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Make mine gator, waiter: Festival dishes up variety of food for adventurous eaters

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The noon lunch crowd fills Washington Street, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, during Ethnic Expo.
The noon lunch crowd fills Washington Street, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, during Ethnic Expo.

Hundreds of people flooded First and Washington streets in search of something different and delicious for lunch Friday at the 28th annual Ethnic Expo.

First-day customers, from the adventurous eater to the ethnic-food connoisseur, found plenty to choose from.

Beverly and Gary Cobb, of Cobb’s Cajun Cookin’, run the French Canadian booth and offer alligator, one of the more unique food items available. Among their most popular items are alligator bites and alligator chili.

After running out of alligator during last year’s Expo, the Cobbs didn’t want to take any chances this year. They ordered 500 pounds of alligator meat from a farm in Scott, La., and Beverly Cobb said she brought 300 pounds of it to the Expo this year, hoping that’s enough.

Most people say it tastes like chicken, she explained with a laugh.

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Today’s entertainment schedule

What: Ethnic Expo 2012

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. today

Where: First and Washington streets, around Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St.

Parade: 11 a.m., starting at Eighth and Brown streets.

Fireworks: 8:15 p.m.

What else: Admission is free. A free shuttle from Mill Race Park will be provided by ColumBUS transit from noon to 3 p.m. Parking will not be available in The Republic’s private lot.

Noon to 12:30 p.m.: Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums, City Hall Steps, Scottish Bagpipes.

12:30 to 1 p.m.: Indianapolis Minyo Dancers, First Street Stage.

1 to 2 p.m.: Dem Raggae Bon, City Hall Plaza, Raggae Rock.

2 to 2:45 p.m.: North Star Capoeira Street, near First Street Stage, Brazilian Martial Arts.

2:45 to 3:15 p.m.: Capoeira workshop for kids, near First Street Stage, Brazilian Martial Arts workshop for kids.

2:45 to 3:45 p.m.: Griot, City Hall Plaza, African drums and storytelling.

3:45 to 4:15 p.m.: Irish Dancers of Indianapolis, First Street Stage, traditional dances from Ireland.

4:15 to 4:45 p.m.: Dance Street, City Hall Plaza, Brazilian and Latin dances.

4:45 to 5 p.m.: Hudsucker Posse, City Hall Plaza, Hoop Troupe.

5 to 6 p.m.: Craig & The Crawdads, First Street Stage, Boogie Woogie Cajun mix.

6 to 7:30 p.m.: Chicago Samba, City Hall Plaza, Samba.

“It’s very tender, and tasty,” she said. “I would equate the taste to frog legs. They consume a similar diet.”

Waiting in line at the Cobbs’ booth was Tim Nickson of Greenwood, who said he’d never had alligator. After popping in a couple of alligator bites, he smiled and concluded: “A little chewier than I anticipated, but I’m pretty pleased.”

Down the way, Columbus residents Cris Eubanks and Carmine Hudson looked over the food vendors, also seeking something different to try.

“I usually get Chinese,” Hudson said. “But I’m going to try something different this year.”

Eubanks makes sure to sample something different at each Expo, enjoying trying new foods and offering suggestions to others.

Behind the counter at the Trinidad Tobago booth was Roxanne Johnson-Bey, here for a second year.

Authentic coconut sweet bread has been the booth’s most popular menu item.

“I made six loaves last year, and they only lasted an hour,” Johnson-Bey said. “This year, I’ve made 16.”

If you’re looking for something spicy, check out the menu from host country Brazil.

Mike Spencer, of the Latin American Association, said the Feijoada, a sausage dish served with beans and rice, is traditionally one of Brazil’s most popular Expo menu items. There’s also the Churrasquinho, a sirloin kebab, and Brazilian hot dog, topped with tomato sauce and mash potatoes.

With fairly good weather forecast through today, Spencer said they’re looking forward to serving a large crowd.

“We’re here to promote an excellent culture and support the community,” he said. “All our proceeds go to Su Casa Columbus,” described as a cross-cultural bridge between the Hispanic and non-Hispanic people of Columbus.

Although the food from 34 vendors is a big draw for many Expo attendees, there’s much more to check out today, including an international bazaar featuring 12 vendors and several entertainment events taking place throughout the day.

At First and Washington streets Friday afternoon, Clang!, a percussion-based musical group, performed a drumming improvisation with the help of 6-year-old Lydia Andrews.

“I think she found her spot,” her mother, Jennifer Andrews, said. “We’ll be here all day.”

When the song ended, Lydia laid down her maracas and ran to her mother’s side, still giggling and smiling.

“You can come back later, if you want,” Clang! member Michael Beck said. “We’re gonna be here for a while.”

From Scottish bagpipes to reggae, today’s entertainment promises to be as eclectic as the countries represented. And don’t forget, fireworks are set to light up the sky at 8:15 p.m.

There is much anticipation about today’s parade, scheduled to start at 11 a.m. Having been rerouted due to construction on Fourth Street, the parade will begin at Eighth and Brown streets. Although she wouldn’t give any specifics about the host country’s float, Rocio Rodriguez, president of the Latin American Association of Columbus, did say everyone is excited about it.

“We’ve worked so hard for this,” she said. “We want people to know Brazil is a colorful, vibrant and very welcoming country.”

Parking for the Expo is available on Second Street near Bartholomew County Jail. Parking garages on Second and Fourth Streets are available, as well. ColumBUS will offer a shuttle running between Mill Race Park and the Expo from noon to 3 p.m. today.

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