In my opinion, food festivals aren’t the best avenue to check out a bevy of restaurants in one foul swoop. I have work in restaurants that have participated in them, and I feel like editing a dish down for simplicity to serve and eat (and be cost effective), then turning out 3,000 small bites of said dish leaves a lot of black holes to fall into. As a customer, I don’t want to show up, pay the amount of money I could be spending on two apps and two drinks, to sardine shimmy my way through a throng of people, to leave hungry. But these are food trucks! They are used to working on the road, in these conditions (albeit not for this quantity of people at one time), and for most of them, they have no brick-and-mortar to be worried about back at the ranch.

The concept of food trucks is quickly becoming an over-publicized trend, but I have to admit, I still find it brilliant. Adding mobility to really good, simple food has the potential to revolutionize fast food in our country. Can you imagine your kid asking for a pork belly slider, instead of a burger from Mc Nasty’s?

I didn’t buy my ticket ahead of time because I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to be able to go. Good thing my friend bought two tickets, because we got there at 5pm to a line wrapped down and around the block, and the tickets were sold out. However, it looked like they were still letting people in…so I’m not sure exactly what that deal was. I went up to one of the people organizing/working the event and he told me yes, they were sold out. “So these people are standing in line for what?” I asked. “No idea,” he shrugged.

Retrieving pre-paid tickets was well organized and we were quickly inside that magical chain-link fence. Enveloped in the calm chaos of trying to cram 23 food trucks, their staff and 2,000 something people into a small dirt lot. Lines snaked and criss-crossed each other everywhere, but the people were relaxed, happy perhaps to be ensconced in the weekend, with beer and delicious food in their near future.

We jumped on the first line we saw, which was for the Udder Delights ice cream and the Superstition Farm Truck, with guest chef Payton Curry. Ice cream was good and very creamy, but I would have liked a stronger pumpkin or sweet potato flavor. I was hoping for the huckleberry, but they were in the process of spinning it. Great job distributing it. Small cups they prepackaged and it was so easy to grab and go, no line.

Superstition Truck was serving fried mac and cheese balls with a spicy, creamy sauce. Payton was dishing up a delicious chanterelle salad with some fatty pieces of mushroom. Unique and vastly different from the other bites we would be tasting. Somehow I missed his lentil soup. The trucks were jammed with cooks cranking out food, as people continued to flood on to the lot.

Fried mac and cheese balls? We needed some beer after that. We got on the beer line and half way through our wait, we realized we had to get our id’s checked and get tickets at a different tent. Jumped on that line. Then wristbanded up, beer tickets in hand, we finally went back to the beer line.

On to a line for a rig called Duck Duck Pig. My love for porkers is something deeply disturbing. The exec chef at the last restaurant I was at found it peculiar when I’d make up pig songs as we broke them down on our huge stainless steel prep tables. I am having a dinner party this next month at my house, dedicated to the pig, called oinkfest. I haven’t yet gotten a pig tat with primal cuts, but don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind or been drawn on with sharpie to see where it would look best.

Imagine then, my horror to wait in the piggy line and be handed another fried mac and cheese ball. Listen, I get it, I’m not getting pork belly at a festival where you have promised unlimited samples of your food. Throw a girl a little pulled pork, though. Duck Duck Pig’s mac and cheese ball (superior to our first ball of the night, with golden crusty outer crunch and raging hot interior) did have some bacon in it, but I’m running on cheesy starch now and I’ve been on line dreaming of meat.  I have a sneaking suspicion that Duck Duck Pig has killer food, and I hope to get some of their goods in the near future.

Disappointed and starving, we jumped directly onto the next line. We have no idea what line we are on. It looped around another line and moved at a fairly brisk pace. 10 minutes later we are holding plates with shrimp tacos from the T-licious Tacos truck. They momentarily ran out pork tacos and we are invited to check back later. The food was a little cold, but it was okay. If it had been hot, I think it would have been quite delicious.

The next line, for Hey Joe Truck, serving up Filipino food, wove it’s way around tables and near the stage in a horseshoe shape, so we ended up back where we started, this time with a half of a spring roll and some noodles. Very hot and tasty. I thought about getting back on line for more, but the line was one of the longest.

Sweet Republic line was pretty short, so we swooped over there for some fresh mint chocolate chip ice cream. Creamy, and perfect combo of fresh mint flavor with chocolate chip.

My friend Carolyn and her band Pick and Holler were playing on the stage area, so we figured since we were standing there, we’d wait on the Torched Goodness line. It went so quickly and in two minutes I was holding a nice little portion of crème brulee, which I normally never order when I’m out. Seriously, as a pastry chef, do you know how much crème brulee I’ve consumed? It’s not enjoyable to me anymore, however, Torched Goodness has some stellar crème brulee. It’s cream, not overcooked (like I find in most restaurants) and with a perfectly torched sugar shell on top (another faux-pas many restaurants make burning the shit out of the sugar). LOVED the little sprinkle of sea salt on top. Kudos to Torched Goodness for a great execution on a dessert.

At this point, two beers and not much food, it’s about 830pm and we are STARVING. I need some food, as in, more than one bite per 30 minutes. We made our exit and headed over to the Roosevelt Tavern.

I commend the organizers for dreaming up this event, but from what I experienced, there has to be some more organization, limits, and quality of what you are getting. I am not judging, just giving my observations here. This was a huge event and you learn from year to year what works and what doesn’t work.

Organization: The space was too small for the number of people. Bigger space and perhaps all pre-sale only tickets so that the trucks know exactly how many people will be in attendance. Enter, and the next tent is the id tent where you can get your over 21 bracelet.

Limit: Are you going to limit the ticket sales and allow people to really get a taste of these places? Great that there were unlimited samples, but at 3.5 hours in, I’d eaten 7 bites of food and there was no way I was going to hit all the trucks before they ran out of food, let alone go back for another sample. Froufrou pops was already out of product by 830pm, and I really wanted to try their popsicles.

Quality: Aside from the Payton’s mushroom salad and the Sweet Republic ice cream, I hadn’t eaten anything that was totally unique and rocked my world. The first two trucks I went to were both serving fried mac and cheese balls. I’m coming to taste what your truck normally serves. I saw a few of the regular menus, propped up near their respective trucks, and they didn’t have mac and cheese balls on it. I’ve worked events like this and get that you have to make something cost effective and easy to turn out for the quantity of people, but it defeats the purpose of the event, in my mind, if I’m not tasting what you are known for. For tickets for two people $60 and $20 for four beers, we are $80 deep, still hungry, and largely unimpressed.

I would love to see how the organizers of this event edit for next year. This has the potential to be a fabulous event. If some changes are made, I would buy another ticket and gladly return to see how they’ve changed things up.

 

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2 comments on “The Phoenix Food Truck Festival”

  1. we had 500 samples of pork belly. braised 15 hours in coconut vinegar then deep fried. Sorry you missed it.

    • croissant replied: — October 31st, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

      Brian, That sounds delicious! I am so bummed I missed it! The early worm gets the pork apparently. I’ll have to stop by your truck sometime. Do you make your own coconut vinegar?

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