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Get your sweet and savory fix at Long Grove Chocolate Fest

May 15th, 2015

by Lilli Kuzma; reprinted with permission from Chicago Tribune Media Group

For some people, seeing the word chocolate is enough to inspire enthusiastic participation. But the Long Grove Chocolate Festival offers more than chocolate candy — there's also chocolate beer, chocolate-dipped strawberries, hamburgers with chocolate BBQ sauce, and an endless list of other chocolate-infused edibles.

The 2015 festival will be held May 15-17 in historic downtown Long Grove, and will host both national acts and local talent on multiple music stages, along with a Taste of Long Grove Booth showcasing the best of Long Grove's eateries, and an expanded Kid Zone area with organized games and rides, face painting, a roaming balloon artists and a magician. This year the fest also has expanded hours, taking place 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Headlining bands include American English, Sixteen Candles, The Hot Sauce Committee, Cowboy Jukebox, Martini Lunch, Hudson McCoy, The Fortunate Sons, Run Forrest Run, and the Kevin Presbey Trio.

Master guitarist Merv Collins is among the locally-based musicians performing at the festival. Collins has released three albums and performs widely in the area, from fine dining rooms to cafes and coffeehouses, private parties and festivals.

Collins has been a regular at the Long Grove Chocolate Fest, and will entertain this year at the Gazebo Stage.

"It's like my eighth or ninth year, and it's always an honor to be asked to play," said Collins. "I'll play originals, also Beatles, show tunes, Chet Atkins, Tommy Emmanuel, a real mix."

"If you walk around the festival and you don't like what's playing in one area, take a walk and you'll find something new," Collins said. "It's a lot of fun. And it's a different experience as a performer from playing a house concert or gig, where there's a captive audience and the people all came to hear you play. At a festival, the audience comes and goes, and refreshes itself every 15 or 20 minutes. As someone gets up to go, someone else will grab their seat to listen. I may have five or six different audiences in an hour."

Collins has played the bigger stage, but sees an advantage to playing the smaller Gazebo Stage this year.

"At the Gazebo, sometimes people want to chit-chat a little, and I can actually stop and have a short conversation with them, can wave at 'em as they're leaving. You get much more audience interaction at a stage like this."

Ethel Berger, who recently became the owner of the Beans & Leaves cafe, is excited about being a vendor at her first Chocolate Fest.

"I'm looking forward to it, and I think the festival will increase business at the cafe," she said. "I'll be sharing a booth with The Long Grove Popcorn Shoppe, which will have popcorn and punch, and I'll have frozen hot chocolate and special chocolate-themed pastries"

But what of some of the more exotic chocolate offerings, like The Village Tavern's hamburger with chocolate BBQ sauce?

"It's delicious!" said owner Mary Ann Ullrich. "It's something we do special every year for the theme of the festival. We have created a chocolate BBQ sauce, and add bacon, which is a great combination. Cheese can also be added, and there's a chicken sandwich available with the sauce, too. It's so popular that our regulars will ask for it after the festival, so it we'll offer it until about the end of May."