The fifth annual Eat Real Festival — Oakland's preeminent three-day celebration of street food, local small-batch booze, sustainable ingredient sourcing, and DIY food arts — kicks off in Jack London Square at 1 p.m. this Friday, September 27.
If you've attended any of Eat Real's previous incarnations, you know the drill: Admission is free; street parking tends, quite frankly, to be a bit of a madhouse; and all of the street food items (from more than fifty different vendors) will be priced at $5 or less. That said, this year's festival will boast several new features, including an overarching focus on offal — i.e., organ meats and other underused cuts (see details on "the Offal Wonderful" event below) — and a number of new food artisans. Here are some highlights:
1) Friday Night Burgers and Booze: Keeping with the festival's recent tradition of having a specific theme for opening night, Friday's focus will be "Burgers, Bourbon, and Beer." Festivities will include a panel discussion featuring the proprietors of four independent craft breweries in the Bay Area, and many of the food vendors will be selling some kind of re-envisioned burger offering.
2) Oakland Chefs Take the Stage: For this year's cooking demo lineup, five well-known Oakland chefs will tackle a topic that should be of interest to plenty of budget-minded attendees: how to feed a family of four using ingredients that cost $25 or less. The featured chefs will be Sunhui Chang (FuseBOX), Preeti Mistry (Juhu Beach Club), Minh Tsai (Hodo Soy Beanery), Charlie Hallowell (Pizzaiolo), and Kyle Itani (Hopscotch). Check the online festival guide at EatRealFest.com for the exact times for each demo.
3) "Delicious America": In what Eat Real event director Marcy Coburn described as a good option for folks who abhor standing in line, this year the festival is introducing a ticketed event called "Delicious America": six different curated tastings of artisan food items from around the country. The tastings will highlight country hams, sauerkraut and kimchi, pepperoni and meat sticks, goat cheeses, chicharrónes, and beef jerkies, respectively. Each $15 ticket will include tastes of five exemplars of the selected food genre, as well as a beverage pairing.
4) Chef SpongeBob?: Eat Real has expanded its kids' offerings over the years, in an effort to make the festival more family-friendly. This year's kid-oriented events include a hand-cranked ice cream demo and a ketchup tasting workshop, and Coburn told What the Fork that SpongeBob SquarePants himself will be on hand to lead some kind of food-related activity.
5) Restaurants Try Street Food on for Size: Eat Real's most prominent feature has always been its street food vendors, and this year will boast a typical mix of up-and-comers and old favorites, including Oakland brick-and-mortars Juhu Beach Club (serving the Holy Cow pav, one of the restaurant's signature Indian-style sliders), Lungomare (ciccioli on soft polenta), and Nido (several items, including tlacoyo, a kind of masa cake). It's a good chance to try the food at these restaurants at a slightly lower price point.
For the past few years, meat-focused restaurants in the Bay Area have increasingly offered offal cuts — a multiplicity of snouts and jowls and trotters and hearts. Now, with the launch of Offal Wonderful, a weeklong promotional campaign celebrating "the fabulousness of the inside of every animal" that will run from September 23-29, it's official: Offal is most definitely in.
The event is the brainchild of Olivia Tincani, a food and farming consultant and the communications director for Llano Seco Rancho, the Chico-based ranch that's co-sponsoring the event (along with Eat Real and The Butcher's Guild). Tincani explained that the biggest issue for any small- to mid-scale rancher is full animal utilization. "You're always trying to maximize all of the time and energy you put into each animal," she said.
Because the average customer is mostly only interested in the middle sections of a pig or cow, it's incumbent on butcher shops and sustainability-minded restaurants (especially those that work with whole animals) to generate interest in the less popular — but often equally delicious — parts. It's the only way those businesses can be financially sustainable, Tincani said.
Offal Wonderful's mission is to shine a spotlight on those underappreciated bits. The campaign kicked off on Monday, with several Bay Area restaurants and butcher shops highlighting offal cuts on their menus over the course of the week. East Bay participants include Berkeley's Cafe Rouge (1782 Fourth Street) and Local Butcher Shop (1600 Shattuck Avenue), Oakland's FuseBOX (2311A Magnolia Street) and Hopscotch (1915 San Pablo Avenue), and Benchmark Pizzeria in Kensington (1568 Oak View Avenue).
Featured dishes include a pig's ear terrine and tête de cochon (head cheese) at Hopscotch, a grilled pork jowl skewer at FuseBOX, and a Florentine-style braised beef tripe and a headcheese at Benchmark. Local Butcher Shop will carry a wide array of both prepared and raw offal products, including scrapple; guanciale; and fresh pig's heads, kidneys, hearts, jowls, ears, and snouts.
Offal Wonderful will also run in parallel with this year's Eat Real Festival, which will have a number of offal-focused events on its itinerary. Several of the chef demos will feature offal cuts: Hopscotch's Kyle Itani will be cooking with turkey neck, and Pizzaiolo's Charlie Hallowell will make a chicken liver pâté. And this year's edition of the ever-popular whole hog butchery demonstration will, for the first time, include the pig's head as well as a selection of its organ meats.
Finally, this year's inaugural event will wrap up at the Butcher's Guild Conference, a gathering in San Francisco of butchers from all over the country, happening September 30 to October 1. This year's curriculum will include specific strategies for how to process and, just as importantly, how to market offal cuts.