Monday, July 22, 2013

The 2013 Atlanta Street Food Festival!

We came. We Saw. We got Indigestion, Real, Real Bad.

Nobody really thinks of Atlanta as a haven for world-class foods -- unless, of course, you have a hankering for orange drinks and chili dogs or waffles promoted by former Motown divas

While no on is ever going to take a gander at the ATL's burgers and pizza joints and say they trump the eateries of NYC, Paris or Chicago, that's not to say there aren't a few hidden gems in the area. And wouldn't you know it, a lot of those gems just so happen to rest atop diesel-fueled vans. 

If you don't know what a "food truck" is, congratulations on the view from your ivory tower. To the uninitiated elites out there, food trucks -- similarly referred to as food vans or food mobiles or any other permutation of food and "motor vehicle" you can think of -- are giant motorized vessels that come equipped with full kitchens. Generally, the proprietors of such businesses just park their colossal restaurants-on-wheels at opportune sites -- like, say, a construction site around lunchtime -- and the scratch-making, it doth instigate. 

Apparently, such enterprises are so lucrative in the ATL that a yearly competition is held to determine which food mobile hawks the best short-order items. And if you ever wondered whether or not such ventures could be profitable, buddy, you ought to have been at this year's festivities.

The 2013 Atlanta Street Food Festival was held this year at Piedmont Park -- basically, Atlanta's equivalent of Central Park, only with way less zoo animals and way more shady areas that provide both ample and facile mugging opportunities. 

For those of you that don't know much about Atlanta, it's usually pretty hot in the summer. This season, however, it's been raining more or less every day in July, and as such, the event was a rather chilly affair. With that in mind, I'd say both competitors and patrons lucked out considerably in '13 -- imagine helming a deep friar when it's 103 degrees, or having to swat mosquitoes the size of USB drives while stuck in line behind two 400 pound dudes in tanktops, and you'll realize just how much the Gods were smiling upon us that afternoon. 

The set-up was pretty simple; the food trucks in competition set up their vehicles, and patrons ambled on up to their order menus, plopped down their monies, and got a full-sized meal -- either sheathed in aluminum foil or dropped in a greasy fry basket, of course. 

There were about two dozen or so trucks in competition, with several small tents offering designer Popsicles and Aquafina for two dollars a pop dotting the landscape. As far as patrons, there had to have been a couple of thousand in attendance this year. No matter which truck you went to, it was pretty much guaranteed that you'd have to spend at least half an hour in line to collect your comestibles. Thankfully, a majority of the denizens at Piedmont that Saturday evening remembered to apply their Speed Stick, so it seemed (and smelled.) 

Clearly, I didn't have enough time to try everything on display, but I did get my hands on quite a large assortments of street food inventory. Here's a quick rundown of what I ingested, and what all of you none-ATLiens missed out on: 

Viet-Nomie's Food Truck!

Sadly, I don't think I've ever tried Vietnamese food before, so clearly, this Viet-Nomie's vessel was destined to be my first stop of the day.

For those of you unfamiliar with my dietary ways, I'm something of a disenchanted vegetarian, so I was certainly pleased to see so many tofu-based alternatives on display. Eventually, I decided on the Banh Mi To Fu, which was more or less a hoagie with tofu, thinly sliced pickle strands and a whole lot of spiciness.

The sandwich itself was very filling -- imagine the best Subway item you've ever had, and topping it off with the most delicious sweet chili sauce you could possibly envision, and yeah, you've pretty much got the Banh Mi To Fu starring you in the face.

The bread itself had this really unusual cheesy taste to it -- unexpected, but utterly delicious, so I'd consider it a very, very pleasant surprise. The guys marinated the tofu in a rich ginger sauce, and as such, the faux meat gelled incredibly well with the pepper chunks. Really adding a kick to the sandwich were the pickle slices -- those white thingies below that kind of look like onion strands. They had a really sweet taste, which complimented the tofu itself quite nicely.

In all, it was a freaking scrumptious little meal, and reason enough to forgive the Viet Cong for any wrongdoings they perpetrated on U.S. soldiers back in the 1960s and 1970s (and as an American, I thusly apologize for all of the "Missing in Action" films to all the Vietnamese readers out there... except for part 3, which was actually kinda' awesome.)

Masala Fresh Indian Street Food!

I've tried Indian food quite a few times before, and I have been very, very impressed by the offerings I've encountered in the metro Atlanta area thus far. So when I spotted this little food wagon, you just KNOW I had to give its offerings a look-see (and also, an eat-see.)

The Masala Fresh truck had a pretty interesting set-up. Basically, what they asked you to do was go down a flowchart of sorts, picking out certain toppings If you've ever been to Chipotle's before, it's kind of like that, I suppose. I decided on a rice bowl as opposed to a naan wrap, but what do you know, when I received my "rice bowl," it looked an awful lot like a naan wrap. Because it was one. 

What you're looking at here is Masala's paneer naan insanely delicious, burrito-like offering filled with rice, soft cheese chunks and a very, very yummy sauce that's one part curry, and one part jalapeno. 

Granted, the wrap may look like an exploded Sloppy Joe (or, uh, worse), but the dish was actually ridiculously tasty. Making the meal even better was the inclusion of a very unique tasting mango-pickle side sauce -- a remarkable paste that's an amalgamation of tropical fruit, vinegar and habanero juice. Long story short, this stuff was freaking tremendous, and you really, really ought to try it if you're in the metro-Atlanta region. 

Great American Cookies!

While the Great American Cookies truck may not have had the overall oomph that some of the other food wagons had that day in Atlanta, it did have one MAJOR advantage over the competition: namely, the fact that the lines outside the mobile eatery were WAY shorter than all the others.

This M&M cookie Double Doosie more or less speaks for itself. It's basically a giant Oreo, only the black stuff is two huge-assed M&M cookies, and instead of a smattering of white creme, you get approximately nine pounds of it clumped betwixt the two baked goods. 

Needless to say, the double-cookie treat was quite the delectable snack, resulting in an immediate sugar rush that, two weeks later, I think I am just now beginning to come down from. These things, I suppose it goes without saying, are dangerous...dangerous, and friggin' delicious

The Bubble Tea Truck!

So, after cramming two spicy ethnic foods down my gullet and washing it down with 16 ounces of fluffy sugar, I found myself fairly parched. Now, I could've just ambled over to a vendor and bought a Coke Zero, but that sort of defeats the purpose of attending a street food festival, don't it?

I'm not really sure what "bubble tea" is, precisely, but if you ever want some non-traditional drank in the ATL, it's probably in your best interests to flag down The Bubble Tea Truck if you ever see it drag racing a MARTA bus or something. 

Of all of the truck's specialty beverages -- teas and coffees and a whole bunch of other stuff that was probably too warm to drink even on a balmy Atlanta summer eve -- I settled on this, a blueberry smoothie. As you would fully expect, this Grimace-hued fruit shake was really quite tasty -- and man, was it fun to poke that giant straw through the plastic wrap protecting the top of the cup like a drink condom! 

Tex's Tacos!

All day long, Tex's Tacos had the longest line of any vendor, so it probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise when they were awarded the coveted "best of show" award at the end of the day. I know...I was literally filling out my order for a taco when the announcement was made over the park's PA system. 

The menu was really diverse, with quesadillas, nacho plates and, of course, taco offerings galore. They even specialize in these things called "pastor-style" tacos, which contain chunks of pineapple and chipotle sauce. Granted, I would've bought about half a dozen of said "pastor" tacos had I read the signage in its entirety, but can't argue with a decent veggie soft shell, either, can you?

And this, amigos, is the best of the best when it comes to Atlanta street food. White cheese, guacamole, grilled vegetables and a warm tortilla -- simple, sleek, and incredibly nuanced in flavor, it truly is one of the best Tex-Mex offerings I've had in quite some time. Of course, I didn't get the honor and privilege to try out everything at the festival, but if there was anything on display that could match this -- well, let's just say, my estomago would've been filled beyond the point of maximum capacity, surely. 

Pamplona has the Running of the Bulls, Gloucester has its annual cheese-rolling festival and Atlanta...well, they used to have Freaknik, but to be honest, I think I'd much rather prefer that our noble city be known for THIS annual gala instead. 

Metro-Atlanta foodies really have no excuse to not attend this event, and if you're a hardcore-enough fast-food aficionado, it's perhaps worth the 200 or 300 mile trek from some of Georgia's neighboring states. The lines may be long, and the mosquitoes may be out in droves, and the bathrooms may be disproportionately distributed throughout the park, but really -- it's tons of awesome, original foodstuffs, a summer afternoon in the sun and an opportunity to chuck down icing-glued cookies while holding a grape-flavored milkshake in your adjacent paw. 

If I have to tell you this thing is awesome, you've already failed on so many levels, ami


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