Asparagus is 93% water. That’s what Stockton, CA felt like on the first Friday of the 2014 Asparagus Festival, as it rained enough to shut down the first of a three-day foodie event. Thankfully the rain stopped long enough on Saturday for droves of people to come out and celebrate asparagus together under an overcast sky. Most of the droves drove and the numerous parking lots within blocks were filled quickly, but at least street parking in Stockton isn’t metered on the weekends.
We attended last year and sampled every bite (and sip) of asparagus. Of course this year we wanted to enjoy some more, but to avoid redundancy we also wanted to try other creative cooking. If only there was time to do it all in just one visit!
The festival takes up a large area, so there is plenty to experience while shuffling from food stand to food stand. While we walked around, we listened to Berlin as they played on one of several entertainment stages billed to host a variety of bands and singers. There were also chef demonstrations, shopping vendors, children’s activities, a farmers market, eating competitions, dog agility competitions, a hole-in-one golf competition, paddleboats for rent, and a sea lion exhibit.
Food, beverages, and alcoholic drinks are generally purchased with tickets, which are found in the white tents that are conveniently marked on the map in the free brochure – make sure to pick one up when you enter. The cost is $1 per ticket and most items were three to six tickets, but lots of food vendors were accepting cash, as well. We did not have any alcoholic drinks, but we know from trying them last year that they are good. These folks were happy to let us snap a shot of their yummy asparagus margaritas.
Asparagus Alley is the legendary collection of gigantic tents where groups of volunteers produce an asparagus spread en masse. Last year we tried the asparagus beef burritos, asparagus steak hoagies, and asparagus pasta, but the most popular item that people flock to is the deep fried asparagus. The batter itself was light and crunchy, sprinkled with a good amount of sharp Parmesan cheese. The asparagus itself was cooked perfectly – not mushy, and not stringy. It was hot and fresh, too, so the crew of volunteers was really working well together this year.
Did you think we wouldn’t have another round of asparagus ice cream? Truly it is tasty. Tasty enough that we each got our own instead of just “sampling.” The asparagus flavor is light over a rich and creamy vanilla base; anyone saying they didn’t like it was in denial and couldn’t get over the fact that there was asparagus in the ice cream. Little chunks are visible but it does little if nothing to the texture, so this is a delicious dessert despite a doubtful disposition.
We’ve met Castro’s BBQ Shack and Filipino Food before at last year’s Gilroy Garlic Festival, and we appreciated that they embraced the theme of that festival. They did the same here, with asparagus lumpia added to their menu for the weekend. While we waited for our order, we were gifted a sample of their famous traditional lumpia with a spicy, tangy dipping sauce. We noticed the traditional lumpia was more popular than the asparagus lumpia, but that’s not to say that the asparagus lumpia wasn’t selling fast.
No offense to the volunteers making the deep fried asparagus over at the Alley because it was great, but Castro’s asparagus lumpia had them beat. A delicately thin and crispy wrapper was fried just right so there was little excess oil, and there was zero difficulty in biting through the fresh asparagus. Of the three dips for choosing we went with the ranch; maintaining a balance of herbs and tanginess, it was a good choice to highlight the celebrated vegetable.
We admit, we walked by many food stands because they either 1) didn’t provide something new and/or different, or 2) we had tried them before and they had nothing new and/or different to offer. But of all the festival, the one non-asparagus item that made us melt was Castro’s deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If we had to sum it up on one word, it would be “ohmmfggd.” Pretty sure we actually said that as we chewed the first bite. It was similar to a Monte Cristo sandwich in terms of texture and presentation. The creamy and savory peanut butter mellowed the bright sweetness of the strawberry jelly, and together they oozed between slices of standard white bread. Despite being deep fried, since you’d think that the bread would soak up excessive oil, it was not greasy. In fact, all we needed to wipe our fingers when done was the wax paper on which it was served.
Barring event-cancelling weather, we encourage you to attend the Asparagus Festival at least once in your life, although it’s likely something you’ll want to return to. This was its 29th year, so it is reliably a festival that can be made a tradition for families to enjoy through generations. All those in your company will have a good time, whether or not they like asparagus.
Beautiful weather drew us to San Francisco this evening, perfect for strolling around SOMA StrEat Food Park and visiting new trucks. The food truck craze has made available some of the best examples of food, from comfort to ethnic. Checking ahead on the Park’s Facebook page is a clear indicator of which trucks are present on any given day, so after seeing what was in store, we had high hopes for the food.
Lil Burma “provides healthy, gourmet street food,” as per the website, and we can’t argue. We ordered coconut chicken noodle soup but were graciously offered the Indian style curry chicken to try; no wonder, they knew that we would be impressed! The curry chicken was fork tender, stewed in an Indian blend of spices for a deliciously medium heat, and Zach thought it was the the tastiest he’s tried (in his limited curry experience). It was served over rice, which in Zach’s opinion, was “the best hands down from a food truck.” The soup was August’s favorite, being considerably milder. Abundant flour noodles and meaty coconut chicken hunks in a buttery bean soup would be the chicken noodle soup to beat any cold. It was not overly spiced yet zingy with sweet onions, fresh cilantro, and lime, achieving a good blend of flavors that any palate can handle.
Best Brazilian Skewer doesn’t have much of an online presence, but when you see the little cart, you will recognize it. Simple skewer plates were filling and nutritious, with sides we imagine taste like home for Brazilians. August erroneously thought the skewer would have had one big strip of meat, so she was surprised to see bite-size hunks of savory steak enhanced by a nice marinade; it’s always appreciated when street food is served in a manageable way, since plastic knives really wouldn’t do much for steak. A large pile of fresh mixed greens tossed in a light oil and vinegar dressing propped up the skewer, providing a good source of crudités, so to speak. The potato carrot salad was not heavily dressed and the vegetables were cooked to just the right point, maintaining good texture. The rice, so unassuming, was the underdog of the plate. It looked simple, but the flavors of garlic, onion, and black bean made it delicious like none other we’ve tried before.
Dessert in the form of a Golden Waffle was a great way to cap off the night. These waffles aren’t typical, as they are made with Belgian pearl sugar in the true liège style. Enjoy it plain or add toppings as we did – from drizzles to fruits, there are many combinations available. We chose Nutella, Ghiradelli chocolate sauce, Three Twins organic vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream. Granted, when you add toppings the waffle really becomes what you make of it, but we’re sure that anything would taste just fine atop a fluffy yet crunchy waffle.
When the weather is right, everyone comes out to play, no matter what day of the week. Similarly, the Park is open seven days a week, with standard ploys like movie night Wednesdays at mimosa brunch Sundays. Just check Facebook ahead of time to see which trucks will be there.