If you’re going to show up to a food-themed festival, you might as well fully commit to the aesthetic and eat as many berry-based meals as possible.
The Florida Strawberry Festival is known for many things. It has a mind-boggling number of kind and eager volunteers. It is home to some of the most unique exhibits in the entire state. It pulls headline entertainment you rarely see at any other fair throughout the country.
Yet above all else, it is famous for one small, but deliciously sweet berry. You’ll easily tell locals apart from tourists because those who call Plant City home are usually decked from head to toe in some form of berry apparel. Whether they shop at local gems like RAOK, Fringe, Tennessee Jane or Denise Young’s Boutique or have scoured the internet for one-of-a-kind finds, they always sport their red, green and white outfits during the 11-day event.
Some of the most enjoyable moments at the Florida Strawberry Festival are when you find a shady spot with your friends or family and dig into strawberry-themed food you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
We would be remiss to start this guide with anything other than strawberry shortcake. There are only three places on the festival grounds where you’ll get a hefty bowl of cake or biscuit, fresh strawberries and whipped cream. The East Hillsborough Historical Society has its cake-based dessert in Pioneer Village. St. Clement Catholic Church has its cake and biscuit operation set up in the middle of the Parke Exhibit Building and Transforming Life Church is selling cake-based shortcakes inside the Smithfield Strawberry Tent.
The line tends to get quite long at the Plant City Lions Club booth in the Arthur Boring Building, and one of the club’s many highly sought-after items is its strawberry fritter. They’re simple, delicious and keep people coming back year after year.
If you want to taste the epitome of a Plant City meal, head to the east of the Stadium Exhibit Hall under the shadow of the grandstands and stop at Johnson’s Barbeque. The restaurant is a staple in the community and at the festival nothing quite hits the spot like its strawberry brisket tacos.
Perfectly smoked brisket is nestled between a soft taco and then piled high with chopped cilantro, onions, strawberries, shredded cheese and garnished with a sweet barbeque drizzle. It’s the perfect “non-fair food” and still gives you strong Plant City vibes.
If Kettle Korn is your jam, walk over to the north entrance of the Parke Exhibit Building and East side of Midway and stop at Olde Tyme Kettle Korn for a sweet, salty favorite: Strawberry Kettle Korn. The bags are quite large and will act as a great snack as you wander through the vendors or across the midway looking at games and rides.
From here, however, things get a little, well… juicy. You can get strawberry milkshakes from five different vendors — including a chocolate strawberry shortcake milkshake in a cup rolled in Fruity Pebbles and adorned with a variety of items including a strawberry lollipop at Polar Bear Ice Cream at Edwards Street and East Independent.
Chocolate-dipped strawberries are always at the Chocolate Strawberry Express in the middle of the Parke Exhibit Building as well as at Mavric’s Chocolate Barn at the south end of the Smithfield Strawberry Tent.
More adventurous eaters looking for unique culinary thrills have plenty of options to choose from, as well. The strawberry sandwich, a hamburger with strawberry mayonnaise, strawberry relish and normal hamburger toppings squished between two sweet strawberry doughnuts, can be picked up at Carousel Hamburgers on the far northeast corner of the festival.
Strawberry “pizza,” a dessert pizza with a graham cracker crust, cream cheese, strawberry glaze sauce and sliced strawberries as “pepperoni,” can be picked up at Brandon Farms, north of the Life Storage Carriage House.
One of the hits that always draws a massive line is, of course, The Sweetheart at Peachey’s Baking Co., formerly known as The Amish Baking Company. This sweet treat is found at West Independent, New York Yankees Kiddie Korral (East Independent). Basically, they take the renowned Amish doughnut, smother it in hot fudge and then top it with whipped cream and Plant City strawberries. It’s so sweet and so heavy you might consider sharing with a friend. To be fair, though, most don’t and wave their empty carton in the air with pride as they complete the massive undertaking.
Of course, if you’re trying to stay healthy and turn away from the many sweet and savory temptations around the festival, there’s always the freshest option: to walk away with your own freshly picked flat of berries.
Wish Farms has a booth located on the Northeast corner of the Parke Exhibit Building just outside of Gate 1 and the Amscot Main Ticket Gate. Every morning, piles of massive flats filled to the brim with fresh berries are meticulously arranged at the booth. They pretty much always sell out, so pick up a flat in the morning and nibble on the berries all day long or swing by on your way to your gate and you can enjoy the sweet fruit for the rest of the week.
The building’s namesake, Parkesdale Farms, has its massive booth on the south side of the Parke Exhibit Building just inside of Gate 16.
You can’t miss the massive booth, which wraps around a corner in the building and fully commits to the festival’s theme by decorating to the nines. It also is filled to the brim with freshly picked strawberries, strawberry jams and bags of strawberry cookies — which, incidentally, acts as its own food group among local Plant Citians who keep bags on their kitchen counters year-round.