Saturday, June 25, 2011

Happy First Birthday, Off the Grid!

San Francisco street food has seen an explosive year so far, and a lot of this growth is due in part to Off the Grid, a roaming collection of food trucks that founder Matt Cohen patterned after Asian night markets. On Friday evening, Off the Grid celebrated its one year anniversary by hosting an extravaganza at the Fort Mason Center, the usual Friday night location.

Even on a normal Friday night the OtG event at Fort Mason Center is the biggest and the most crowded of the roaming markets. While the bigger and more popular food trucks go to multiple OtG events during the week, Friday night hosts a slew of the smaller vendors that can only be found on this one night. It's a great opportunity to sample dishes from some of the lesser known restauranteurs and eat some different cuisines.

I don't usually attend the Fort Mason OtG because, truth be told, it's way too cold and way too crowded for my liking. I prefer the much more intimate setting of Haight Street or a sunny lunch at Civic Center. But every few weeks or for special events I will venture out to what must the windiest place in all of San Francisco to get my hands on some new treats. I was really looking forward to tonight, especially because of the birthday celebration. In addition to the normal entertainment, IZ IT FreshGrill also sponsored Yau Kung Moon to come and perform a traditional Chinese Lion Dance. Fun times!

It was another kick-ass day of eating for me as we had a going away lunch for a co-worker at La Mar, so I was already quite satiated with yummy food.  I had wanted to get to Fort Mason as soon as they started, but I just couldn't get out of the office that early seeing that I did just have a two-hour lunch. Instead, I arrived closer to 6:00, and even though the event was barely one hour in, the crowds were already insane. Before I even got into the event I was stopped by some guys dressed as Ninjas from Three Ninjas Takeout, touting their Taiwanese style popcorn chicken with hopes of raising capital to start their mobile food business. I'm all for supporting the little guy, so I gave it a try before making my way over to the carts. Knowing that my hubby and son were close, I queued up in the Chairman Bao line to get the little one his "pork, pork, belly, belly, belly," and the line was literally 50 people long. Yup, I counted. It was a long wait, but of course it was worth it.

Once the pork belly was procured I was free to grab food for myself and take in the atmosphere of the event. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, and even though the lines were long it looked like most people were acting pretty chill. I was able to check out three carts tonight: IZ IT, Musubi Kings and Pica Pica. I was stuffed by the time the lions came on, but I had to move to go watch the show. Wow, those dancers are amazing! The sheer strength and stamina they have to perform like that just astounds me! I could have watched them for hours. The costumes, the music, the toying with the crowds—they were just great. We ate some Strawberry Kettle Corn from Peter's Kettle Corn while we watched, and by the time they were done the crowd and cart queues had gotten even bigger. I am glad we got our food early!

I am really happy that Off the Grid has gained so much popularity in the past year because it's become such a great platform for a lot of these vendors and given me the opportunity to loosen both my belt and my wallet. I think that our city's street food scene would still be thriving, but OtG makes and it easier and more accessible to the masses who might not always want to stalk Twitter to find out where their favorite cart is located. Plus, for the small vendors it's some great exposure. It's a win-win situation for both, and I am fortunate that tonight I got to be part of it. Happy birthday, Off the Grid! I'm looking forward to year number two.

Off the Grid (@sfcarts)
IZ IT FreshGrill (@IZITfreshgrill)

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