Summer Festival Food

Mike Cook

The summer festival season is here, and I am excited to eat the rest of my meals from a stick. Though I missed the Caribbean Festival and the Creative Alliance's Folk Arts Festival, among others, I feel I have not missed the best. The summer festival season surely centers around Artscape, which I attended last weekend, and for those who like street food, only gets better in the fall with the State Fair, the Fells Point Fun Festival and others.

This year, Artscape made big food changes. No longer was it the same old lineup of food vendors. I consider this a welcome change in theory. Over the years I've noticed a creeping similarity between the festivals' food offerings. The same mobile food vendors that served one festival seemed to roll their trucks up the road to the next throughout the summer. The ethnic festivals and the Latino foods at the Fells Point Fun Festival break this trend and in doing so are amongst my favorite festival foods. I also liked the Station North food court at Artscape the last few years, which was a haven of vegetarian, vegan, and healthy options. The food was not only better for me, but far more interesting.

This year was different. Charm City Hospitality had been appointed the exclusive food and beverage vendor for the entire festival, and had promised changes. Artscape's website said there'd be stand signage by local artist and a ramped up green effort, neither of which I noticed. Artscape also promised one-stop-shopping for food and drink. This was a definite win, though not every kind of drink was sold alongside every kind of food, so you still sometimes had to buy food and drink in two trips. A good move, though.

The other big addition was the food trucks. There were less than I expected, but GrrChe, Doughy Dog, Cazbar, and The Silver Platter trucks were all doling out deliciousness on Charles Street.

Charm City Hospitality brought in a lot of new vendors. The Artscape-issued signs announced chicken fingers and Italian sausage and obscured some of the awesome new variety: fried Oreos, Florida grouper, alligator skewers, sweet potato fries, even steamed crabs. Once you got close to a stand you could often read the name of the vendor, where they were from, and their specialty. Taco Heaven was selling the awesomely named "Dank Nacho Supreme."

I would have liked to see more local vendors. It's possible local restaurants don't want the hassle of setting up for Artscape, but it feels odd to get falafel from a Virginian vendor when Babas, Shapiro's, and King Kabob all serve good falafel, and whoever it is that sells at the Farmer's Market does great and was at Artscape in the past. I'd be very grateful to learn whether Charm City Hospitality didn't ask locals or whether the locals didn't want in, or whether something else caused this.

Eclectic chaos is Artscape's greatest feature. I think in the future they ought to junk some of the conformist signs and let vendors strut their stuff. You'd think a company called Charm City Hospitality would have realized the charms of Station North's DIY food court. In the future, if Artscape can keep up the great new variety of foods and the convenience of selling drink and food together but let Baltimore's local oddness show, next year will be the best yet. In the meantime, there's plenty of festivals left to attend. What's your favorite?

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