Thursday, June 20, 2024

People at the Smoke This Rib Fest devour samples on Cambridge Street in East Cambridge. (Photo: East Cambridge Business Association)

It’s been three years since East Cambridge’s rib festival was held as it was meant to be – as a throng packed onto on Cambridge Street, feasting to the sounds of friendly chatter and live music.

The East Cambridge Business Association’s 13th Annual Smoke This Rib Fest is back to that model Oct. 2 from noon to 4 p.m.

The fest is a culinary showdown of pit master vs. pit master for the title of best ribs in town. To sample a variety and vote for a favorite, feasters need a 10-rib Taste Ticket for $27.50 – and then to scramble to get those ribs on a first-come, first-served basis. (Restaurants also sell to non-voters.)

Participating restaurants include Artbar, Atwood’s Tavern, Bambara, Cambridge Brewing Co., Commonwealth, Dial Restaurant, Filarmonica Santo Antonio, Formaggio Kitchen Kendall, Lone Star Taco Bar, Marriott Boston Cambridge, Puritan & Co., Rindge Tech Culinary, Shy Bird, State Park, Viale and Vincent’s. Entertainers include Royer’s One Man Band, Monday Night Bluegrass with Sarah Borges, The White Owls and the Albino Mbie Trio. The East End  House provides kid’s crafts and games.

“We felt it was very important to bring back an in-person Rib Fest this year,” said Jason Alves, executive director of the business association.

Over the past two years of pandemic, the festival has been run as a two-week barbecue crawl instead of a one-day event, allowing more flexibility in dining options that felt safer than being in a crowd. Around the planning of 2021’s event, Alves and association president Patrick Magee wrote to urge residents to support the participating restaurants, part of an industry that Covid had left “in shambles.”

“Restaurants are severely understaffed and doing a fraction of their typical sales. Even the ones you think ’look busy’ are probably not okay,” they wrote.

While the restaurant industry is far from recovered, Alves said, some businesses “are in a better place” and able to again participate in the festival. There are 17 restaurants signed up to take part in the year’s Rib Fest, and more may join them. “This brings us to normal participation levels prior to Covid,” Alves said. “The response from restaurants … gave us the confidence to go ahead with in-person planning.”

Still, the business association provides a lot of Rib Fest infrastructure to minimize the cost for participants, Alves said. This year ensuring a good event has called for even more support from an Economic Development Division grant – part of federal Covid-relief funds meant to encourage economic recovery. 

“We are happy to be able to lighten the expense of participating even further this year,” Alves said. “The ECBA worked hard for our members during the pandemic and I am always grateful that the community is willing to rally behind events like Rib Fest to make sure we can continue our work.” 

  • The Smoke This Rib Fest is from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 2 on Cambridge Street between Fulkerson and Fifth streets, East Cambridge. Information is here.