By Andy Tarnoff & Andrew Wagner   Published Jun 06, 2008 at 5:22 AM

Ask any Milwaukeean about his or her favorite festival, and you'll always get an answer. Same goes for favorite festival food. For Milwaukeeans, the food is as much a part of the experience as the music or the midway.

Whether it's flaming cheese, volcano chicken, mozzarella sticks or fried eggplant, these festival staples are what make fests fly.

For Nick Anton, who owns La Perla, 734 S. 5th St., having a presence at Summerfest is like earning a seal of approval.

"You've done something right if you were asked to be there, as we were," says Anton, whose restaurant has been on the grounds for eight years.

Mader's, 1037 N. Old World 3rd St., serves food at Summerfest, at German Fest, RiverSplash and other major festivals around town.

"We have a complete staff that works our festivals because we are at so many different events, including Summerfest," says manager Jenny Smith. "All of our recipes are handed down, so they're still in the family, and the family is still involved in the business. We also have a lot of staff and prepare a lot of things here at the restaurant, and we also use the commissary at the Midwest Airlines Center."

Considering that the kitchen La Perla's staff uses at Summerfest wasn't designed for his Mexican restaurant, Anton has adapted his menu for the Big Gig. He says the quality remains the same, just not the selection.

"It's a scaled-down menu," he says. "More finger food than at the restaurant."

For Steve Sazama, owner of Saz's State House, 5539 W. State St., the decision to bring his famous mozzarella sticks to Summerfest came from a simple idea:

"We didn't know what we were going to serve at Summerfest, and I had an idea that you needed something you could eat with your fingers, because you'd have a beer in one hand and eat it with your other hand," says Sazama.

"I thought if we could do a pan-fried mozzarella marinara that you could eat with your fingers, we would have a winner. One night, my chef went out drinking with a Chinese chef and they're talking about it and the Chinese chef said, 'Cheese egg roll.' That's how it started."

Smith says the employees that Mader's brings to festivals are a combination of regular workers and summer temps.

"A lot of our employees help out at our events, but we bring on a full staff to work our summer festivals. We need to keep a lot of people here because we're still pretty busy. We get a lot of younger kids working for the summer, so we're active with the community," says Smith.

Anton says that many of the employees he brings on for Summerfest apply directly at his booth, and it doesn't take away from his staff at the restaurant. The only challenge is that fewer people are eating Downtown -- because they're on the grounds for 11 days.

"Fortunately, we're close enough to the Summerfest grounds that it doesn't hurt us too badly."

And being at the festival brings new customers to La Perla after the fest is over, says Anton.

"That's one of the main reasons we do it," says Anton.

Says Smith, "Summerfest is great for our business. The hotels do a lot of advertising and marketing for us. We get a lot of out-of-town customers who stop in because they've heard of us from other people. Besides the fact that we have great food, they want to come here because it's very historic; they want to eat where JFK ate at or at the Bob Hope table.

"People that come to Milwaukee know about us so when they come for Summerfest, they stop for dinner, too."