Cleveland Garlic Festival

At Cleveland Garlic Festival, you'll find garlic beer, garlic ice cream, and Garlic Man. 

Jillian Kramer
March 29, 2018

You’ll smell it long before you see it. After all, the Cleveland Garlic Festival is filled with what has been affectionately nicknamed “the stinking rose:” heads of garlic. Here, the bulbs are roasted, toasted, fried, and dried; it's drawn in chalk; and it tops the head of a superhero.

That’s right: Cleveland Garlic Festival even has Garlic Man, who looks like a smaller version of the Hulk, with a giant head of garlic where the hero’s eyes, nose, and mouth should be.

The Cleveland Garlic Festival, of course, isn't the only garlic festival in the country. It’s modeled after a similar festival held in Gilroy, California, and there are garlic festivals in New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, to name a few. But none that we know of have Garlic Man.

But he’s not the only reason to love Cleveland Garlic Festival, or what makes it special. Hosted by the North Union Farmers Market, a nonprofit that holds farmers markets in and around Cleveland, the festival launched ten years ago with a mission to help its farmers get rid of the excess garlic they’d harvested that year. Without the festival, the organization’s executive director Donita Anderson explains, those garlic cloves might have gone to waste.

Cleveland Garlic Festival

In its first year, the festival hosted guests from as far as Houston, and researchers from the University of Wisconsin attended so that they could bring back a several of the 30 varieties of garlic offered at the fest to study in their ongoing oncological efforts, Anderson says.

Last year, the festival had lines the lengths of city blocks, filled with people waiting for the garlic French fries made by local restaurants, for the garlicky Bloody Mary’s made by the Watershed Distillery, and garlic beer—yes, garlic beer—from local brewer The Brew Kettle.

Mitchell’s Ice Cream, a favorite and famous ice cream maker in Cleveland, rolls out a garlic ice cream for the festival—and even more interestingly, people love it. It’s made from skim milk, cream, organic fair-trade sugar, organic egg yolks, salt, truffles, black pepper, and, yes, garlic. “It is the most delicious ice cream,” Anderson says, “and it sells out.”

A Miss Garlic—a teenager, chosen by a committee, who has submitted an essay on her love of garlic and won—holds court at the festival made of garlic fairies, young girls who have shopped at the organization’s farmers markets over the previous year, Anderson describes. Miss Garlic gives a speech, too, on garlic’s many uses.

Cleveland Garlic Festival

And then there’s belly dancing, which seemingly has no tie to garlic except that it draws a crowd. “Every man stands in a huge circle and stares,” Anderson laughs. “It’s pretty funny.”

Cleveland Art Institute artists draw with chalk on the sidewalks. Last year, an artist drew Mona Lisa—with heads of garlic in her arms. The sketch stayed for weeks, Anderson says.

There’s also a garlic cook-off, where local chefs are challenged to incorporate garlic in new and exciting ways into four dishes—chicken, beef, pork, and vegetarian meals. Judges pick the winning dishes; interestingly, even Michael Symon once sat on that panel of judges.

The cook-off “has a huge audience,” Anderson says. “There are a lot of culinary discussions.”

The Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Green Corps sets up a children’s area, where kids enjoy their own garlic cook off and learn how to plant garlic. “But we also get adults who want to learn,” says Kelly Barrett, the Corps’ program manager. “It’s a lot easier than a lot of people think. I tell them, ‘Plant a garlic clove ‘foot first’—or the root end. And it’s that simple.”

This year’s Cleveland Garlic Festival will be held Aug. 25 and 26. Tickets can be purchased online or at the gate. Entry costs $9 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $5 for child