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Great America Celebrates the South

New Orleans has distinctive flair and its French Quarter is the heart of its entertainment and excitement. California’s Great America’s Orleans Place attempts to bring a little southern charm to the Bay Area, but over the years, the section of the park has fallen a little flat. Park Operations has long seen the potential of the area and, as part of its current mission to reignite interest as well as attract visitors to the family-friendly theme park, has developed a two-weekend event to bring more New Orleans flavor to Santa Clara.

Now in its second year, Great America’s Taste of Orleans combines music, midway entertainment and regional food and drink to create more of a New Orleans-style atmosphere for the park’s Orleans Place. Chalk artists line the main walkway, a stilt walker makes their way through the crowd and jazz and Cajun music plays throughout the event as guests dine on New Orleans fare including hush puppy shrimp skewers with Cajun dipping sauce, crawfish etouffée, chicken and Andouille sausage gumbo over rice and other delights including beignets and praline bread pudding.

Executive Chef Erick Ponce wanted to choose authentic dishes and change them slightly to give them a theme park spin, like taking blackened catfish and turning it into a slider with tangy slaw.

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“It’s all about the flavor,” he said. “I want to transport you to Louisiana.”

Another new dish for this year’s Taste of Orleans is frog legs with creole aioli, something many guests were trying for the first time.

April Arnold, a Fremont resident who attended with her husband and two daughters, ages 6 and 10, was one guest who had never eaten frog legs before. She described it as tasting like “fishy chicken” and said the dish was better than she expected.

Arnold also attended last year’s event and was mostly interested in not only trying the new foods, but seeing how it progressed from year to year.

“It was a really fun atmosphere and I liked the decorations,” she said. “I’m glad they took this area of the park and upscaled it a bit more … Overall, [last year] was a really fun experience with the alcohol tastings and the food, and you can definitely tell from then until now that they’ve upped their game. It was something brand new they were trying and they had room to grow and definitely grew on it.”

Great America’s Public Relations Manager Roger Ross agreed, saying the park received great guest feedback last year and the event “brought that section of the park to life with the atmosphere.”

Ross said food is a huge part visiting Great America and a major part of the park’s future plans. “We want food to become a big part of the experience,” he said. “We’re really changing where it used to be … we want your food experience to be part of what you go home and talk about afterwards. You may come for the rides but what your memory is when you come away will have a lot to do with the atmosphere and entertainment and the food.”

Taste of Orleans continues this weekend, July 29 and 30. For more information, visit www.cagreatamerica.com.

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