A new race slated to make its debut at Hampdenfest gives new meaning to the phrase "hurry up and wait."
That's exactly what waiters at area restaurants will be doing in the Baltimore Inter-Restaurant Battle, as they compete for the grand prize, a $100 Visa gift card.
Waiters from Cafe Hon, The Food Market, Alchemy, Corner BYOB and other restaurants will run an obstacle course on the north side of Elm Avenue at West 36th Street every half hour between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m, during the fall festival Sept 8.
Obstacles include running while carrying drinks on a tray, completing picture puzzles along the way and identifying similar ingredients in a blind taste test, said Cecile Fenix, owner of Corner BYO and organizer of the waiter races.
The waiter with the fastest time wins the gift certificate and runners-up win smaller certificates to area businesses, Fenix said.
The contest is open to kitchen employees and other restaurant staff as well, but the emphasis will be on "dining room challenges," with extra points for showmanship, she said. Contestants don't have to wear uniforms, but Fenix predicts, "Some people will come in battle gear and put on their game faces."
But the main goal is to publicize the restaurants.
"We're trying to get everybody to come and support their favorite restaurants and cheer them on," Fenix said. "We think it's going to be a really fun event."
Speaking of fun events, the popular toilet races will be back. Past toilet races, not unlike soap box derbies, have featured a variety of toilet-themed contraptions, from ornate thrones to an outhouse on wheels. Last year's winner was Jonathan Rashidi, of Millersville, a hairy man wearing a diaper, whose slight racer outpaced a Hummer-esque "Golden Throne 2.0," built and ridden by George Peters Jr., of Hampden.
Also back this year is the Great Baltimore Mac Off, in which people and restaurants can bring pans of macaroni and cheese — some of them esoteric — and the public gets to sample them for a $10 tasting ticket that comes with a ballot. Participating restaurants this year include The Green Turtle and Mother's of Federal Hill.
Last year's debut cookoff was so popular, "Our line was 250 people deep," said Genny Dill, a co-organizer of Hampdenfest. The money raised will benefit a local food pantry operated by area churches, and the winner gets his or her picture in City Paper, Dill said.
Meanwhile, Cafe Hon is hosting a bread pudding-eating contest sponsored by radio station Jack 102.7 to see who can wolf down a pound of pudding in the least amount of time, Dill said.
And if bread pudding or mac and cheese don't excite you, there are 10 food vendors coming, as well as three small, local brewers — including the new Union Craft Brewing in Woodberry.
"That's important to me," said co-organizer Charlotte Murray. "Hampden has been working really hard not to take in large, corporate sponsors. We could have made a lot of money."
Also, 98 crafts vendors will be on hand, Murray said.
Hampdenfest, a more neighborhood-focused counterpart to summer's regionally popular HonFest, is also well known as a showcase for area bands, and this year's festival will be no exception, with more than 30 bands on three music stages, plus a tent for deejays.
WHAM, a parents' group for Hampden Elementary/Middle School, will run a Kids Zone. There will also be an expanded midway with a Midway Stage and carnival acts such as Moloch's Midway and the Cabinet of Infernal Mysteries, a Hampden-based act that was at Hampdenfest last year, too.
Also performing will be Improv Temple, a troupe that often performs at the bar an restaurant Frazier's on The Avenue, Murray said.
And that's not to mention hula hoopers, belly dancers, jugglers and a glass-walker who are slated to perform, like Murray said.
But don't expect any rides.
"It's not going to be the carnival at the state fair," Murray said.