuring artwork by various local artists.

The beer garden will be open from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Beers on tap include Tin Roof Blonde Ale, Tin Roof Voodoo Bengal Pale Ale, Tin Roof Parade Ground Coffee Porter, 312 Urban Wheat Ale and Bud Light.

Other food options at the festival grounds include burgers from Magnolia Grill and slices of pizza from Pizza Hut, as well as some festival classics, such as funnel cakes.