Taste of Colorado: Bigger and tastier than ever

Labor Day weekend event features good grub and great tunes

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What does it take to cook turkey legs for upward of half a million people?

Rick Seewald, the owner of Parker’s Sweet Lorraine’s Catering, is pretty straightforward about it: “Well, a really big grill helps.”

Seewald and his crew will cook up thousands of turkey legs in a 200-square-foot booth at A Taste of Colorado, the legendary Labor Day weekend event that transforms Denver’s Civic Center Park into a smorgasbord of the state’s culinary offerings. This year’s festival runs Sept. 1-3.

Say “Taste of Colorado” to many Denver-area residents, and the first two things that come to mind are corn on the cob and turkey legs. But the Taste, now in its 35th year, is growing into a food and musical event to rival the state’s big bashes, said spokeswoman Cary Krukowski.

“Best of all, admission is free,” said Krukowski.

Organizers beefed up the Taste this year, with a main stage triple the size of the old one, Krukowski said. A smaller stage will host musicians from around Colorado. The musical offerings are the largest in the festival’s history.

The main stage musical lineup is split into three days. Saturday is classic rock, featuring REO Speedwagon, Firefall and George Thorogood. Sunday goes country with LeAnn Rimes, David Nail and Mitchell Tenpenny. Monday features an epic ‘90s throwback lineup: Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Everclear and Soul Asylum.

“We’re taking the whole experience up a notch,” Krukowski said. “Denver has grown substantially in the last few years, and there are lots of people who have never attended A Taste of Colorado. We wanted to freshen it up while retaining the classic feel the die-hards love.”

New this year is the Capitol VIP Experience, where for $119 a ticket plus fees and taxes, guests can watch the big shows from a special deck beside the main stage, meet Broncos players, and kick back with exclusive meals and drinks.

The festival will also host nearly 200 artisans and vendors in the Mountain and Plain Marketplace.

True to the festival’s name, though, the heart and soul of the festival is the grub. More than 50 restaurants and food trucks will set up shop, Krukowski said.

The festival is great exposure for some of the area’s hidden-gem restaurants, said Brett Carson, owner of Large Marge’s Philly Cheesesteaks of Wheat Ridge.

“Lots of people don’t know this little place in Wheat Ridge is turning out such great cheesesteaks,” Carson said.

Expats from the City of Brotherly Love dig Large Marge’s because it’s the real deal, Carson said.

“We use bread and shaved ribeye flown in at least twice a week from Philadelphia,” Carson said. “It’s not those little frozen hockey pucks of meat. It’s all fresh-cooked to order — no heat lamps here.”

Food vendors bring their A-game to Taste, Carson said, which makes it a joy for restaurateurs too.

“It’s so cool to see what others from around the state offer,” Carson said. “We’re so darn busy that we don’t get to walk around much, but we always make friends — and do some great food-trading.”

For plenty of guests, though, a stop at the Sweet Lorraine’s booth is a must.

“A lot of customers tell us it’s the highlight of their year,” Seewald said. “They say summer isn’t complete until they’ve had a turkey leg at the Taste of Colorado.”

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