Sunset Mercantile is an opportunity for the community to come together, enjoying a day of music, food, shopping, and children’s activities. It’s a pop-up festival at Francis Scott Key Elementary and Pi Day 2015 was the second run; an event coordinator told us the goal is to make this a quarterly event.
There was a set list of musicians and story tellers throughout the day, but in the first hour we listened to a variety of competing music warming up: the capoeira booth had a batch of percussion instruments against the middle school choir doing scales, and passing car radios staccato’d by every now and then. Perfect weather accompanied our ambling among the vendor canopies, featuring artisan foods, handmade housewares and jewelry, non-profit representatives, and produce stands.
One vendor who particularly caught our eye was Lexie with her Dino-Mite! collection from Arcata, who makes mugs, printed towels, and essentially any craft she dreams of. The scenes within books are captivating, and the dinosaur mugs absolutely adorable! She makes mugs for her friend’s coffee shop but the patrons’ kids liked them too, so she started making smaller sizes (for hot chocolate, surely not coffee!). She was sharing her booth with her cousin of Andytown Coffee Roasters, offering samples of deliciously dark coffee.
We took this in while waiting for Adam’s Grub Truck to warm up. They knew we were coming for Zach to try the Ultimate Adam Bomb challenge.
Six pounds in 30 minutes, featuring six slices of bread, grilled chicken, fried chicken, spam, pulled pork, bacon, eggs, waffle fries, dinosaur chicken nuggets, coleslaw, cheese, and sauces, a majestic tower of street food staples. Zach had heart that he would triumph.
He started really strong, taking out the top layer quickly, but soon found that there was more spam than anticipated. There’s nothing wrong with spam in our book, but, well, this was a lot of salty meat.
Avocado was a surprise ingredient, a food Zach can handle in conservative moderation, so he separated the “not my favorite” parts in order to figure out how to tackle them later.
Getting caught up in eating and forgetting about the “not my favorites,” Zach hit a little wall and began to doubt his ability to finish.
He started to pair small portions from each paper bowl so as to knock down the pile of “not my favorites,” but in the end, the Ultimate Adam Bomb claimed another opponent.
For his second attempt at a food challenge, he did not do so bad. Part of what did him in were his personal preferences for ingredients, but taking on a challenge is not meant to be easy. Had it been an hour, or had there not been avocado, it would have been a slam dunk. The fun, though, is looking your opponent straight in the eye, muttering “I’m going to eat you,” and giving it your all no matter the outcome.
After not completing the burrito challenge, friend and reader Clayton took time to work up to the Pho Garden Challenge at Pho Garden. The restaurant is one of hundreds serving pho in San Francisco, but is set apart by five years of delicious traditional cooking and an enticing challenge. We’re already in San Francisco dining our way through the weekend on a mini vacation across the Bay, so Clayton joined us for lunch to take on the challenge.
Two pounds of noodles and two pounds of combination beef for $22 is a heckuva deal on its own, but if finished in one hour it’s free. The best time on record is 13 minutes, and reading the description alone before seeing the bowl, Clayton felt he was ready. The bowl was very big, though, yet with an hour to finish, he was doubtful but we thought he could do it easily. Tripe was part of the beef mix, though, unbeknownst to Clayton, and so the plot takes a twist.
Kind of like Reuben sandwiches at deli shops, August will almost always order a Thai iced tea when she sees one. This mix was perfect, with the right amount of creaminess and not too sweet.
August and Zach shared these rolls featuring shrimp, ground pork, mushrooms and glass noodles as Clayton ate through the first few minutes. On their own, the rolls were lightly crispy with a thin wrapper and tasty filling, but the tangy sweet dipping sauce made each bite complete. A strong (though enjoyable) garlic flavor with tender noodles and mushrooms complemented the savory pork.
August’s rice vermicelli bowl was more than she had hoped for. Lemongrass-marinated chicken cooked with onions and mild peppers sat on beds of fresh lettuce, bean sprouts, and julienned cucumber over a sizeable base of noodles. It came with its own serving of the same sauce as the imperial rolls, and the bowl of all the ingredients combined with that sauce was something special. “It’s a magical flavoring sauce!” she exclaimed. The vegetables provided crunch along with a sprinkling of crushed peanuts, and the chicken was delightful. She found herself seeking out every last morsel of meat from the bottom of the bowl, despite already feeling full.
“Garlic” is the first word of this entree’s category on the menu, aptly so as the garlic in the noodles was very strong and rich. It’s like a warning, because if you only mildly enjoy garlic, this would be way too much for you. Zach loved it, though, as did August when she tried a sample. His quality tenderloin beef was marinated in red wine and sauteed with potato and onion, resulting in a flavor akin to a sweeter, more flavorful teriyaki. The flavors were so well balanced, the green peppers didn’t bother him.
Forty-five minutes in, Clayton finally asked what the funny shaped noodles were and we told him they were strips of tripe. At that point, he lost his steam. For a while he was saying he wasn’t going to make it, but that put the last nail in the coffin. He officially threw in the towel with ten minutes remaining, knowing he just couldn’t eat another thing. Watch it go down at http://youtu.be/vPAlPIR7qQA.
With plans of going as green as possible, including growing some of their own specialty vegetables, Pho Garden has become almost iconic. Fresh food, sustainable goals, and a popular challenge will keep the doors open for a long time.
Clayton is a Seasoning And Salt reader as well as a friend from well over a decade ago, who took up Zach’s offer to pick an eating challenge to tackle. Zach would pay if Clayton didn’t complete whatever challenge of his choosing, but hopefully Clayton would win the glory and Zach’s wallet would be unaffected. No matter the outcome, Clayton let us document his attempt for this article, and we got to enjoy our own entrees at The Prickly Pear Cantina while cheering him on. We were excited for the evening, not just for Clayton but also to try Chef Rodney Worth’s take on Mexican fare.
Clayton is, by no means, a professional eater. We only set this up about a day before it happened, and in inviting his friends to be witnesses, three managed to make it on short notice. He did what he could to prepare for the El Jefe Burrito Challenge, such as drinking as much water as possible to keep his stomach from shrinking without the calorie intake. In the first few minutes we all thought, including the managers, that Clayton would be the fourth to win out of the 100 or so people who have tried this challenge.
While watching Clayton eat so quickly, the rest of the table thought he would finish before any of our food came out! We were wrong, though, and we got to nibble on two tasty appetizers. First was the chimichangas, which were totally different from the style we had the other day. These were tortillas with a smooth cream cheese filling and roasted jalapeños, fried and served with cilantro crema (essentially a Mexican-style ranch dip). The flavor of the jalapeños was stronger than their mild heat, so even those with sensitive palates can enjoy these chimichangas. From the frying process, the tortillas became slightly flaky and crispy yet still tender and easy to bite through. The cilantro crema provided an extra creamy coolness and refreshing cilantro aftertaste that completed the plate.
A crispy tortilla bowl is the clever carrier for the cheesy bean dip with pork carnitas. Bean dips are fairly familiar and known for the creaminess, but the carnitas brought a little meaty tenderness, plus it acted like a thickener so that the beans didn’t just dribble off the fresh, home made chips. The dip was very creamy, cheesy, gooey, and above all rich. A savory and deep red sauce was blended into the dip, and some diners couldn’t get enough.
Checking back in with Clayton, somehow he had managed to consume roughly 75% of the burrito in about 20 minutes! He surely had this in the bag, since to win the challenge one needs to eat the whole plate in 45 minutes.
The ingredients for August’s taco salad seemed completely benign: romaine lettuce, tomatoes, pinto beans, sour cream, avocado, shredded jack cheese, cilantro ranch dressing, and in this picture chicken for the meat. It was the proportion and presentation that blew away the people at the table. The thin, crispy, airy tortilla shell was somehow shaped and then mounted on a spoonful of refried beans to keep it in place, cradling the mounds of fresh vegetables, cheese, and other fixings. The chicken was very moist and flavorful, as it was spiced but not spicy. This is a taco salad to serve as a comparison for future taco salads for a long time.
Who doesn’t love a cheesy, gooey enchilada? How can it get much better than having three kinds, each with its own sauce? The green on the left was a salsa verde with a chicken and cheese filling; to the right was the red sauce with shredded beef; and sandwiched in the center was plain cheese with mole. The green enchilada was very bright, tangy, and refreshing with a blend of cilantro and tomatillo. The red enchilada was “super cheese filled,” with tender and well-spiced beef in a mildly spicy sauce. The mole had a hint of sweetness with a rich toasted sesame flavor. Whole sesames were supposed to be sprinkled all over this dish but Zach had to request it without. The mole, though, was so finely blended that the texture was creamy and smooth with no sesame chunks for Zach to worry about. Since he can’t have whole nuts and seeds, it was nice to enjoy the flavor of toasted sesame seeds in this form. This is an ideal item an indecisive diner who would like to try un poco de todo.
We didn’t check the menu for desserts when we first sat and made our appetizer and entree orders, since we were so jazzed for Clayton. After having the dinner dishes cleared, our server listed off the various sweet items and churro fritters stood out in August’s mind. She asked the server what the most signature and popular dessert was, and when the server said churro fritters, that sealed the deal and we had to try them. We’re so glad we did, too, because they were a hit at the table. About a dozen perfectly bite-size fried dough, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, sat amidst dark caramel and Mexican chocolate sauces with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. With many arms reaching across the table, this dessert disappeared rapidly.
One of those reaching arms was Clayton’s. He only went about three bites past the last picture you saw up there. Even with nearly 10 minutes remaining, he could not finish the burrito. In describing the challenge, he said that it got to the point that “it hurt, like a third through it hurt, but then I got half way and it was like the same pain… Each bite hurt the same until the very end, then it got a little worse” but that was just enough to have to call it quits. We heartily applaud his efforts, because he accomplished so much more than anyone else in the dining room could fathom – there were plenty of well-wishing onlookers rooting for him, but we all understood that it is a tough challenge to take on 1 lb. of carnitas, 1/2 lb. of chicken, 1 lb. of rice, 1 lb. of beans, 1/2 lb. of jack cheese, rolled in five tortillas, with enchilada sauce, sour cream, and guacamole. Here’s to Clayton, who braved El Jefe; may he join us again for another challenge soon.