The Food Craft Institute's 7th annual Eat Real Festival, the outdoor food extravaganza that showcases local, organic and sustainable fare, kicked off today in Oakland's Jack London Square. We heroically sampled our way through many of the vendors' more offbeat and unusual dishes, so here's 12 stellar items that you can also try this weekend (and everything's priced under $8, too.)
WTF SF: Slow-roasted Angus brisket with egg noodles
I guarantee the lines will be long at What's the Feast SF's booth -- as it was for us during the opening day lunchtime rush. But it's definitely worth the wait, as their only regular appearance is at the Stonestown Farmers' Market on Sundays (although they're available for catering). The slow-roasted Angus brisket with a sweet Asian barbecue glaze is dished over garlicky egg noodles and garnished with pickled cucumbers; it's a delicious combination of sweet, salty and sour flavors.
Hella Vegan Eats: Birthday Burger
You may have spotted the colorful truck (and equally animated staff) of the Hella Vegan Eats truck at various farmers' markets around the Bay Area. You can't go wrong with ordering their lively 'Birthday Burger,' which is stuffed with an organic seitan-beet patty, local and organic smoked Rhizocali Tempeh 'bacon,' slices of heirloom tomato, Russian dressing, dill pickles and pancake buns speckled with funfetti (add avocado for $1.) Or you try their mac & 'chorizo' tacos and the three alluring donuts they've got for dessert: caramel brownie, chocolate cheesecake and maple 'bacon.'
Burma Bear: Palata
While the plates of smoked baby back ribs or pulled pork over coconut rice were calling our names, we decided to try the palata, a pan-fried, vegetarian flatbread dish paired with an aromatic green curry dipping sauce. It's reminiscent of Indian paratha and great for sharing with your friends as an appetizer. If the tent is mobbed by festivalgoers, check out their brick-and-mortar venue at the Second Act Marketplace on Haight Street in the city.
La Marcha: Seafood paella
Gigantic paella pans cooking up huge portions of rice, seafood and vegetables always draws huge crowds, and La Marcha's bustling tent that emanated big clouds of steam was no exception. Plans to open up a tapas bar in Berkeley are currently in the works, so for now, they're still in pop-up mode at events. Their signature paprika-and-saffron infused paella dish was bursting with meaty chunks of chicken, chorizo, shrimp, roasted garlic, sweet red peppers, English peas and Spanish Bomba rice.
Bombzies BBQ: Korean BBQ chicken bowl
While Asian barbecue is fairly commonplace, the large, hungry crowds that congregated around the smoky grills filled to capacity with Korean, Vietnamese lemongrass and Thai-coconut flavored chicken were a sure sign that we had to try Bombzies BBQ. The tender, flavorful meat is served as kabobs or as a heaping bowl of rice topped with the complimentary add-ons of kimchi and green onions.
Eat On Monday: Fried calamari tacos
There's chicken, braised oxtail and even ice cream tacos for sale at Eat Real -- but the salt-and-pepper fried calamari corn tortilla tacos topped with jalapeños, shredded cabbage, cilantro and a spicy crema-remoulade-like sauce won us over instead. They've also got buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches and mini chipotle cheeseburgers if you want to try their other tantalizing-looking dishes.
BOK SSAM: Spicy chicken and waffle sandwich
Brace yourself for the decadent (and delectable) fried chicken and waffle sandwich from the folks at BOK SSAM, especially if you're watching your waistline. Billed as a "Korean-American comfort food" catering company, you'll spot plenty of photos of these food porn-ready sandwiches on Instagram. There's two Korean sauces to choose from: sweet soy-garlic or a sweet-and-spicy gochujang, a thick, fermented soybean-red chili sauce.
Southern Comfort Kitchen: Mac n' cheese balls
The Southern Comfort Kitchen crew -- overseen by three brothers from New Orleans -- have lots of calorie-busting courses on deck, including hush puppy-sized mac & cheese balls. Made with sharp cheddar and smoked Gouda, they're rolled in Italian bread crumbs and then deep-fried to crunchy perfection. Dip them in the housemade marinara sauce and then fight the urge to curl up and take a nap next to their truck afterwards.
Jeepney Guy: Slow-roasted pork belly
We were bursting at the seams by the time we waddled over to the Jeepney Guy booth (a common form of public transportation in the Philippines), but we couldn't resist sampling a bite of their lechón, or slow-roasted pork belly -- especially after we saw the glistening racks of meat lazily turning in their mobile rotisserie. Jeepney Guy caters events if you want to wallow in your own personal supply of crispy skin and succulent pork at a private party.
Girl Friday Zeppole: Savory zeppole
Save room for dessert, because there's also a wealth of sugary, deep-fried delights available at Eat Real. Girl Friday Zeppole's Italian fritters are made to order, so your zeppoles arrive piping hot after they're poured into paper cones. While most folks gravitate towards the sweeter versions made with powdered sugar and lemon zest (with a choice of vanilla bean crème fraîche, Earl Grey chocolate ganache or seasonal blackberry stout dipping sauces), we had to try the sole savory option prepared with smoked salt, parmesan cheese and herbs that matched well with the creamy, mild chili pepper harissa sauce.
Mamacita Café: Cardamom donut kebab
Born through a successful Kickstarter campaign, Mamacita Café is both a mobile pop-up and an innovative workforce program that supports young women in Oakland by training and hiring local high school students. Their popular 'donut kebab,' or three tasty donut holes skewered on a stick, came in three flavors at Eat Real: a 'very berry' jam, cardamom glaze (our choice) and a vegan nectarine jam. We passed on the scoop of Fenton's vanilla ice cream (although we would have ordered it under normal, non-food-festival-gorging circumstances.)
Bowl’D Acai: Original Gangster
In an attempt to cleanse our palate and unclog our arteries, we made a beeline at the end of our moveable feast towards the bright silver Bowl'D Acai truck. Their 'OG' is made with a blend of açaí berries, strawberries, bananas and coconut water topped with organic One Planet granola, fresh fruit and coconut shavings and honey. They also had two other punny smoothies -- the 'Hella Green' and the 'Berry White' -- if you want a healthier alternative to the ample beer, cider, wine and spirits for sale as a part of the Drink Real festivities. (But we indulged in both.)
As a final pro tip: Be sure to bring lots of sunblock as you wander through the festival tomorrow and Sunday (here's an online map to help you plan ahead); it's looking to be another warm weekend according to the weather forecast. You can also check the schedule to find out more about the numerous DIY demos, tastings, live music performances, kids' activities and other events happening at Eat Real. And if you somehow manage to explore everything going on, the first annual Town Eats Festival, co-hosted by Oaklandish and Lungomare, will be in the western section of Jack London Square (East Bay Express has more info about the event.)