By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Jul 02, 2019 at 1:01 PM Photography: Lori Fredrich

Slurp up these festival stories packed with vitamins, minerals and everything you need to spike your summer fun. The Summer Festivals Guide is brought to you by Punch Bowl Social. Come on in – it's time we all win at adulting.

I don’t know anyone who heads off to Summerfest with the express mission of tracking down a delicious, healthful salad. I certainly don’t.

But I know a great many people who would like to enjoy their festival experience and eat moderately healthful things at the same time. Some of them are vegetarian or vegan. Some are omnivores who would prefer to spend their caloric intake on beer or wine. Either way, I feel your pain.

As a result, I decided to challenge myself to pursue a slightly more healthful Summerfest regimen. Over the course of two or three days tromping the grounds, I ate entirely meatless fare. Some of it was vegetarian. Some was vegan. A few things were also gluten-free. Most were pretty delicious.

1. Fresh fruits & vegetables

Price: $1-5
Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free
Location: Catalano’s Produce (Miller Lite Oasis, Water Street Brewery)

Ice cold grapes make a great snack, especially on a hot day. And you can find those, along with whole fruit (peaches, plums, etc.) and a variety of fruit salads and cut veggies (with optional dill dip). If you’d like to splurge, there are also caramel coated Granny Smith apples for just $3.

2. Sweet plantains

Price: $5
Vegetarian
Location: BelAir Cantina (Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, Northwestern Mutual Children’s Theater & Playzone)

These were among the most interesting snacks  I found while circling the grounds. If you’re looking for a sweet, salty nosh, these plantains are worth a try. The ripe, sweet plantains are seasoned and lightly fried before being topped with crema and a sprinkling of salty cotija cheese. They’d be a nice pairing for the black bean and corn tacos ($8 for two) if you’re looking for a full meal.

3. Eggplant fries

Price: $5 (Pizza Man) or $7.75 (Venice Club)
Vegan,  vegetarian
Locations: Pizza Man (American Family Amphitheater Forecourt), Venice Club (Harley-Davidson Roadhouse)

While not particularly healthful, I find it difficult to pass on a  serving of eggplant fries. In fact, this year I tried both options on the first day of the Fest (because how could I resist?) I found them comparable in terms of quality, but somewhat different in their flavor profiles. You can read my thoughts here.

4. Guacamole with chips

Price: $8.50
Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free
Location: Botanas (Ethnic Village)

The portion size on this item is relatively large, so it makes a good snack to share. The guacamole was ultra mild and creamy (I would have preferred the flavor to be kicked up a notch; in fact, next time I'd definitely get some salsa to stir in); but it would be a great option for kids or folks who prefer their guacamole to be avocado-forward without a lot of added flavorings.

5. Burrata Caprese

Price: $9
Vegetarian
Location: Divino (Ethnic Village)

You might not come to Summerfest to eat salad; but if you’re going to, this would be the one. Spring greens are dressed simply with balsamic vinegar and topped with tomato slices. a ball of creamy burrata cheese and a breadstick. Mangia!

6. Sriracha Cauliflower Bites

Price: $6.50
Vegetarian
Location: Saz's Express (Miller Lite Oasis location only)

Again, these are more of a splurge item. But deep-fried cauliflower is probably a better choice than fried cheese curds, so there's that. These little guys are tender and crisp with a nice bite from the Sriracha-infused breading. They're served up with a tasty citrus-forward dipping sauce complements the spice.

One word of caution: Don't plan on buying this one to share. The portion was relatively small for the price.

7. Roasted mushroom flatbread

Price: $9
Vegetarian
Location: Saz’s Express (Ethnic Village)

This flatbread comes in a generous portion, so it's easily shareable. As for flavor, it's a little bit sweet (thanks to a thin layer of fig jam on the crust) a little bit salty (thanks, cheese!) and chock full of mushroomy earthiness. This was among my favorites of the dishes I tried. It also felt like real food, a nice departure from fried festival fare.

8. Impossible Burger

Price: $10, served with tater tots
Vegetarian or vegan
Location: Ward’s (Ethnic Village)

I tried all three veggie burgers on the grounds (read more on that here), and Ward’s came out on top. So if you’re splurging on a non-meat burger -- and you like the flavor and texture of the Impossible Burger -- this is a great pick. 

The flavors were nicely balanced. There were elements of freshness, a nice umami from the cheese and a burst of acid (and texture) from the pickles. We didn't even bother adding condiments like ketchup or mustard. You just didn't need them.

Even more impressive is that Ward's offers two versions of the burger. I ordered the vegetarian version, which comes with cheese and a brioche bun. The vegan version sports a Kaiser roll (sans the butter, milk and egg wash of brioche) and no cheese.

9. Chocolate covered strawberries

Price: $3 each or four for $11
Vegetarian, gluten-free
Location: Ultimate Confections (Water Street Brewery)

On the sweeter side, you can’t go wrong with chocolate covered strawberries. If I could change one thing about them, they’d be covered in dark chocolate. As-is, they’re pretty sweet, so they definitely feel like an indulgence.

10. Pete’s Pops

Price: $5
Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free
Location: BelAir Cantina (Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, Northwestern Mutual Children’s Theater & Playzone)

These pops are cool, refreshing and not too terribly sweet. I opted for the salted watermelon, which has a pleasant salinity and the full flavor of watermelon, including a hint of the rind. Other flavors include raspberry lime or Georgia peach.

Additional options 

Here are some items I noted, but didn't have the chance to try:

  • Asparagus Spears Salad (without turkey, Veg) at Mader’s (Ethnic Village)
  • Beyond Burger Combo (V, VG) at AJ Bombers (Northwestern Mutual Children’s Theater & Playzone)
  • Cheese Pizza (Veg) at Pizza Man (Am Fam Forecourt)
  • Eggplant Fries (Veg) at Pizza Man (Am Fam Forecourt) or Venice Club (Harley Roadhouse)
  • Esquites (V, GF) at BelAir Cantina (Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, Northwestern Mutual Children’s Theater & Playzone)
  • Falafel Platter (V, VG) at Greek Village (Ethnic Village, Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard)
  • Island Noodles or Island Slaw (V, VG) at Island Noodles (U.S. Cellular)
  • Jumbo pretzel (V) at Mader’s (Ethnic Village)
  • Spinach & Ricotta filled Italian Rice Balls (V) at Divino (Ethnic Village)
  • Spinach Cheese Pie (V) at Greek Village (Ethnic Village, Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard)
  • Vegan Black Bean & Corn Taco (VG) at BelAir Cantina (Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, Northwestern Mutual Children’s Theater & Playzone)
  • Vegan or Veggie Burrito Bowl (V, VG, GF) at Botanas (Ethnic Village)
Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.