Sunday, May 22, 2011

Divide, Conquer, Devour

In order to go to any well-attended food event you really need to have a group of enthusiasts, strongly committed to new tastes. You should arrive early, assess the offerings and make a plan of attack. Which lines are shortest? Which foods will you regret not sampling? Which foods are easy to eat in line and which will be better eaten sitting down away from the vendors? Now, ideally you will have enough people to put two in each line so you can do some actual socializing. If you don't have that luxury you can either divide and conquer lines of comparable length or put one person in a long line and send the other on forays to things with shorter lines. The second person will come back with their scores to share while the first person continues to hold firm. Cell phones are the greatest inventions for food events since, you know, food. If you get up to the front of the line and there have been menu changes you can call. If there are questions about what an order was or if you hear a rumor about a vendor running out of food or restocking then you can pass that info along and change the master plan as required without ceding your line spot until necessary. You don't want to waste 45 minutes of waiting and have to go to the back of the line.

The one important thing you do not want at such an event is a killjoy. For instance, someone who is going to complain about waiting in line or who has a lot of dietary restrictions or who, like the woman a few feet behind me in the falafel line today berates the guys busting their asses to serve us for a menu problem. The joint was packed, we'd waited for over 30 minutes for our food, the guys were super nice and a little baffled by how many people wanted their food and they had run out of fries. This bitch decided to give them a piece of her mind. Don't let your group have one of those in it. Ever.

Today, I had none of these luxuries. It was just me and Ed at a food truck rally on the edge of Prospect Park. I may have told you about the rally I went to last September on Governors Island. That event was a true clusterfuck organizationally. Food ran out, lines were hours long and everyone was super cranky. Today's fest had the advantage of not being on an island so reinforcements could be sent and restocking could occur. The organizers have still not worked out, though, that you need to make provisions for long lines. Planning ahead for how the lines will work out if the event gets a great turnout could reduce confusion and therefore frustration. A couple of signs, perhaps the odd barrier or stanchion and I think you might see some happier patrons.

All that aside, though, here's what I did. My first mistake was not to go right as it opened at 11. I wound up getting there around 1 and it was like a field of cattle. Everyone was hungry and lost and desperate for direction. I think I actually heard someone moo. I waded in and took a quick tour to see who was there. Coolhaus, Taim, Cupcake Truck, Mud Truck, Kelvin Natural Slush, Eddie's Pizza, The Treats Truck, The Rickshaw Dumpling Truck, Red Hook Lobster, a Souvlaki truck I don't know the name of and a couple of ice cream and frozen yogurt trucks I didn't know either.

At that point I was hungry and just as confused as everyone else so I just grabbed a spot in a line. I thought it was for pizza but it turned out to be for dumplings. Just as it was at the last rally, the lobster truck and the dumpling truck competed for most customers served. Within moments of getting in line I heard that Rickshaw was sending in another truck. Smart. The best thing about being in that line is that I had a place and a reason to stand still and observe the crowd and make some decisions based on the questions above.

I knew from experience that the dumpling line can go slowly because the steaming takes time. I saw that The Treats Truck line was very short (if your food is pre-made you can serve people more quickly). The slushie truck was relatively short. I wanted pizza. I wanted an ice cream sandwich. I wanted to take something home from the Treats Truck. I needed savory food. I'd had the dumplings before. I wanted to try new things. I would most regret, despite the cold temps, not getting a slushie. New plan.

Slushie. Treats Truck. Falafel. Maybe an ice cream sandwich depending on time and energy.

Put my plan into action. The slushie was probably a 20 minute wait but, of all the things I ate today, and I liked them all, the best thing I put in my mouth. You get a base of Ginger, Citrus or Tea. You add one of a bunch of other things, mostly fruits, some herbs, and for some extra dough you can add more than one. I got ginger with pink guava. Delish!

Next, Treats Truck line was 10 minutes, maybe 15. Got a rice krispie square and 2 coconut & chocolate chip thingees. Grabbed a bite of one of the latter as sustenance and hoofed it to the falafel line.

Had to follow it all the way from the front of the truck. It didn't look more than twice as long as the slushie line. You have to cook falafel. You don't have to cook slushies. It took a little longer. If I'm honest I was probably in that line for 45 minutes and then had to wait 10 or so for my order to be ready. In the line, though, I heard some fabulous rumors, that I think are true. The cupcake truck ran out of cupcakes but sent another truck to restock them. People started to line up before the restock truck even arrived. The pizza line was an hour long to order and then an hour before your pizza was ready. Good thing I didn't wait there. I saw with my own eyes that the ice cream sandwich line was way, way too long for the amount of energy I had left.

Let me stop for a moment to say that I also wound up carrying my dog for most of the time I waited in lines. There were so many people and dogs and it was cold and he was melting down a little. Tomorrow I will probably be unable to lift my arms high enough to wash my hair. He was very good, though, and a people magnet. People thought he was so cute and sweet and could they please please pet him. So, you know, he didn't make out too badly. And he got a 30 minute walk each way, too.

Got myself the falafel with everything which included some kind of Israeli salad and a kind of sweet sauce that took it one step above good to delirious. Loved it. And the fun guy taking orders upsold me a ginger-mint lemonade when I found out they were out of fries. If I had unlimited access to delicious fruity, herby liquids like I had today I would be so much better hydrated. Drank that all the way home.

All in all it was a successful trip. I knew enough not to try and get everything. I planned and thereby reduced disappointment. I ate marvelous food and drank fabulous drinks. I walked a lot and, praise Jeebus, I tired out my dog. 'Twas an awesome excursion. If you fit the bill described in the first paragraph you should join me next time. I could do great things with a wingman...wingwoman....wing....eater?


  1. If we lived there, that fest would have been marked down on the calender for months ahead of time. No way would we miss that.

  2. I admit I'm having mixed feelings about food trucks. While I LOVE them on the street - I live in LA, where they're ubiquitous - I have never attended a successful "food truck event" - the problems you mention always prevail. Including overmarketing, so that the crowd that arrives is really way too large for the trucks to handle, even if they could.

    My employer rents property as an event venue, and I swear, every Monday after there's been a weekend food truck event I get a call from some event-promoter wanna-be who wants to produce a food truck event and hasn't a clue what it involves. They're usually very pushy young people, demanding tours and written RFPs and they never come through - it's always a waste of time.

    But I love and adore encountering a taco truck in a park or on an East LA street corner, and finding that wonderful, inexpensive feast! So I have mixed feelings.

  3. I'm so glad I'm eating lunch right now, else this post would make me SO HUNGRY!!!

    Oh, and when you mentioned event, you made me think of another friend in NYC who's organizing a "pawty"; here's the link, and if you know of anyone who might want to attend, please feel free to share it!