Foodie preview: Sidestep winter's icy wrath at North Market's Fiery Foods Festival

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

If you'd like to thumb your runny nose at Old Man Winter by stepping out to heat up, the North Market is providing the perfect forum for that. Capping off a weeklong celebration of warm-you-from-the-inside-out spicy comestibles, this Saturday and Sunday will be North Market's Fiery Foods Festival.

The two-day event kicks off at 9 a.m. on Saturday with an amateur guacamole challenge sponsored by North Market stalwart, CaJohn's Flavor and Fire. This gives me a chance to tangentially give a shout out to CaJohn's, i.e. not only the Hot Sauce King of Columbus, but also of Creole and Cajun Country. See, late last year, John Hard (AKA CaJohn) went down into swampland and, beating local legends like Tabasco and Trappy's, came back with a share of the top prize in the super-prestigious Louisiana Hot Sauce Festival. CaJohn's winning sauce is an addictive and complex condiment with a garlicky kick, the perfect burn (a well-measured threat) and an acidic bite held in check by a whiff of sweetness. It's quaintly called Gwendolyn (after a CaJohn business partner), and I highly recommend picking up a bottle this weekend at the festival.

Transitioning back to the Fiery Foods Festival, while there, you'll also enjoy thematically correct specials and limited-offer deals from several vendors. For example, The Barrel & Bottle will be filling growlers with spicy-food-compatible brews (samples for $1) and Expressly Market Bakery & Bistro will hand you a free Spicy Lemon Cookie with the purchase of a large bowl of Red Hot Chili.

But wait, there's more! You can also expect entertainment galore from live bands, a strolling juggler, a photobooth and a professional chili cook-off with top chef entrants from the likes of Alana's, Heirloom Cafe, The Pearl and Da Levee.

And of course no self-respecting chili-head party would be complete without semi-insane eating contests. OK, wholly insane. For your vicarious pleasure, then, crews of fearless - or is it clueless? - "gastromasochists" will be testing their cast-iron stomachs and asbestos-lined mouths in challenges to overindulge in hyper-capsaicined things like spicy pizzas, hot wings and "peppered pulled pork." Viewer discretion advised.

North Market

59 Spruce St., Arena District