SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Maine — Frank Pendola knows garlic like a winemaker knows grapes. He knows how it grows. He knows the exact time to harvest the bulbs. And he knows how to use it to coax flavors from meats, vegetables and more adventurous culinary creations.
Pendola’s love song to the pungent spice, the Mount Desert Island Garlic Festival, celebrated its 12th year on Saturday and drew hundreds of fine-food appreciators to Smuggler’s Den Campground in Southwest Harbor.
The festival, which began as a party Pendola hosted for friends to celebrate his annual garlic harvest, has grown into something much bigger. Aside from an excuse to cook and eat good food, the event benefits the Ark Animal Shelter in Cherryfield.
“For $20 you get all this great food and you’re helping a good cause. What’s better than that?” said Pendola.
The New York transplant owns and operates a reservations-only restaurant, Nostrano, from his Bar Harbor home, where he also grows many of the ingredients he uses, such as tomatoes, eggplant and, of course, garlic.
“It was a tough summer for growing, as everyone knows,” he said. “But I was lucky. The harvest was good.”
On Pendola’s menu Saturday was pulled pork, deep fried turkey, beef brisket, smoked salmon and even fire-roasted garlic gloves.
“I’ll show you something,” Pendola said to a guest perusing the long buffet of food. He slowly unwrapped a large piece of meat from aluminum foil and placed it on the cutting board. He took his knife and gently sawed the garlic-infused brisket, letting slices fall to the side. “Isn’t that beautiful?”
Cooking is in Pendola’s blood. Passion pours out of him when he describes his dishes. He’s proud of what he grows and cooks.
But Pendola wasn’t alone Saturday. Other garlic-theme items were offered from chefs at Cleonice Mediterranean Bistro in Ellsworth, Chippers Restaurant of Hancock and Bianco Provisions of Boston and Brooklin.
Frank Bianco, who met Pendola a few years back when he began supplying ingredients for his restaurant, served up garlic-and-cheese Italian sausage.
“This is a lot of fun for us,” Bianco said. “There’s nothing else really like it.”
Rounding out the event was music from several area bands, including Kelly Bryand, Aztec Apollo, Mondo Charlie and Dirty Martini.
Attendants on Saturday were a mix of regulars and newcomers. Pendola said he always enjoys introducing the first-timers to the festival and he makes it a point to chat with each of them.
Ellen and Roger Ingalls of Nobleboro made a special trip to Mount Desert Island after hearing about the garlic festival from a friend.
“The food’s incredible,” Ellen Ingalls said, sampling beef brisket topped with Pendola’s homemade espresso and honey barbecue sauce. “And we have shelter dogs at home, so we can appreciate the cause.”