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Dine About Oakland: Street food and the Eat Real Festival

September 18, 2009

Okay, this is long overdue (as are reviews of Commis and Burma Superstar, which are coming soon!) Consequently, I’ll keep this post brief in the interest of actually finishing it. But here’s the promised rundown of some of the deliciousness at last month’s Eat Real Festival in Jack London Square, and where to find it now.

I was super excited about this summer’s food festival and consequently hit it not once, but twice—first for the outdoor movies and ice cream gala on Friday night, and again for the farmer’s market, street food, and other events on Sunday morning. (It helps that it was an easy bike ride from our house!) While Saturday and Sunday were technically the main event—that’s when all of the food vendors opened up for business—I think I actually enjoyed the low-key Friday night activities even more. (If a few food vendors had been open so that dinner and a movie was an option, it would have been perfect—maybe this is an idea for JLS’s summer movie nights?) Both days were beautiful and unusually warm for the Bay Area (which is to say, perfect for outdoor events). And you can’t beat sitting on the Jack London lawn watching movies about city chickens with the boats and estuary as a backdrop.

On Sunday, we headed over with some friends and collectively tried out a number of the food vendors. (We also bought Beer Shed passes and tasted a bunch of microbrews, but I don’t think I could rattle off the list at this point—a fun way to test some new brews out, although much of what was on tap I’d had before.) Some food favorites included:

Ritual Coffee Roasters: Ritual’s coffee is always a treat, though D. decided to be adventurous and try a drip coffee from a bean we’d really disliked when we bought it whole and brewed it at home. The good news (I guess?) is that the problem is not that we’re crappy coffee makers. Ah, well. My latte was excellent, though! (In sort-of related news, you can now get Ritual coffee from a cart in the East Bay, too—Remedy, a soon-to-open coffee shop in Temescal along Telegraph, is now selling coffee and espresso drinks in front of their future store at 4316 Telegraph. D. gives them a thumbs-up, though I haven’t stopped to try anything yet.) We were a little sad that Blue Bottle didn’t have a stand, since we were coming off of a tour of their (impressive-looking!) new space in Jack London Square, another of the festival events. The owner noted that the space, which is primarily dedicated to roasting and training, will have a relatively low-key cafe area, as they don’t expect huge crowds like the ones they get in the city. I think he’s seriously underestimating how much Oaklanders like good coffee!

Liba Falafel Truck: This falafel deliciousness was a bit tiny for the price—it was accurately deemed a “bite”—but it definitely left me wanting more. Apparently Eat Real was one of Liba’s first events, so they’re pretty new to the food truck scene. You can find them in Potrero Hill in the city on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays or in Emeryville on Park Avenue near Pixar on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Jon’s Street Eats: This was my top pick (and maybe D.’s too?) We tried the pulled mozzarella, and I left regretting that I didn’t have room for a B.L.A.T. (Bacon Lettuce Avocado Tomato) or homemade ice cream. Luckily, these guys set up shop near my ‘hood on Saturday nights! You can find them at the end of Piedmont Avenue near Adesso on Saturday evenings or in Emeryville Tuesday through Friday near either Stanford and Hollis or Kitty’s.

Shuga Hill Catering: Okay, we actually didn’t try this truck for the very important reason that they are now serving regularly a block away from our house! Sometime this summer, Shuga Hill began setting up their soul food truck in front of Grocery Outlet at 29th and Broadway, joining resident taco truck Taqueria Barajitos. They seem to leave sometime between 6 and 7 pm, so I haven’t managed to get home and organized in time to try it out yet, but friends who had their food at Eat Real report that it’s tasty and worth the visit.

Sweetface Bakery: These guys had very tasty cupcakes. My pick, lemon with coconut buttercream, was super light and fluffy and just about the perfect way to end an afternoon. (Well, okay, another perfect way might have been the crème brûlée man, but he ran out of crème brûlée around 11:30—handing the last one to the person in front of D. in line!) Eat Real was also the Sweetface Bakery’s mobile debut—they seem to be all over the place, but have been hitting downtown Oakland among other destinations, so keep your eyes peeled.

No grades for any of these guys, since the festival’s not the best place to judge either prices (everyone was asked to cap prices at $5, which led to some creative finagling at some trucks, and some outstanding deals at others) or overall food, since many trucks had chosen just one or two dishes to serve. But I was excited to see the East Bay well represented, since up until Eat Real I thought the nouveau food truck phenomenon was primarily based in San Francisco. Yay!

All in all, lots of fun, and we barely scratched the surface—there were also a number of presentations, live music, more movies, and activities for kids that we didn’t stick around for. Not sure how “officially” successful the event was as far as breaking even and drawing the requisite crowds, but I do hope it happens again. I could definitely envision a dialed down version drawing people to JLS regularly—I was impressed by how much the farmer’s market has grown in recent years, since for a while there it was pretty dinky. As an added bonus, it’s cheaper than both the Temescal and Grand Lake markets, and has been moved to the pedestrian boardwalk along the water. We also got a glimpse into the not-yet-complete Harvest Hall (now being called Jack London Market), which was hosting the special Eat Real market vendors. It’s a pretty incredible space, and I do hope that vision is realized someday—we’d definitely head down there regularly with good food, coffee, and a produce market.

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