Block parties are a fun summer tradition that can be enjoyed by both the kids and adults in your neighborhood. When the sweltering summer sun becomes almost-but-not-quite unbearable, gather the neighborhood in the streets to cool off and relax with simple games, frozen treats, barbecue, and good music.
The first step to a successful block party is a plan and a permit. The street, or block, must be blocked off from all motor vehicle traffic. Residents can apply for a permit to host their own block party, and often the city itself will organize parties throughout local neighborhoods. If you organize the block party yourself, call your local police or municipal services department to ask for a permit and roadblocks. These permits are usually low cost (around $25), but must be applied for well in advance. Now that the technical part is done, you can focus on the real reason for a block party--food!
Block party food is casual, fun, and flavorful. The best selections are calorie-heavy goodies that can be eaten with hands from napkins. The hors d'oeuvre on a silver platter certainly has its place, but a block party embraces the exact opposite methods of cooking and serving. Block party food is the type of food that isn't afraid to get dirty, and can handle several hours out in the sun. Below are some delicious ideas that are easy to make in bulk and will satisfy everyone from the ten year old twins next door to the retired couple down the street.
Be sure to have plenty of chips and dips on hand for a block party. We recommend standard corn tortilla chips (mega-size bags can be purchased at Costco or Sam's Club) and salted pretzels. For dips, purchase tubs of spicy red salsa and mild green salsa, queso that can be heated up on the stove or in the microwave, and summer favorite spinach and artichoke. Set up chips in huge bowls with napkins aplenty. To allow children to run around and play while snacking, provide lunch-style brown paper bags and Dixie cups for chip grab bags and salsa-holders to go.
Salads will be a crowd pleaser with the adults and provide kids with healthy fuel to frolic in the sun all day. Keep the salads simple--a classic Caesar, a macaroni salad, coleslaw, and lettuce greens with bottles of traditional salad dressing (Ranch, Balsamic, Italian, and Thousand Island) for a DIY option will do. In order to prevent fruits and vegetables from going bad in the hot summer sun, procure large plastic/Styrofoam coolers full of ice and place the salad serving bowls within the coolers. Have plenty of ice on hand to keep salads cool and refreshing.
The grab and go is essential for block party food. Nobody wants to spend time cutting up their meals, and in the heat of the day, nobody will appreciate an intricate arrangement. Bite sized morsels in large quantities are key. Our favorite easy-to-prepare (or even easier to purchase pre-made) snacks and finger foods include pigs in a blanket, stuffed mushroom caps, corn on the cob, soft pretzels, fried mozzarella sticks, and all varieties of potatoes--standard, sweet potato, and curly fries, mashed potatoes, and baked potatoes. Pigs in a blanket, mushroom caps, mozzarella sticks, and fries can be stacked on platters with accompanying sauces in single-serving portions arranged nearby. Disposable paper baskets make for ideal plates. A baked potato station is simple to set up and will provide something for everyone. Arrange potatoes on a tray with tins of salsa, sour cream, chives, cheese and bacon bits. Guests can then create their own potatoes to their preferences.
A barbecue pit is essential for the summer block party. Gather up a few handy men for grilling. In order to serve the most guests in the quickest and most efficient way possible, set up a whiteboard or chalkboard with the day's offerings ("Chicken Wings, Hot Dogs, Burgers, Veggie Burgers") and enlist a volunteer to collect orders every 30 minutes or hour. Write the grilling times clearly on the board ("12 noon," "1PM," "2PM" etc.) and write down all the orders that come in at that point. This way, even the grillers will have some time off to enjoy the party and no food will go to waste.
For minimum hassle and easy clean-up, serve all food on paper plates with disposable utensils. Try to pick up something recycled and/or recyclable. Food is important, but during the dog days of summer beverages are even more key. Rent or buy large coolers for drinks. Colorful napkins and cups will brighten up the summer day. Fill coolers with lemonade, iced tea, and iced coffee, and make sure to have a large quantity of cold bottled water on hand. For adults, set up a bar station with ice cold beer, chilled sangria, and frozen margaritas.
Set up food stations throughout your block, cul-de-sac, or in driveways and prepare for a great time, new friends, and laughs with your neighbors.