Eat Real Festival
Sandwiched between a wedding rehearsal dinner and my friend's wedding day, I was fortunate enough to have been able to attend the Eat Real Festival held in Oakland's seaside Jack London Square. The Eat Real Festival, founded in 2008, is a celebration of Oakland "street food." It's a festival where the people can interact directly with the farmers, chefs and producers of the food we eat and drink.
Upon arriving, my wife and I noticed a myriad of food vendors wherever we looked. Many of the vendors had rolled up in their mobile kitchens most of us recognize as the catering trucks that service many an industrial park. Some were of the big, boxy variety that were mostly white but functionally accented with quilted aluminum panels and translucent blue skylights.
Other vendors had more uniquely branded vehicles such as converted vans, camping trailers and modified trucks. The vast majority of the remaining vendors were set up beneath the now ubiquitous EZ-Up canopies.
Before my wife and I even got into one of the many lines that had formed for food, we ducked into the indoor farmers market to escape the midday sun. Unlike the scene on the outside, the vendors in the farmers market sold food in their preprocessed, uncooked form. There were fresh vegetables everywhere you looked, some artisanal cheeses and a confectioner. I was able to try raw milk for the first time and walked away a fan. I finally was able to pick up some Italian flat leaf parsley to replace the plant Sammy tore up some months back as well as curly parsley. We also bought endives from the sole U.S. producer of endives.
Of course the real reason Sammy and I attended the Eat Real Festival was to check out the Beer Shed. Dave Mclean is the brewmaster and owner of Magnolia, a small-batch artisanal brewery located in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. A long time supporter of the Slow Food Movement, he is one of the principal collaborators of the Eat Real Festival. In other words, the Beer Shed is his fault.
The Beer Shed is an ingenius bit of ingenuity and brewery know-how. In essense, the Beer Shed is a modified shipping container that has been retrofitted with enough draught equipment to service 40 taps. With a built-in air conditioning unit, the Beer Shed is a mobile beer dispensing machine designed specifically for the Eat Real Festival. While the Eat Real Festival is the primary owner of the Beer Shed, I have heard that it will be available for many events throughout the year and the Bay Area.
To help educate festival attendees, the taps in the Beer Shed were arranged by theme: malt, hops, session and yeast/specialty. I thought this was a great way to organize the beers as it really helped festival goers learn what the differences in beer were based upon what brewing ingredient was being highlighted. Another excellent feature of the Beer Shed was the "Meet the Brewer" sessions. Each session was an hour long in which the scheduled "featured brewer" was around to answer questions regarding the beers they were pouring and about the various facets of brewing; from ingredients through process. During the time I was at the festival, brewers from Sierra Nevada, Marin Brewing Company, SF Brewers Guild, Magnolia and Lagunitas manned the table.
Purchasing tickets to the Beer Shed got you a commemorative tasting glass emblazoned with the Eat Real Festival logo. In actuality, the tasting glasses were small canning jars and kept with the theme of the festival. The decision to include 4 tasting tickets was a last minute change as festival goers were originally supposed to receive 8 tickets. What I would find out later was our tasting glasses had silk-screened notches on them delineating serving portions. A single ticket would get you to the lowest line while two would get you a pour about two-thirds the volume of the tasting glass. What ended up happening though was many of the volunteers were serving nearly full pours to the chagrin of the Eat Real Festival organizers. By mid-afternoon, the lines to the Beer Shed stretched all the way to Will Call table and some even wrapped around nearby buildings.
With my four drink tickets I was able to sample the Rye Pale Ale from Blue Frog Brewing, the Chocolate Stout from organic brewery Bison Brewing Company, the Brown Saison from Sierra Nevada and the Scrimshaw Pilsner from North Coast Brewing Company. I was able to try an example from each main brewing theme. While I enjoyed all the beers I sampled, it was probably a little too warm for the Chocolate Stout and I could've used another Session beer. Although if one wanted to extend their drinking experience, a great way to have done so was to engage the brewers during the "Meet the Brewer" section as many of them were pouring their beers from pitchers.
All this talk about beer I almost forgot about the food! We picked up some BBQ for lunch. I had the chicken (well done but a little too much sauce) while Sammy ordered the sausage which was flavorful and packed some heat for an already hot day. She had a cupcake for dessert which must've been really good as I didn't even get to try any. In the latter portion of the day, I tried some ramen noodles (good but conservatively seasoned) as well as a braised tofu taco. While I enjoyed the braised tofu taco, a friend of mine ordered the pork and was slightly disappointed. He felt the taste didn't justify the wait as this particular vendor had some of the longest lines of the day. Can't win them all. I wish I could write more about the food but we spent the majority of the day trying to stay cool and enjoy our beers outside of the hot sun.
Possibly the only thing hotter than some of the dishes being made that day was the temperature. The mercury rose to a sweltering 92° F (although it felt much hotter) and people were heading for cover wherever they could find it. Whoever decided to put the Beer Shed next to the water fountain was a genius! Many people, beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers alike, found refuge in the fountain's cool water.
By many accounts, the Eat Real Festival was a success. Tens of thousands of people attended throughout the three-day festival. Outside of the heat, I didn't notice too many complaints about either the food or the beers. At this point I'm nitpicking but my only critique was the lack of "authentic" street vendors. Many of the food vendors of the festival were local eateries, cafés and restaurants with a stall, booth or mobile vehicle of some sort. I was really hoping to see the kind of street vendors I regularly ate from when I vacationed in Thailand and Malaysia. There's just something about true street vendor food that restaurants fail to capture. I would suppose that when you specialize on just a few things, you get really good at cooking them. In any case, I felt this was a great event that hopefully got people thinking about their food and where it comes from. I'm looking forward to attending next year.