LEWISTON, Maine — While hundreds of people prepare for flights at this weekend’s Great Falls Balloon Festival, thousands more look forward to biting into a blooming onion, munching on kettle corn or slurping down a lime rickey.
In fact, at 26, the number of booths at the festival is just three shy of the number of featured balloons. And more first-time food is planned off-site.
On Friday evening, the Bates Mill’s Baxter Brewing and DaVinci’s Eatery are partnering for a charity barbecue in the courtyard between the restaurant and Mill No. 3. Besides barbecue and beer, the duo The Squid Jiggers will entertain. A portion of the proceeds will go to Museum L-A.
Baxter Brewing owner Luke Livingston calls it a “BeerBQ.”
On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Pedro O’Hara’s Restaurant will open at 5 a.m. and offer breakfast on its deck for an event it calls “Kegs and eggs.”
Both events should offer a chance to dine while watching the balloons rise from nearby Simard-Payne Memorial Park.
“We’re trying to take advantage of the people who will be up and looking for a place to watch a launch,” said Troy Kavanaugh, who co-owns Pedro O’Hara’s with former Lewiston police Chief William Welch. “And we’ll give them something different.”
Their menu will include traditional Irish offerings, including sausages and homemade corned beef as well as a Mexican omelet, hot cakes and, after 6 a.m., specialty drinks such as Bloody Marys and mimosas. There will also be Guinness beer on tap. Seats on the deck are filling up but some space will be left open for spur-of-the-moment arrivals, Welch said.
There will be familiar competition, however.
At the park, the festival will feature a tent with a $6 pancake breakfast that also includes sausage, coffee, tea, juice and milk. At lunch and dinner, the tent will serve chicken and ribs with corn on the cob.
And the nearby ring of food booths will be selling a variety of fast foods that range from burgers and fries to fried clams and shrimp, sausage sandwiches, taco salads and fajitas.
For many, it’s a kind of comfort food that festival-goers look forward to all year, said Laurie Swart, who volunteers annually at a sausage and hamburger booth benefiting Lewiston’s St. Martin de Porres Shelter for homeless men.
The shelter has had a booth at the festival for each of its 19 years.
Workers at the booth have ordered 300 pounds of sausage and 600 hamburger rolls, said Swart, an administrative assistant at the shelter and a volunteer at the booth.
If the weather’s good, the food should be sold out when the last balloon rises on Sunday evening.
The event is the single largest fundraiser all year for St. Martin de Porres, raising as much as $6,000, Swart said.
It’s also a major revenue source for American Legion Post 153 in New Auburn, which has been selling sausages and lime rickeys there for 11 years. The legion post figures to go through an estimated seven or eight cases of limes over the three days, post volunteer Emmet Stuart said.
Each cases holds about 200 limes.
“Once you have one of our lime rickeys you’ll never go back to lemonade,” said Stuart, who tried one more than a decade ago at the Yarmouth Clam Festival and pushed to sell them in Lewiston.
“Nobody knew what they were when we started,” Stuart said. “But they learned.”
One of the secrets is serving carbonated water rather than tap water in the juice concoction.
“It gives you that fizz, tickling your nose just like champagne,” Stuart said.
On a hot day, the line seems to stretch across the park, he said.
However, if the weather goes poorly everybody suffers, festival treasurer Mell Hamlyn said.
“For some groups, this is the only fundraiser of the year,” Hamlyn said. Beneficiaries include local cheerleaders, sports teams, church groups and arts organizations.
Kavanaugh, from Pedro O’Hara’s, said he would be happy if one of his two planned breakfasts feature good weather and a launch.
“You know, you plan this and you hope you get one,” he said. “I’d have to be OK with 50-50.”
Livingston, the brewer, will have only one shot on Friday evening. He imagines an upscale evening that manages to catch the majesty of the rising balloons. He and his partner in the production, DaVinci’s owner Jules Patry, said they will be happy to highlight the mill and make a few dollars for Museum L-A.
“We want to show people what the mill has to offer,” Livingston said.
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