Sunday, June 1, 2014

Eat 'Till You Can't

As I'm strolling down Clay Street at mid-day, I hear my name called from a car.

It's my bearded downstairs neighbor, usually a chill kind of guy, looking harried and unhappy. "What the hell is going on?" he asks.

You don't know about Broad Appetit, friend? How is that possible?

As dozens of cars circle the block around us, I explain that today is one of those days in Jackson Ward where you do not leave in your car unless you don't plan to return until evening. Poor thing, he was clueless.

I made a parking suggestion and was on my way. As it was, I hadn't been there at 11:00 when the festival began because I'd been working, so I had to make up for lost time.

Stepping on to Broad Street, I was underwhelmed to find that the first tent I saw was a man hawking stun guns. Call me old fashioned, but I don't think electroshock weapons belong at a food festival. To whom do I complain?

My first food stop was at the Rogue Gentlemen for their flat iron steak with summer succotash and thyme Bordelaise. As I'm waiting in a surprisingly short line to order, I overhear the man in front of me tell his friend that he's already getting seconds on the steak because the first was so good.

It's 12:30.

Don't tell the gentlemen, because the flatiron was superb, but I'd have bought just the succotash for $3, it was that good, bursting with summery flavors.

So my initial stop was a solid score. Continuing along Broad Street, I saw my first dog stroller with a small chihuahua standing inside the netted contraption, safe from being stepped on.

Which brings us to my first rant about Broad Appetit: it's time to ban dogs from this festival. Yes, I love dogs, too but the last thing 20,000+ people need while trying to navigate the crowded corridor of food tents are dogs underfoot. Strollers are bad enough.

At Pasture's tent I had poached shrimp with green papaya jicama slaw and pickled strawberries, which gets my seasonal vote for being a chilled dish ideal for a sunny day.

Back on the trail of food, a girl next to me said to her friend, "Is this turning into a dessert marathon?" as they shared a cupcake.

What's wrong with that? I asked them and one of the girls hugged me. "You're our new best friend!" she squealed. You need affirmation to eat sweet, I'm your person, honey.

At the Broadberry I succumbed to candied bacon, two strips on a skewer deep fried in brown sugar glaze and dusted with confectioner's sugar. As I stood eating it, no less than four people approached me to find out from whence it had come.

I ran into Curry Craft's chef/owner Mel who was passing out samples of the classic Indian street food, chaat, his take using puffed rice, vermicelli and pomegranate seeds.

As I enjoyed it, we talked about the logistics of the festival and how poorly it's laid out. This would be rant #2.

I've railed to no avail for years about extending the festival a couple blocks further east into the arts district, but he suggested it would also be wise to move the tents to the sidewalks, leaving both sides of Broad Street open for the lines of people ordering and picking up food.

The man raises an excellent point. As it is, walking the perimeter is challenging because of the lines of people at each tent waiting to buy food. Where's the suggestion box?

When I got to the Metro Sound stage, the all-girl Voodoo Dolls were killing it with a cover of "Radar Love" that had every man over the age of 40 singing along and grinning like fools.

Apparently the legacy of Golden Earring is a long one.

At Amour Wine Bistro's tent, I tried both the classic croque monsieur and a vegetarian version dubbed a croque madame, both made on the spot and deliciously golden brown.

Walking as I ate them, I heard a woman whining to her husband about being picky about the food options. "It's a lot of very spicy stuff!" she claimed.

Perhaps she would have preferred a few years back when it felt like everyone was offering crab cakes and shrimp and grits. Not me.

At Magpie, I ordered crispy pork torchon with spring onion cream and pickled vegetables, and heard from Chef Owen about how busy he'd been preparing for not just Broad Appetit but for the Graffiato takeover dinner he and other Richmond chefs are doing tomorrow.

He laughed when I reminded him that it was a good thing he was young and strong.

At Lucy's, I chose a Monrovia farms braised beef sandwich with housemade pickles, Provolone cheese and grainy mustard, a hefty, hearty and happy cow tasting combo that finally put me over the edge.

I could eat no more. And tonight? Forget about it. I'm full for the day.

As I strolled home passing clutches of people happily heading into the festival and others parking illegally, it occurred to me that today has to be the nicest weather we've ever had for Broad Appetit. Not too hot, not too rainy. Just right.

And even though I'd run into far fewer people I knew than at the past events, it had been a perfectly pleasant way to eat lunch and spend a few hours.

But only because I live two blocks away. Sufferin' succotash, I'm just not the kind of broad to drive to a food marathon, especially one with stun guns.

Better to slow people down with a good food coma. Consider me down.


  1. How were the lines for food this year? For sure it was the best weather for this event in ages but I quit going mostly due to long lines for food and them running out too early.

  2. Sharon,
    Interesting you bring this up. I told several people that the crowd seemed more manageable this year and my best guess why was because a lot of people must have stayed away based on frustrating past experiences.

    Every line seemed shorter this year and with many, I waited behind no more than 5 or 6 people, a marked change from past years. I was there between 12:30 and 2:45, so it wasn't even like I came at an off time (if there even is such a thing with Broad Appetit).

    Also, the restaurants seemed far better prepared, in some cases bringing over 900 servings, which is mind-boggling. But as you said, some years they were running out by 2 and disappointing a lot of people, so maybe they learned.

    All in all, I'd say this was by far the best year (as in most pleasant experience) since 2008, that first year when many people hadn't yet discovered it ,although the food was far more creative this time than back then.

    You might want to give it a chance again next year.