Eat Real Fest, Oakland's biggest and most widely celebrated food festival, descends on Jack London Square this weekend, bringing with it a veritable smorgasbord of street food, craft booze, and DIY demos. The festivities kick off on Friday, September 19, at 1 p.m. As always, admission is free.
After five years, Eat Real is already something of an institution — certainly, Jack London district residents know by now to brace themselves for the throng of cars scouring the neighborhood for street parking. That said, the event organizers add a few new wrinkles each year. Here are a few highlights, for those of you who wouldn't think about attending an event like this without a concrete plan of attack:
1. Going to School
It's possible that you've attended Eat Real for years with nary a thought about the festival organizer and nonprofit Food Craft Institute, which offers classes on everything from sauerkraut-making to the business of beer. This year, organizers hope to change that by dividing the actual layout of the festival into outdoor pavilions that correspond to the different subject areas that the institute focuses on: meat and butchery, sauces and preserves, confections, grains and milling, fermentation, and farmcraft.
So, for instance, a curry-focused Indian street-food vendor can be found in the sauces pavilion, and kimchi makers (and, say, a food truck whose menu prominently features kimchi) will set up shop in the fermentation section. Meanwhile, the large indoor space that used to house purveyors of "craft foods" (e.g., pickles and dried pastas) has been dubbed The Watering Hole — head there for all your beverage needs.
2. Price Hike
In perhaps the most controversial change, this year Eat Real organizers have raised the price cap for the street food vendors to $8 an item — up from the $5 limit that had been enforced for the festival's first five years. According to event manager Ally DeArman, many of the vendors themselves requested the change, citing inflation and rising food costs — especially for meat — that had prevented them from being able to offer their signature dishes at the festival. That said, DeArman stressed that many, many items will still be priced at $5 or less.
3. Oakland Chefs Unite
Every year, chef demos are scattered throughout the course of the three-day festival. That will still be the case this year, but many of the Oakland chefs will be featured in an opening night extravaganza on Friday known as "Oakland Chef Night," wherein such luminaries as Preeti Mistry (Juhu Beach Club), Gloria Dominguez (Tamarindo), and Charlie Parker (Haven), as well as several bartending superstars, will show off their chosen recipes. For locals, it's a good time to come out to "express Oakland pride," DeArman said.
4. "Year of Blood"
Meanwhile, this year's iteration of "Offal Wonderful," which centered on celebrating the often-overlooked "nasty bits" of the meat world, will focus on blood. On Saturday, in particular, visitors will be treated to a deluge of (loosely) blood-themed food: blood sausages, of course, but also Bloody Marys, blood-orange compotes, and a "blood-boiling" pepper jam tasting.
Make Room for Plum Bar
It seems that the only constant for Daniel Patterson's Uptown Oakland restaurant Plum, aka Ume (2214 Broadway), has been change: Less than four months after the restaurant relaunched with a menu focused on Japanese-inspired small plates, Ume has closed, as the Bay Area News Group blog Eat Drink Play first reported. The restaurant will be subsumed into Plum Bar, the ancillary — but much more popular — cocktail bar next door, which will now feature a biscuit-centric lunch menu, soft-serve ice cream, punch bowls, and much more seating.
After a quick renovation, Plum Bar + Restaurant reopened for both lunch and dinner on Wednesday, September 10.
This is only the latest turning point in the tumultuous history of the restaurant formerly — and now once again — known as Plum. A press release sent out by the Daniel Patterson Group characterized Ume as merely a "pop-up," and a representative of the restaurant group told me that the intention was always to test to see whether the restaurant's Japanese-inspired cuisine and slightly more casual style of service would be a good fit for the neighborhood. That seems like a little bit of revisionist history — I certainly don't recall the word "pop-up" ever being used in the early days of the Ume reboot.
Regardless, the verdict was clear: Despite generally positive reviews (including one from this critic), the restaurant often still had trouble filling seats. What people in the neighborhood wanted, Patterson concluded, was something even more casual and inexpensive. In short, what they wanted was more Plum Bar. And now, that's exactly what they're going to get.
The expansion will allow Plum Bar + Restaurant to accommodate larger parties, which the bar never had room for when it was limited to the smaller adjacent space. The restructuring of the bar also coincides with a promotion for Ashley Miller, the opening bar manager at Alta CA (Patterson's newest San Francisco outpost), who has been appointed bar director for the entire restaurant group. Miller will use Plum Bar's expanded kitchen as her boozy base of operations.
"We loved Ume, and so did a lot of people, but it wasn't what the neighborhood wants," Patterson said in an email. He added that he eventually hopes to open another Ume — or a restaurant with a similar concept, in any case — at a different location.