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.
Monday + holiday = impossible to find an open restaurant. Thankfully we have Off the Grid, where tonight in Belmont, we got to try the fare of four new trucks. Off the Grid provides space, seating, music, and waste services for food trucks to have an area to congregate, and with so many people staying home on this Monday holiday, we breezed through the event with tiny-to-no lines.
Cheese Gone Wild serves exactly what the name describes. The Alcatraz Island Melt looked most tempting to us: grilled flank steak with homemade balsamic steak sauce, caramelized grilled onions and mushrooms, imported Gruyere and Swiss cheeses, on organic shepherd-style white bread. The tender beef had a nice acidity from the balsamic glaze, and the sweet onions balanced the palate so it didn’t go too far into savory. There was just the right amount of cheese so as not to overpower the other ingredients. Held together between slices of buttery grilled bread, this was sumptuous but far from greasy. All sandwiches come with kettle chips and cole slaw, which we thought was very fresh and crunchy with a creamy mayonnaise base. The lemonade with real strawberries had some pulp, not just blended juice. With more strawberry than lemon flavor, there was little citrus to make your lips pucker, so it was more like a strawberrade.
Roli Roti has spread across the Bay Area and can be found at farmers’ markets all over, but it was our first time bumping into the mobile rotisserie van. “Serving only sustainably-farmed meats and organic produce at their seasonal best,” as per the website, Roli Roti has secured its spot honorably among those markets.
We got a half of a chicken to split between us, because it doesn’t take much food to be satisfied when it’s quality. The meat was supremely moist and juicy with a flavorful herbed skin. To go with it, we ordered a small batch of fingerling potatoes. These were soft and salted just right with sea salt, but the nicely caramelized skins with rosemary put them a step above.
Providing a few specialties tonight as a detour from their standard menu, Little Green Cyclo impressed us with their Vietnamese treatment of meats. Locally sourced, all natural, or organic when possible, we appreciate those who put thought into real food. While Zach enjoyed the first few bites of the wagyu beef and rice vermicelli without the sweet vinegar sauce, it was the sauce that made all the difference in enhancing the noodles, vegetables, and beef itself. The beef was lean and tender, clearly high quality, and though it was seasoned well, that vinegar sauce was magical. The duck confit spring rolls had the same vermicelli that was firm but gummy (in a good way). The fresh veggies provided crispness, but the salty duck gave the spring rolls some meaty crunchiness. The peanut sauce on the side was smooth and sweet, making for an all-around refreshing and light item.
We didn’t have any savory, but we loaded up on sweet from the Pacific Puffs Puff Truck. There’s regular size and mini size, but we couldn’t resist – go big or go home, right? Well, we were going to go home after this stop, so we went big and then went home. The “classic” was filled with a rich vanilla cream and dipped in chocolate ganache that was dark and almost fudge-like. The “chocolatier sugar” had a mild chocolate cream filling and light dusting of powdered sugar. With the same chocolate dip as the “classic,” the special “smores” also had marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs pushed into the top with marshmallow cream inside. The marshmallow cream had a texture somewhat looser than whipped cream and a delicate marshmallow flavor that didn’t overwhelm the pastry.
With the Bay Bridge closure until tomorrow morning we anticipated much more traffic, but getting to and exploring Off the Grid was easy and fun. Twice we’ve visited the Belmont location, and twice we’ve left happy and satisfied.
We are in a daze, and not in a good way. The San Jose Bacon Festival of America (a strange moniker; pick one or the other, city or country) was the opposite of everything we had hoped for – and we set the bar low. Music? It was good, but too loud and the stages too close together so the sounds clashed. Seating? Upturned plastic buckets. Bacon? Either unimaginative or sold out. We are beyond astonished that the participating vendors could not keep stock of the most important ingredient of the day. Supposedly 10,000 guests were expected and around 20,000 descended, so foresight was not employed by the event organizers, Moveable Feast. Each menu item among all the trucks was capped out at $5, but we did the math and Moveable Feast made out very well for themselves, taking in around $180,000 from entry ticket sales. The often heard buzz going through the crowd was loaded with heated disappointment because this was nothing more than an over-hyped food truck event.
Entertainment was lacking, considering this was supposed to be a festival. A “train” for kids to ride around, a few bouncy houses, blaring stages, and a mechanical bull aren’t enough to keep families happy in the face of lines pushing an hour.
Even beverages were limited. If the food trucks ran out of their specialty beverages, you could try your luck with beer. We’re both over 21 but we weren’t carded or given a bracelet for ID, so hopefully some training occurs before the next event Moveable Feast does that offers alcohol. There were originally three beers available for $5 each, but the most palatable of the three sold out fast. Go figure.
Of the 40+minute lines we waited through, two of them successfully led us to baconized food. What a waste to inch up to multiple food truck windows, only to discover that they were out of bacon. At least Madd Mex had bacon, applewood smoked center cut to be precise, and was creative with it. We enjoyed the pupusa with soft masa and melted cheese. Bacon was laid on top as well as folded into the pupusa, giving it a nice salty smokiness that was well complemented by the gooey cheese. The side of cabbage slaw was fresh and had a surprising tomato sauce that gave it an unexpected acidity.
Sweet and succulent, Madd Mex’s frog legs were the highlight of the night. If there was anyone tonight for whom it was their first time trying frog legs, this was a prime example. The texture is like fish but meatier, and it was so easy to suck off the bones. The legs were honey glazed, giving them a delicate sweetness that was enhanced by a touch of lemon zest. They sat on a bed of sticky rice with green onions, adding another layer of natural sweet flavor. A strip of bacon with no greater incorporation was a bit of a cop out, but the tasty frog legs wowed us on their own.
From among 28 food vendors, Eat On Monday was the only other food truck, let alone vendor, that had clever bacon items on the menu and hadn’t run out by the time we got to the window. This crepe roll wasn’t quite a crepe, but rather a tortilla cooked with an egg; regardless, some thought was behind the design. With organic real maple syrup, the glazed applewood smoked bacon was flavorful. Add some cheddar and zingy baby arugula, and you’ve got an interesting little snack item.
Part of the huge draw was that the Bacon Festival was associated with and practically attached to Night Market, San Jose’s Saturday night tent gathering that runs through the summer. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything at all related to bacon at the Night Market besides a bacon croissant – sorry, but a croissant with bacon was too simple for us to waste our time, money, and caloric intake. August could make some bacon earrings with baking clay, so why didn’t any of the local vendors think of that? She wanted to go home with some kind of prize, and while Sweet Dragon Baking Co. had a tent in the Night Market, they ran out of their bacon brittle. Thankfully we had already snagged some of the last bags being sold at Eat On Monday. The Smokin’ Hot Bacon was a little too hot for August, but the Maple Bacon Peanut was a sweet way to sulk on the ride home.
We still can’t believe that we paid $10 per person and $7 for parking, just to gain access to food trucks that we could otherwise find at Off The Grid or on their own street corners. Moveable Feast found a way to trick us all into coming to their event, when all it was in the end was a bunch of food trucks serving cheap items, with and without bacon. Where was the actual bacon celebration? After such a let down, we may have to throw another bacon dinner party for our readers, family, and friends that truly honors this versatile cut of meat.