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Tailgate Taste Fest means food and football in Curtis Hixon park

Football games without tailgating are like ... football games without footballs. Half the fun comes from the eating and drinking before kickoff and after the final whistle.

To celebrate the start of the 2014 college and pro football seasons, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission will put on its first Tampa Bay’s Tailgate Taste Fest on Saturday at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa.

Restaurants scheduled to serve at the event include Shula’s Steak House, Copperfish Seafood & Oyster Bar, Anise Global Gastrobar, Ducky’s, Yard of Ale, Champions and Irish 31. Those who buy VIP tickets will be served by Bern’s Steak House, Mise en Place and Firestick Grill.

Cuban sandwiches, of course, will be on the event’s menu — this is Tampa, after all — along with chicken, ribs, sliders and side dishes. The fest also will offer family-friendly games and live entertainment as well as the showing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers preseason game against the Buffalo Bills on a 40-foot-tall screen.

Rob Higgins, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission’s executive director, said he hopes the fest becomes an annual event. The idea came from the commission’s Event Development Institute, an incubator that partners with local companies to brainstorm ideas for tapping into the passion of local sports fans.

“The fest gives a natural progression to the fall sports season and caters to the fans who might be foodies,” Higgins said.

The event starts at 11 a.m. and ends at 8 p.m. Admission prices start at $20, which includes five food samples from vendors. Additional sample wristbands can be purchased online or at the fest for $15.

For information on tickets, including VIP packages, as well as vendor updates, scheduled entertainment and special guests, visit Tail gateTasteFest.com.

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