The 3rd Annual Eat Real Festival kicked off their food extravaganza this past weekend, and the eager and hungry masses descended upon Jack London Square in full force once again.
I’ve attended the event since its inception and have always come away with a full, happy belly and lots of food porn. This dazzling array of culinary delights came about through a “social venture business” whose “mission is to help revitalize regional food systems, build public awareness of and respect for the craft of making good food and to encourage the growth of American food entrepreneurs,” according to their website.
And Eat Real goes all out to foster this mission. This year they hosted 60 street food vendors, had 30 beers and wines on tap, an indoor marketplace with 30 craft food vendors, urban farmers leading Q & A sessions about homesteading, DIY workshops and demonstrations about baked goods, cheese and other foodstuffs, live music performances from local bands and DJs, butchery contests and more.
It’s easy to get overloaded with this packed schedule — even with 30 less food vendors than last year — so I decided to seek out vendors that were new to the festival or that I hadn’t checked out in previous years. I met up with BAB’s editor and photographer extraordinaire, Wendy Goodfriend, in downtown Oakland on Saturday morning.
After checking in my bicycle at the East Bay Bike Coalition‘s free bike valet, we were ready to get our grub on. One of the first vendors that caught my eye was Fatface that hails from Davis. I’ve tried their popsicles before, so I was planning on strolling right on by until I saw the big sign that advertised a “bacon and egg” popsicle. (I think this sign made most people stop in their tracks.) Then I read the description: “Ginger-bacon caramel and vanilla egg custard featuring eggs from Vega Farm and bacon from Blesdoe pork also made with vanilla bean, heavy cream, milk, ginger, filtered water and cane sugar.” After reading that list of ingredients and noticing that it was a “limited edition,” I couldn’t resist the call of the swine. I figured this would be a lovely breakfast (which I had skipped in anticipation of the afternoon of decadence) despite it being dessert. And it didn’t disappoint. The frozen egg custard was rich and creamy, with a luscious caramel center of bacony goodness.
Next on the list was the San Rafael-based food truck The Taco Guys. This was their second visit to Eat Real, and Jason Hoffman and Justin Close are two chefs with 20 years of culinary experience under their belts that decided to branch out on their own into the street food scene. My husband Shawn ordered their Maui Fish Taco (panko-battered and fried Pacific rock cod, savoy cabbage slaw, pico de gallo, Sriracha mayo and pickled onions), while I had to try the Burmese Lamb taco (Fallon Hills lamb, Thai cucumber salad, preserved Meyer lemon yogurt, sweet herbs). We bumped into the guys later on as we were wandering through the festival, and they asked us how we liked their food. I let them know that we agreed with their slogan that it was “ridiculously tasty.”
Onto the next course; the WOW Truck of San Jose was conveniently parked right near by. Despite being Eat Real first-timers, their popularity preceded them and they had a long line of patient folks queueing up for their fusion Filipino fare. And no wonder; I was willing to wait 15 minutes for a “WOW Silog Taco” with Niman Ranch cage-free egg and beef tapa, garlic fried rice and heirloom tomato on a flour tortilla. And I also had to try the “Silog Sushi Bite” with a fried quail egg on top of garlic fried rice, seaweed, hand-harvested Philippine sea salt (!) and Niman Ranch beef. Shawn went right for the “Turon Turon,” a fried saba banana fritter roll. The Sushi Bite was one of my favorites of the day. It had an incredible savory quality that was umami to the hilt. (I’ll stop now before I throw in any more pretentious adjectives, so I’ll end with the declaration that it was unbelievably delicious.)
We decided to give our stomachs a time-out before diving into the next course. After perusing the goods in the indoor craft food market, we headed over to the DIY Eat It & Oven area. Amy Remsen and Blake Joffe of Beauty’s Bagel Shop were just finishing up their bagel making workshop. This was the first appearance at Eat Real for the Oakland-based duo, and they’re currently looking for a space to set up a brick-and-mortar bagel shop. In the meantime, Amy and Blake have a wholesale business making Montreal-style bagels that are “hand-rolled, boiled in honey water and baked in a wood-fired oven” for local restaurants Saul’s Restaurant & Delicatessen in Berkeley and San Francisco’s pop-up deli Wise Sons Delicatessen. They also sell their bagels through a vendor at the Kensington Farmers’ Market. I was lucky enough to score a sample of one their freshly baked bagels from a workshop participant, which was still warm from the handmade on-site clay oven.
Moving onwards, we stopped by the latest venture of Eat Real founder Anya Fernald, who is also the CEO of Belcampo Meat Company. They made their debut at the Los Angeles Eat Real Festival in July and were making their first appearance as both a sponsor and vendor in Oakland this year. Based near Mt. Shasta, they’re a “multi-species organic start-up farm” that raises grass-fed and pastured animals — everything from “cattle to quail,” according to farmer Kylan Hoover. Kylan, who was helping to serve up their hot dogs with his co-worker Peter Sterling, used to run his own farm in Livermore. He now works with Belcampo in designing and managing the Siskiyou County farm, which has been in the research and development phase for the past 5 years. They plan to open up butcher shops throughout the state along with their own processing facility in Yreka in 2012. I decided to try a cone of their French fries, which were golden and crispy as a result of being fried in grass-fed beef tallow.
There were long, long lines for festival newbie Tikka Bytes, “savory Indian bites” from Milpitas, so alas, I had to pass them up. Lines were also snaking around the plaza for the seasoned festival darlings Chairman Bao Truck, Senor Sisig, and Tru Gourmet Dim Sum.
Wendy grabbed a bite to eat at Vesta Flatbread — she had been showing great discipline up until now — and ordered up their vegetarian dish with carrot hazelnut pate, labne, beet salad, and of course, their delicious flatbread made right in their truck.
We said hello to Steven Gdula of Gobba Gobba Hey, who had his new cookbook and cool Indian-inspired Ganesh t-shirt for sale along with his fantastic treats.
We also popped by to chat with Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats, who showed us his fresh-off-the-presses galley copy of his new cookbook that’s due out in November. He was slapping cheese on his burgers in rapid fire — “it’s like dealing cards” — while extolling the virtues of his immensely popular “bacon-studded hot dog on a stick.” Ryan serves up these crowd-pleasers at festivals because, “Who doesn’t love food on a stick?”
This was Iso Rabins’ (ForageSF) third time at Eat Real, but this year he decided to “go for it” and cook this year. Preparing food for “over a thousand people was taking it to the next level” (thus he’d had only 2 hours of sleep the night before), but he was thrilled with selling food made on the spot as opposed to pre-made goods in the craft market. Iso was serving up deep-fried smelt (which he personally deep-fried himself) because he “loved bait fish such as mackerel, sardines and anchovies.” A colleague told him that he was taking a risk with selling this unfamiliar fish, but he wanted to take a gamble and “introduce people to new food.” Iso flirted with the idea of calling them, “fries with eyes,” but thought it might be “off-putting” to the masses. (I think it would have worked like a charm, personally.)
We took another food break and listened to part of the Q & A session with Heidi Kooy of The Itty Bitty Farm in the City. Heidi and her husband have a contracting business, but they’re also urban homesteaders in San Francisco who raise chickens, bees and goats — one of which she was milking onstage as she answered questions from the audience. The other one was gamely allowing adoring fans to pet her.
After all of this gorging, did I have room to eat any more food? Apparently so. I’m a sucker for a good grilled cheese sandwich, so GBD (which stands for Golden Brown Delicious) was my last food order for the day. The Point Reyes Farmers’ Market was on the lookout for some prepared food vendors to augment their produce stands, and Osteria Stellina‘s chef-owner Christian Caiazzo thought grilled cheese sandwiches would be the perfect item. He knew there were plenty of great cheesemakers in Marin to source the main ingredient, such as Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company and Cowgirl Creamery. The Eat Real edition of GBD grilled cheese sandwiches were made with Estera Gold cheese from Valley Ford Cheese Company and generously brushed with butter from Strauss Family Creamery. Metropolis Bakery of Berkeley provided the delicious sourdough bread (normally Christian bakes his own bread, but he couldn’t handle the volume required for the festival). I ordered the “The Bill From Bo,” the grilled cheese made with brisket prepared with beef from BN Ranch, Bill Niman’s illustrious new company.
Wendy and I were ready to call it a day after over 5 hours of snacking and sampling (Shawn had already reached his crowd saturation point several hours earlier). On my way back to the bike valet, I realized I was a) terribly thirsty and b) passing by the opulent and vaudeville-esque booth belonging to Taylor’s Tonics of San Francisco and Santa Cruz. We stopped to talk with the nattily dressed Aaron Dolson, one of the co-founders, while his equally dapper partner Taylor Peck handed out samples and sold bottles of their Chai Cola. This was their first visit to Eat Real — and it had been quite successful, as they had sold out of everything but their cola. Aaron’s background included working with a raw juice co-op based in Eugene, Oregon, while Taylor was an experienced chai barista (read more about his eclectic background here) before they launched their successful enterprise. Aaron’s a firm believer in the health benefits of tea and they use only natural ingredients in their drinks. They keep the sugar content low (and no high-fructose corn syrup), add medicinal herbs such as nettle and ginger, and use pasteurization and citric acid to preserve the drinks.
The spicy, sparkling Chai Cola was a refreshing way to end the day, and I was ready to roll home — literally and figuratively. Tired and sated, we bid farewell to the event until next year, when we’ll be ready for another round of the East Bay Eat Real Festival.
Check out BAB’s Eat Real Fest slideshow to view more of the festivities.