Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tasting and Waiting at Eat Real Festival

Labor Day has come and gone, and school is now in session. Time to pack away the swimsuits and cover up the BBQ grill. Despite our recent heat wave summer will soon be a memory, but this past weekend there was time for one last big festival. So we decided to head across the bay to Jack London Square in Oakland to the Eat Real Festival, an event celebrating street food, sustainability and crafting. The vendors and stages spanned almost the entire length of the square and featured everything from butchering demonstrations to a kids' cook-off. Scattered throughout the three day weekend was also a host of DIY food making activities and enough food to feed all of Oakland and beyond.

Beef Tallow Fries from Belcampo Meat Co.
I had high hopes for crowd control and wait times considering the expanse of Jack London square. I heeded the advice of a colleague who attended the festival last year and went in the mid-afternoon rather than right at noon, erroneously thinking that the crowds might have thinned out by then. No such luck! From the moment we stepped off of the elevator we were hit with a swarm of people and lines that make the San Francisco Street Food Festival look sparse. It was a bit overwhelming to be faced with such long wait times on an empty stomach, and I couldn't even properly decide what to order. Rather than being able to browse and select food based on its appeal, I and others found ourselves queuing up in the shortest or closest line, just to get something. It was utter madness!

As soon as I saw IZ IT FreshGrill's new jade green Hawaiianese truck my mouth cried out for fried chicken. Surprisingly, the queue wasn't that long, with maybe only 10 people in front of me. I eagerly joined in only to understand after I ordered why they had such short line. I ordered quickly, but my Icon was going to take 20 minutes to come out. The girl working the window told me to just leave and come back. This was the start of our afternoon—waiting, waiting and more waiting, with not so much eating thrown in!

Grilling cheeses at forageSF
While I was waiting for my Icon to cook I strolled on over to see what was in the immediate area, ending up in front of a red and white truck from Belcampo Meat Co. offering Beef Tallow Fries. French fries cooked in rendered beef fat? Sign me up for that! I placed my order, gave my ticket to hubby and son, and asked them to wait while I went back to check on my chicken. Eventually I was able to coordinate it all, and I sat down to my chicken and fries while my son noshed on some lemon yogurt from Brown Cow and hubby went to find something for himself.

The Icon speaks for itself, and I have been a fan ever since I first had them. They were no different today, but they hit the spot and helped quench the hunger pains. The Beef Tallow Fries were quite tasty and a good accompaniment. They were served in a paper cone like Belgian frites, sliced to a medium thickness and fried golden brown. I think that the beef fat helped them retain their crispy exterior, and even doused in ketchup they managed to not get mushy. They had a fresh, hearty flavor, pairing well with the saltiness of my fried chicken.

Jardiniere Pickles and Grilled Cheese from forageSF
When we finished our opening snack we made a quick pit stop at Mrs. Meyers to wash our hands and pick up some samples of their soap. Our next stop was at forageSF where we tried the Wild Mushroom Grilled Cheese sandwich and plate of Jardiniere Pickles. The grilled cheese, with its porcini mushrooms and pickled onions on Acme sour batard bread was one of the most satisfying bites that Brian had that day. The pickled onions gave a nice contrast to the earthiness of the porcinis and saltiness of the cheese. As a big fan of anything pickled, I munched on the veggie sampler, which consisted of pickled beets, radishes, beans and cauliflower. The flavor was strong and vinegary, and since they were fridge pickles they retained all the freshness of  summer.

From this point on we were met with long line after long line and sell-outs all over the place. I even had the ultimate misfortune while waiting at Vesta Flatbread of being told that the lady in front of me got the last order. And their menu looked so tasty, too! From then on we walked back and forth, trying not only to find our next snack, but also to find a soda. The festival didn't allow vendors to sell beverages unless they were a beverage only vendor, which made it very frustrating as I didn't want alcohol from the designated stands and the only soda vendor, Taylor's Tonics, sold out early on. We grabbed a melon juice from Estrellita's Snacks, which was delicious, but sometimes you just want a soda.
Roast Beef from Ebbett's Good to Go

Our last stop brought us to Ebbett's Good To Go, where by some stroke of luck they still had their Roast Beef Sandwich, even though they were sold out of their famous Cuban. I love roast beef, so I eagerly scooped up one and sat down on the grass to devour it. My sandwich featured Niman Ranch roast beef, baby arugula, bleu cheese and balsamic red onions on a compact Acme rustic roll. I loved the flavor combination, and the greens and onions added a nice light flavor against the meatiness of the beef. I really enjoyed how all of the flavors came together, and it wasn't just a typical roast beef sandwich.

Overall while I was pleased with the food that I ate, I left the festival largely disappointed that I wasn't able to try more and actually had to go out to a full dinner. I think that the haphazard lines added to the poor crowd management, which then added to the frustration level. Still, I was glad that I finally got to sample the Roast Beef from Ebbett's and that I was introduced to Belcampo. Next year, I am going to bring my own soda!

Eat Real Festival (@eatrealfest)
IZ IT FreshGrill (@izitfreshgrill)
Belcampo Meat Co. (@belcampomeat)
forageSF (@foragesf)
Estrellita's Snacks
Ebbett's Good To Go (@ebbettsgoodtogo)

All sold out of Taylor's Tonics!

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