Regular readers of this column know that my travels are often motivated by food.
Whether it's the roadside barbecue of B.C.'s General Store in Yalaha, a fried grouper sandwich with a view at one of the two iconic fishing piers on Anna Maria Island or the finest ball-park fare in the Grapefruit League at the Baltimore Orioles' spring-training home in Sarasota, I've been known to think with my belly.
So it shouldn't be surprising that shrimp is on my mind this week. After all, I have received multiple reminders recently about the 50th Annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, unfolding Friday-May 5 in Fernandina Beach, a cozy beach destination almost at the Georgia line on Florida's Atlantic Coast.
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Fernandina Beach, FL 32034, USA
Yes, that's 50 years, or the "year of the golden shrimp," according to the festival website (shrimpfestival.com). And, yes, that slogan only makes me more hungry.
The inaugural shrimp festival was celebrated in 1964, after the editor and publisher of the Fernandina Beach News-Leader advocated such an event in a 1959 editorial as a way to compete with similar fests in Tampa and Pensacola.
"Why not something of this nature here on historic Amelia Island that is steeped in pirate lore and boasts of being under eight flags," editor Ray Caldwell wrote. The first festival featured a parade and street dance.
"I have fond memories of the first year's event," said Candy Dawson, Caldwell's daughter. She is working on a documentary about the festival to be presented in August at the Orlando Public Library.
In Fernandina Beach, the shrimp festival still features the blessing of the fleet that harvests one of the region's most important natural resources, but it has expanded to include an art show with works by more than 300 award-winning artists, a best-decorated shrimp boat parade, outdoor concerts (featuring headliner Pablo Cruise), contests to determine the top pirates in categories such as "best beard" and a shrimp ice cream eating competition.
Shrimp ice cream might be pushing the signature dish too far, but I'd be willing to try it.
There will be 25 food vendors offering enough variations on shrimp cuisine to impress Forrest Gump's fictional Army buddy, Bubba: shrimp pie, shrimp quesadillas, fried shrimp, boiled shrimp and shrimp pizza.
Visit shrimpfestival.com for details.