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Monday, August 31, 2009

Eat Real Fest, Day Two: Cupcakes, Adios to Eeyore, and Butchery

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 2:56 PM

M. Brody
The Good to Go market at Jack London Square.
SF Weekly restaurant critic Meredith Brody risked sunburn and serious bloating at the three-day Eat Real Festival in Oakland this weekend. Behold the second of Brody's three reports on the street-food orgy.

Saturday was hot again, but not as muggy as Friday, and we headed down to Jack London Square and the Eat Real celebration of street food ("putting the food back in fast") hungry, and with our pockets stuffed with fresh cabbage (in ones and fives).

Hungry, we scored pork hot links served with pimento cheese and crackers ($5) and barbecued turkey sliders served with roasted corn ($5) from Jim 'N Nicks Bar-B-Q, who'd driven their truck up from Birmingham, Alabama; and brisket sliders with potato salad ($5) and a pomegranate julep ($2) from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul wagon. Cynics might say that these were the first two booths whose path we crossed, but they were both on our list from studying the Eat Real Web site. And we liked everything; my companion said that barbecuing was the best way to prepare turkey. The brisket was moist, homey, and satisfying, the well-seasoned Yukon Gold potato salad was excellent, and the smoky roasted corn as good as it gets.

M. Brody
West Oakland urban farm nonprofit City Slicker Farm was on hand Saturday.
On further forays, we scored a spicy little cochinita pibil taco ($2) and a watermelon agua fresca ($2) from Chaac Mool, plump lobster rolls in buttery buns ($5) and creamy clam chowder ($5) from Sam's Chowder Mobile, and a lemon coconut cupcake, nicely decorated with a yellow candy cutout ($2) from Sweetface Bakery -- the only place where there wasn't a lineup, yet as we walked around with our laden plates, the most frequently heard comment from passersby was, "Where'd you get the cupcake?"

The lines were formidable, but not daunting. We eyed the pupusas at Estrellita's Snacks, one of our favorite spots at the weekend Alemany markets, and the Korean fare at Seoul on Wheels, and thought about the sweets available at the Crème Brulee Cart and Gobba Gobba Hey. We took a short tour through the Good to Go Market, in a space where Jack London Squares's new indoor market is due to open next year, and saw Iso Rabins selling foraged sea beans for $3 a boxful, and sampled organic blueberries, locally raised endive, and Tcho Chocolate. But we heeded the siren call of a field trip to Novella Carpenter's Ghost Town Farm, subject of her recent book Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. A farm? In downtown Oakland?

Sure. It's a farm-squat that Carpenter started on a vacant lot next to her duplex apartment, with raised beds full of tomatoes and kale, and a boarded-up apartment house right across the street. She offered us snacks fresh from the farm: plates of sliced dry-farmed tomatoes (you withhold water from them, and they grow firm and sweet), olives she'd picked from street trees in Davis and salt-cured herself (in a pillowcase, no less), and goat cheese made from milk from her backyard goats.

We visited the goats in Carpenter's tiny backyard. "Six is too many," she told us, "so I'm selling three and we're butchering the male, Eeyore. The guy from Brothers Halal Market on the corner is going to do it for Ramadan for us." We were surprised to see them clamber up the back stairs of the duplex, but then I remembered, hey, they're goats! They think it's the Matterhorn!

We returned to Eat Real to find both the Crème Brulee guy and Gobba Gobba Hey long sold out, and to watch the Butchery Contest at 7 p.m.: three white-coated employees (Renato, Miguel, and Oscar) of Marin Sun Farms, who also supplied the grass-fed beef quarters, going head-to-head with three local artisanal butchers: Scott from Café Rouge, Michael from Biagio Artisan Meats (a future tenant of the Jack London Square market hall), and Rian from Willowside Meats, a group who I think I heard called the Flying Knives. I ran into pals from San Francisco who kindly shared their 4505 hot dog with me, as well as their mugs of beer.

The lawn was covered with a capacity crowd of fans who cheered lustily as festival organizer Anya Fernald kept up a running commentary on the action, and judges Mark Pastore of Boccalone, Paul Arenstam from the Americano Restaurant & Bar, and Marissa Guggiana of Meatpaper judged knife skills, the quality and quantity of meat cuts, and the quantity of trims. The Marin Sun Farms team opened up an early lead and never faltered, completely breaking down their quarter-steer with more than 5 minutes remaining on the 30-minute clock. They laid out an amazingly clean display ranging from tied-up tenderloin ("The babyfood of meat," Anya said) to thin lengths of carne asada. As the winners, they received ribbons -- and a box of assorted alcohol. The gracious second-place team got a box of vodka.

We quaffed a last mug of beer (Beach Chalet Riptide Red, which we found much like the Web site promises, marked by "toasty and caramel maltiness and a mild hop bitterness") on the way out to BART. Ducking in to Barnes and Noble, we found that the July/August issue of Oakland magazine features Eat Real's Anya Fernald on the cover ("Four East Bay Foodies and Their Kitchens"). We purchased two copies at $3.95 each -- Eat Real's attendees were collaterally improving Oakland's economy.

M. Brody

Attendees could tour Novella Carpenter's Ghost Town Farm.

M. Brody

Kind of like the Matterhorn, but with fewer rocks.

M. Brody

Breaking down a critter in Saturday's Butchery Contest.

M. Brody
The winning team from Marin Sun Farms.

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Meredith Brody


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