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Review: BITES AND PINTS FESTIVAL Returns Live Music and Delicious Food to Kennywood Park

The festival is back!

Review: BITES AND PINTS FESTIVAL Returns Live Music and Delicious Food to Kennywood Park There are a few cultural institutions in the Pittsburgh area of which I'm not just a supporter, I'm an outright stan. Chief among these are the Pittsburgh CLO summer season, the annual farce at Saint Vincent Summer Theatre (more on that later this week), and the Bites and Pints festival at Kennywood. I love live music, delicious food, thrill rides, even the dubious charms of seeing a guy walk around in a kangaroo costume on a hot summer day. (That poor Kenny Kangaroo is a real sport to play along as much as he does.)

As a pretty solidily middle class individual, single income, no kids, I can't afford to be a full-time Disney Adult as the trend is these days. So instead, I've become something of a Kennywood Adult, tracking the changes to this Pittsburgh cultural institution every year when I stop in for the festival. Terror icon Laffin' Sal (an ancient, horrifying animatronic of a laughing Kathy Bates) is now permanently ensconced in the arcade by the Old Mill; said arcade has unfortunately gone a little mainstream and features mostly contemporary arcade games, instead of the panoply of vintage dime museum favorites or eighties arcade standards. The Kangaroo has returned, with that famous jump and bump that made so many generations happy. Noah's Ark remains vaguely incomprehensible- why are Noah and his wife so nightmarishly zombified? But best of all, Bites and Pints is back for another year of overindulgent bliss.

If this is your first experience with the festival, think of a Pittsburgh version of EPCOT's World Showcase. Around Kennywood's Lagoon are seven stations: Italy, Germany, Poland, Asia, Mexico, Caribbean and Greece. Each station has three or four food options: some entree-sized, some snack-sized, plus beers and signature drinks. A Bites and Pints pass will entitle passholders to at least eight "bites" or "pints" during their visit, and each day's offering is accompanied by a guest band. On my visit, it was Pittsburgh institution the Cool Change Band, who rocked out some flashy Beatles covers while I ate. Kennywood has not yet reinstated its all-over-the-park entertainment of years past; no jugglers, magicians, mainstage performers or singers and dancers were on view, other than Kenny the Kangaroo doing a little jig at one point. But I'm sure they'll be back in a season or two, once the pandemic and the economic recession are more firmly in the past.

Among the food offerings this year, best in show is probably Poland's kielbasa sausage with halushki. A close second is Greece's gyro, which is also the largest offering- so big you have to eat it knife and fork rather than pick it up like a flatbread sandwich. The only disappointment for me was the Italian pork belly sandwich, which felt to me like a sandwich of fatty undercooked bacon. Then again, I know that fattiness is the appeal of pork belly to many, so your mileage may vary. And be forewarned: the fried dough at Greece is EXTREMELY cinnamon-heavy, like a stick of Big Red chewing gum in pastry form. If you're not a cinnamon fan like I am, you may want to skip that one and go for Germany's Black Forest Cupcake instead.

I love Kennywood's mingling of modern sophistication with early twentieth century jankiness. Every corner of it seems frozen in a different window of the past, and I hope that never changes. What I do hope is that new events like Bites and Pints keep pulling the park, and the city, into the future.

From This Author - Greg Kerestan

A long-time BWW regular, Greg Kerestan is proud to join the staff of his favorite website. Greg is a graduate of Duquesne University and Seton Hill University, where he studied both theatre and English.... (read more about this author)

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