By Sean Barron
Ed Latkowski’s first visit to the Mahoning Valley proved to be positive in several ways, so he’s more than happy to prepare something for residents that he hopes will stick to their ribs.
“This is a beautiful town. The people are friendly,” said Latkowski, who traveled from Chicago to be part of the inaugural Mill Creek MetroParks Rib Burn Off, which kicked off Friday at the James L. Wick Recreation Area off McCollum Road on the West Side.
The fundraiser festival continues from noon to 10 p.m. today and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday in the recreational area. Admission is $5 after 3 p.m. — it is free before that time — and youngsters under 12 are admitted for free.
Proceeds will go toward an $840,000 state-of-the-art children’s play area under construction nearby.
The oval-shaped area will include several playgrounds, sand-volleyball courts, picnic areas, open space and a new terrace at Bresko Pavilion, all accessible by a lighted walkway.
The project’s first phase includes removing the current playground, making utility upgrades and adding curbing. A wet playground with a water-spray area is to be finished last.
A festival goal is to raise about $50,000 for the work, said April Stanislaw of Mill Creek MetroParks’ marketing and development department.
Latkowski owns Howling Coyote Barbecue Co., a restaurant he opened in 1989 in Chicago. The eatery is one of six taking part in the family-oriented festival that’s also featuring imported and domestic beer as well as plenty of music and children’s activities in a park atmosphere.
The other five traveling rib-cooking teams are Barry Dyngles Restaurant and Pub (formerly Armadillo’s) in Austintown; Texas Outlaw BBQ of Elizabethtown, Ky.; Pigfoot BBQ of West Salem, Ohio; Smokin’ Joe’s Hog Wild BBQ of Mansfield; and Mojo’s Rib Shack of Diamond, Ohio.
Among those enjoying ribs from Smokin’ Joe’s were sisters Liliana and Miranda Marinkovich of Fowler.
Liliana, 9, and Miranda, 11, were relaxing with their father, Marko Marinkovich, and complementing their sauce-covered ribs were coleslaw, potato salad and a cherry slushy drink.
“They love ribs,” Marko said.
In addition to their menus, the six eateries prominently displayed the numerous awards they have won in previous rib competitions around the country.
Among those proud of their track record is Cliff Mortimer, owner of Barry Dyngles and president of the National Barbecue Cookers Association, an organization that brings together suppliers, vendors and charities to plan, produce and assist with fundraising festivals.
All six festival participants are NBCA members, he noted.
Mortimer said he’s grateful to support and promote community events and fundraisers, such as the play area, which he predicted will enhance the aesthetics of the park and provide additional fun for children.
“Mill Creek Park is one of the nicest parks anywhere,” he added. “We want to give back to the park and raise money for it.”