Waning days of summer bring food, festivals and a taste of fall to Georgia

Entertainment and making memories are on the menu.

There are two times when most people will stray from healthy eating — holidays and fairs.

“Anything fried on a stick,” says Dale Thurman, manager of the Gwinnett County Fair.

You can get that fried food at several fairs and festivals that fill the final few weeks of summer, as August gives way to September. Maybe there will even be a hint of fall in the air.

But it isn’t all fried, when it comes to food in these waning days of summer. In Sandy Springs, they’ll be showcasing all that the city has to offer in dining.

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Food That Rocks will have three sessions on Aug. 19 and 20 that will spotlight everything from the Japanese flavors of Bishoku to the upscale Mexican of Casi Cielo.

“Food That Rocks in Sandy Springs was created to bring together community and entertainment for a cause. Celebrating Sandy Springs’ best restaurants for the seventh year, we are excited to showcase the authentic, chef-driven restaurant scene that the city has to offer,” said Dale DeSena, founder of Food That Rocks and Taste of Atlanta, in a press release.

But if you’re looking for the full fair experience, head to the Georgia Mountain Fair, where you’ll find big-name entertainment, animal exhibits, vendors, food, exciting rides and games where you can win everything from a gold fish to a big stuffed animal — all under thousands of neon lights.

Closer in, the Grant Park Summer Shade Festival has been a neighborhood favorite for two decades. Jason Winston has attended for the past 15 years and will pour beer at one of the tents on Aug. 27 and 28. “It’s a great experience. You get to talk to folks you know in the neighborhood and meet new ones.”

The festival, a fundraiser for the Grant Park Conservancy, features more than 150 artists, at least 20 food trucks, a kids zone, music and vendors. Winston’s daughter, Banks, is attending for the first time. “She’s going to love it. It’s one of the most family-friendly events in the city and a great way to hear music and enjoy Grant Park in all its glory.”

Like many, Winston and his wife enjoy checking out the various artist and craft booths. “We love to come on the first day and see what’s there,” he says. “We’ll walk away with something on the second day. We have several pieces in our home that we purchased at the festival.”

Credit: Sher Pruitt

Credit: Sher Pruitt

While it does offer music and food, the Piedmont Park Arts Festival is focused on art, which is exactly what exhibitor Melanie Rolfes, an industrial abstract artist, likes. “We’ve been coming since 2010. It’s the only festival in the park that the main focus is on visual arts.” she says. “We have regular patrons and even if they’re not looking for art, they’ll come, visit and catch up.”

While security is always an issue, it is more front and center these days with the cancellation of Music Midtown. Gwinnett has new rules including a clear bag policy and regulating unaccompanied children. Children under 16 must be with their parents after 5 p.m. “We are not a babysitting service and we’ve found that kids get into more trouble when mom and dad left them at the gate,” says Thurman.

Credit: From Gwinnett County Fairgrounds Facebook page

Credit: From Gwinnett County Fairgrounds Facebook page

The Gwinnett County Fair offers a glimpse into the past with displays or nods to earlier times. They promote farming with livestock shows including exhibits with lamb and breeding ewe, goats, hogs and Herefords. The Georgia Mountain Fair has “Old Ways” demonstrations and a Pioneer Village.

Lorrie Morgan anchors the Georgia Mountain Fair entertainment and other events include the Banana Derby where monkeys race on dogs.

But, for those who are involved with the events, the fun is watching the crowd. “I don’t get to go on the rides,” Thurman said. “I’m getting too old, but I still like to watch the kiddie rides.” His daughter put together a scrapbook of her two children every year on the merry-go-ride until they were “big enough to tell their mama they didn’t want to do it anymore.”

Credit: Fabian Fernandez

Credit: Fabian Fernandez

Adding, “This is a family event. I like to see a smile on a child’s face or see a grandpa telling his grandson about how he used to use that plow. It brings back memories. We get people all the time talking about when they were a child and came to the fairgrounds and how they looked forward to it ever year. There’s just happiness at a fair.”

Georgia Mountain Fair. Aug. 19-27. 2 p.m., carnival midway; 10 a.m.-8 p.m, (6 p.m. on Sunday), arts & crafts. $12, one day pass; $33, three-day pass. 1311 Music Hall Road, Hiawassee. 706-896-4191, georgiamountainfairgrounds.com.

Food That Rocks. 7-10 p.m. Aug. 19; noon-3 p.m. and 7-10 p.m. Aug. 20. $85-$95. Sandy Springs City Green, 1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs. foodthatrocks.org.

Piedmont Arts Festival. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 20; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 21. Free. Piedmont Park, 1215 Piedmont Ave. 404-873-1222, piedmontparkartsfestival.com.

Grant Park Summer Shade Festival. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Aug. 27; 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Aug. 28. Free. 740 Cherokee Ave SE, Atlanta. summershadefestival.org.

Gwinnett County Fair. Sept. 15-25. 5-10 p.m., weekdays, exhibit hall; 5-11 p.m., weekdays, carnival; 11 a.m.-11 p.m., exhibit hall, Saturdays; 11 a.m.-midnight, carnival, Saturdays; 1-9 p.m., exhibit hall, Sundays; 1-10 p.m., carnival, Sundays. $10; $5 senior citizens and ages 6-11. 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville. 770-963-6522, gwinnettcountryfair.com.