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Published: Monday, 8/11/2003

Ribs lovers rally by river for food, fun

Tom Sopavich, left, and Cliff Mortimer, representing Armadillo's Restaurant of Youngstown, cook up a slab of ribs. Tom Sopavich, left, and Cliff Mortimer, representing Armadillo's Restaurant of Youngstown, cook up a slab of ribs.

There's something about the aroma of smoky barbecues, the taste of a perfectly seasoned rib, the sound of a live rock band, and the sun on a warm day that brings Toledoans together.

About 50,000 people came to Promenade Park during the weekend for the 20th Northwest Ohio Rib-Off, event sponsors estimated.

“Toledo loves this festival,” Joe Schmidbauer, festival co-chair, said. “This thing goes on - it has a life of its own.”

The four-day festival of food and entertainment is a fund-raiser for United Health Services, an umbrella organization affiliated with United Way that includes groups benefiting hemophilia, autism, and mental health. The festival is expected to raise roughly $50,000, about the same as last year, co-chair Mike Luffy said.

Abbie Kiser of West Toledo was at the festival for the first time.

“I've made my own ribs, but these are better,” she said, “It's been a good time.”

Sixteen rib restaurants, seven of them in the Toledo area, all vied for the Golden Rib and People's Choice awards.

Neil Weinberg, 13, tries some of the event's offerings. Neil Weinberg, 13, tries some of the event's offerings.

Sgt. Oink's Pit BBQ of Tiffin won first place in the Golden Rib Competition, followed by Armadillo's Restaurant of Youngstown. In the People's Choice Awards, Sidelines Sports Eatery & Pub of Lambertville placed first, followed by Flamin' Pit BBQ of Toledo.

Gina and Lee Rambo of North Toledo said the ribs at the festival are good, but not like homemade.

“It's all in the sauce,” Mrs. Rambo said. “If you like barbecue sauce, it's all about the sauce.”

Some rib restaurants displayed trophies as tall as three feet and signs towering 20 feet touting the virtues of their ribs. About 700 volunteers kept the festival running.

Serious eaters gathered on Thursday for the Biggest Pig Contest.

Second-place winner, Nathan Pratt of West Toledo, ate 41/2 pounds of ribs but couldn't explain how he does it.

“I don't know. I like food,” he said, “It's my favorite thing, and I like it in large quantities.”

At Sidelines Sports Eatery & Pub, last year's Rib-Off winner and this year's People's Choice winner, cooks worked hard in the face of new competition, cook Tommy Patterson said.

Rib-Off organizers charged $2 admission this year for the first time because revenue from sponsors and corporate donations was down about $30,000, event director Shelley Crossley said.

Longtime volunteer Penny Truesdale of Defiance said in spite of record attendance Saturday, crowds were down in general, possibly because of the unpredictable weather. Other organizers said the event continues to grow even though it has filled the space at the park.

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