Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bites on Broadway in Oakland

Last Friday night kicked off "Bites on Broadway," Oakland's version of the now-established food truck movement.

Not only was I excited about a kind of "Off the Grid" in Oakland, but it's literally one block away from my apartment in the Rockridge/Temescal neighborhood of North Oakland. Bites on Broadway was created by community organizer and foodie Karen Hester, who wanted to help revitalize Oakland's Broadway.

Initially, the event was promoted to take over the front lawn of the Oakland Tech high school on Broadway and 45th, which would have been a prominent spot along Broadway. But when I walked over, I didn't see anything and worried that I got the date wrong. Then I looked down 45th and saw two or three trucks parked on the side of the school on the street.

Five vendors made it for the inaugural Bites on Broadway: El TacoBike, Fist of Flour, Go Streatery, Sue's Sassy Pies, and Tina's Tamales. People started lining up and people had to find places to eat on the school steps or along the wall because the grass was totally muddy from the week's earlier rain. Having the event on the side really made it seem like a pop up event, and supposedly the school wouldn't allow an event on the front lawn. (What is this? Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution?)

After giving a quick once-over of the five vendors, I decided to stand in line for food at Go Streatery, who was serving up pulled pork sandwiches, salads, and oxtails with grits. Go Streatery had the longest line at the time, but I was patient and was rewarded with this amazing bowl of oxtails ($8.50).

The dish was beautifully presented with heirloom baby carrots on top of the oxtails. It really looked like a dish you'd find at a restaurant. The oxtails were tender, falling off the bone and had a nice flavor. It may not have a lot of complexity, but it was hearty and a great Friday night dinner. (I also got a cup of lavendar lemonade, $2.)

After enjoying my oxtails, more and more people started to arrive and the lines got longer but I wanted to try something else. So I got in line at Fist of Flour for its pizzas. As I waited, I saw more people leaving because some of the other trucks started to run out of food by 7 p.m. (the event started at 5:30 p.m.). I think the lines were long because so many people wanted to check out the food trucks and there weren't enough of them dishing out grub.

The organizers set up some games for the kids, but that wasn't enough to really keep people busy as they waited for food. Eventually, Fist of Flour became the only truck left with food for sale, which made my line long and slow. I actually stood in that line for close to 1.5 hours. I know, crazy, but sadly I had nothing else to do on a Friday night and it's like an extra innings baseball game when you're already invested and you can't leave.

I eventually got half a pizza (they made a meat version with ham, cheese, mushrooms, and arugula) for $8 and walked back home to eat it while watching the Giants game. It was chewy with a few crispy edges, with a nice flavor in the sauce. Was it worth the 1.5-hour wait? Probably not, but like one woman said in line, "it's all for the experience."

I hope the people behind Bites on Broadway have learned from this first experience, and hopefully they can get a better location more fitting for an event instead of squeezed on the side of the street. Bites on Broadway was promoted to be a weekly Friday night event for the summer, but I wonder how successful it'll be considering several people left looking disappointed or rejected. It's going to take a lot of good word of mouth to get these people back.

For me, it's easy for me to check in on this food truck event because it's so close to my home. Here's hoping that it improves and continues because these food trucks deserve a solid audience.


ChrisC said...

I was one of the folks who left disappointed. I felt like this was a great idea, but really poor execution, at least this first time out. Moving the event to the side of the school, where it was all muddy and there wasn't much room, seemed like a terrible idea. And by the time we got there, around 7:00, I think the taco guys were already gone (didn't even SEE them), the tamale folks were out of food, and the pot pie vendor had just announced they only had a few pies left. The lines for pizza and the other place were so long that we were afraid we'd wait 30-40 minutes only to have them announce they were out of food. Also, I didn't even SEE games. And wasn't there meant to be music, too? We ended up just giving up and going for pizza at Lanesplitter in Temescal. I'll probably give this another try, since it's in my neighborhood, but unless they get a lot more vendors (or at the very least tell the existing vendors to bring a lot more food), I doubt I'll become a regular.

Karen Hester said...

Thanks single guy cooking for coming over and writing such a thorough review. As the community organizer, I certainly know we have a lot to improve upon, mainly getting more vendors. Boffo Cart will be there this Friday and the vendors from last week will have lots more food so that should help. OUSD turned down our permit application citing "risk" which is downright ridiculous cuz the plaza is the perfect place to have the event but in Oakland you do what you have to do so I moved it to the north side as I also approached Kaiser for their lot but that will take months to be successful, if ever. Not sure why folks didn't move to the area in the sun out of the mud. I felt bad that so many folks left hungry and we hope to work out the kinks as we go forward. Couldn't have music (yet) as we are just trying to feel out the neighborhood--games were at far end by Oaklandish in the SUN!

I agree, a work in progress but that's what most new events are...

Single Guy Ben said...

ChrisC, I feel ya!

Karen, thanks for the update. I bet the school is worried about liability. Would they change their mind if you got event insurance? The front lawn would have been such a perfect setting. Even the Kaiser lot across the street wouldn't have the same open feel. Also, I bet people stayed in the muddy area because they wanted to be close to the food! :) Hopefully with more vendors it'll spread out the lines.

Carolyn Jung said...

Wow, you're lucky you're so close to this truck gathering. Hmm, I wonder if they'd give you a light-up pager so you could put your order in at the various trucks, then go home until you got buzzed that it's ready for pick-up. Oooh, now that would be service! ;)

ChrisC said...

Thanks, Karen for the update. I think this area needs more events like this, so it's nice to know that y'all have plans for improvement. I'll be back to try again in a few weeks, after y'all have had a chance to work out some of the kinks!

Anonymous said...

Event insurance is a great idea - I like the concept of Bites on Broadway, but as a taxpayer it doesn't make sense for the already-broke school district to have to pay someone if they get sick from the food or fall down running to get the last tamale. Hope you can figure something out.

foodhoe said...

awww, somehow I feel sad about your 1.5 hour wait for the pizza, but am glad you stuck it out. You really are lucky to have your neighborhood turn into a mini epicenter of good food dude... those oxtails sounded worth the trip alone.