It's Thanksgiving time again - and on Wednesday, like geese heading south for the winter, thousands of fans will flock to Huntley for the 26th annual Turkey Testicle Festival at the Parkside Pub, 11721 E. Main St.
Over the last 25 years this annual food-and-beer bash has grown from a quirky local attraction to a nationwide sensation, draw visitors and attention from across the country,
Even if you're not too enthused about the "delicacy du jour," you can join in the fun. Here, based on a thoroughly unscientific survey, are our top 10 ways to have a ball at this year's Turkey Testicle Festival.
10. Try the beef: If the signature dish sounds a little, how shall we say ... fowl? ... there are appetizing alternatives for the squeamish eater. Those less adventurous can dine on Rosati's pizza, Italian beef and Italian sausage sandwiches, along with the Parkside's large stock of cold beers and soft drinks.
Some folks, though, are simply nuts about that signature dish, says Parkside owner Mark McDonald. Each year, he orders 1200 pounds of the frozen turkey parts, breads and cooks them, and always sells out before the day is done.
The deep-fried delicacy is not for everyone, he admits, but most are willing to give it a try.
"I did, and I survived," says bartender Nicole Holmes. "They look like little popcorn shrimp, and they taste like chicken.
"It's just the look on somebody's face, the first time they taste one. They always expect the worst, but they really taste very good."
9. Dance to the music: It's the party, not the cuisine, that keeps festival fans coming back year after year, McDonald says. On Wednesday, live bands will play throughout the day and well into the night, in a huge outdoor tent where partygoers can dance, sing along, or just groove to the sound of groups like the "7 Dees," a '70s-style Motown show band.
Also on this year's schedule are area favorites Kevin Purcell and the Night Burners, Street Corner Blues, and the Prowlers. Two large, heated tents and ample portable toilets will keep customers comfortable indoors and out.
8. Ride the shuttle, see the town: Free shuttle buses will run throughout Huntley every half-hour, from 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., along local school bus routes.
"People can hop on the bus, come down and have some fun, then ride the bus back home," said McDonald. "You don't need to drive at all."
This year, there will be no shuttle stop at Sun City's Prairie Lodge, but for those who do drive, extra parking will be offered for a small charge at the First Congregational Church lot on East Main Street, run by church volunteers, and the old Catty factory lot on the corner of Mill and Church Sts., staffed by local Lions Club members.
7. "Turkey and Me" photo op: Get your picture taken with a giant turkey! No, not a real one, but the five-foot "mascot" banner by the Parkside's door, a favorite backdrop for visitors. Bring your own camera to record this special occasion for those you love. Just think what a great Christmas card that will make.
6. Try the "Turkey Drop": Try your luck and win some bucks at the "Turkey Drop" game, sponsored by the Sycamore Oddfellows service club. Just place your bet on a numbered square, then watch to see where the live turkey will drop his "marker." In each round, one lucky winner gets half of the pot, while the rest goes to the charity.
And no, McDonald assures us, no turkeys are harmed in the playing of this game.
"If anything, it's a sweet deal for them. When it's over, they go back to their farm, instead of somebody's dinner table," he explains. "There's not too many turkeys left by this time of year. Some years we had trouble finding them, so we had to get a duck or a chicken to fill in."
5. Start your holiday shopping: Need a special gift for that hard-to-please someone? Who wouldn't want a "Turkey Testicle" T-shirt, sweatshirt, or other logo item?
"We've got girls' sweatpants, headbands, bumper stickers, all kinds of stuff," says Holmes. "Everybody really likes them, especially young people. They make a nice gift."
4. Meet old friends and make new ones: Now in its 26th year, Huntley's Turkey Testicle Festival has become an unofficial reunion night for local residents, and out-of-town visitors, too.
"It really is like a homecoming," says Dan McDonald, a recent college grad and son of the Parkside's owner. "I went to Marian (Central High School) and I personally have 30 or 40 friends that are coming this year."
"People are home for Thanksgiving, they want to get together with their friends and catch up on old times. I have friends coming from ASU (Arizona State), Milwaukee, and the East Coast, and they're all texting me."
3. People watching: For Jason Lang of Marengo, it's the crowd, not the food, that's worth the trip.
"Watching people is very amusing," he says. "There's people that come just for the excitement of eating testicles. Watching them eat the (testicles) is more fun than eating them yourself. But I'll probably try it, too. How bad could it be?"
It's true, Mark McDonald confirms. People even fly in from other states to gobble down the turkey treats and join the party. This year, he's expecting a busload from Delavan, Wis.
"There's 2 or 3 bars up there that have rented a bus for the day. They'll come down here, party for awhile, then get back on the bus and go home to their own bars."
2. Help a good cause: Money spent at the Turkey Testicle Festival buys more than a good time, it also helps local charities, McDonald says.
Staging the festival costs around $30,000 and once that is paid, all profits are divided between the local service groups who help staff the event.
"In past years, we've given thousands of dollars to local organizations," he said. This year, the Huntley Jaycees, local Lions Clubs, and the Sycamore Oddfellows will help coordinate with sales, door admissions, parking, and crowd control.
1. Experience a real Huntley holiday tradition: The number one Reason not to miss the Turkey Testicle Festival is precisely why most people come - it has become a Huntley holiday tradition.
"We call it our 'Golden Anniversary' - 26 years on Nov. 26," Mark McDonald says. "It's something everyone should try, at least once."
Mark McDonald and Huntley both are in the spotlight for one day each year, when media call for interviews and send crews to cover the party.
"It's a good holiday feeling," he says, "People can dance, they can sing, they can see old friends and have a good time. That's what it's all about."
• The festival starts at 11 a.m. Wednesday. The Parkside Pub is at 11721 E. Main St. in Huntley. Call (847) 669-8496.