Rotary moves fan favorite food fest outdoors

HARLINGEN — “Mmm, what’s that?”

Sharon Blindauer had just sampled her husband Wayne’s Rock Shrimp Tempura as a nice evening breeze blew up Jackson Street.

Restaurants from all over town — Chili’s, Jason’s Deli, Frankie’s Flavz — had set up in tents along both sides of the street for the 25th Annual Harlingen Rotary Shrimp Fest.

For the first time, instead of being indoors at Casa de Amistad, the Rotary clubs held their biggest fundraiser outside.

“We were looking for a bigger venue and there isn’t anything larger indoors so that’s how we ended up outside,” said Remi Gibbs, vice-president of Rotary Shrimp Fest.

“We decided to give it more of a festival environment and make it more community oriented, so we chose Jackson Street,” she said. “We’re hoping it will be more people because it was an opportunity to sell more tickets than we have been able to in the past.”

Before long, Jackson Street was crowded with people, many of them at tables and chairs set up between the tents.

The Rotary clubs had also invited Sunny Glen Children’s Home and Habitat for Humanity to participate.

“I’m a member of the Rotary Club and they said they had a few extra spots they offered to some of the nonprofits,” said Chase Palmer, executive director of Sun Glen.

Sunny Glen was selling firecracker shrimp, which was Asian marinated shrimp wrapped in a wonton wrapper and deep friend with a sweet chili dipping sauce.

“We’re not looking to raise money,” Palmer said. “We’re just in it for the exposure to the community to let them know we’re involved, so the become more informed about the work we do.”

This year the fest offered the VIP option, which included the traditional shrimp dinner plate. The VIP option also allowed for five “tasting tickets” to move from table to table and sample the food. But people could pay general admission for just the five tickets.

Meizie and Eddie Salinas were enjoying the shrimp gumbo from Jason’s Deli.

“Oh, it’s good,” said Eddie Salinas. “This is my first time tasting shrimp gumbo.”

They’d attended previous shrimp fests at Casa de Amistad.

“This is much better,” said Meizie Salinas. “And I’ve been to New Orleans for Fat Tuesday and I’m very impressed. Jason’s Deli did a good job making the gumbo.”