Not Even a Wafer-Thin Mint: Gorging at the EastSide Food Festival

Self control is put to the test at the second annual sampling of LA’s most beloved and promising restaurants and eateries.

To some degree or another, the term “foodie” has become derogatory. It’s the same thing with the word “hipster” (with which “foodie” would enjoy significant overlap in a Venn Diagram): highly vocal impresarios of taste—in the foodie’s case, quite literally so—come off as having a superiority complex, thus encouraging a certain amount of pushback against the stereotype. As always, the hate says more about the haters than anything else, but how the accused respond speaks volumes just as well.

At the second annual EastSide Food Festival in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, this past weekend, there was no shame in taking pride in what you eat, and, at least on the part of the organizers, absolutely no shame whatsoever in owning the “foodie” label. Workers at the event declared as much with their purple “I’m a foodie” shirts.

The entire evening walked several thin lines—between highbrow and low, local and corporate, modesty and gluttony.

Start to finish, the entire evening walked several thin lines—between highbrow and low, local and corporate, modesty and gluttony. I said “Take your time” to myself when walking in, but after being presented fresh out of the gate with Whole Foods pesto sliders that would normally require a mortgage to pay off, all considerations of human decency went out the window (the burger was really good, man; hail corporate).

Whole Foods excepting, however, the rest of the festival was mainly dominated by local businesses and independent chains. Angel City Brewery repped LA well (as they always do) on the beer front, and Boxed Water served LA well on the water front by reminding us that we have no water (they also housed their cartons in containers that looked dangerously similar to, and were located dangerously close to, trash cans).

Carnitas El Momo were presumably pissing off vegetarians across the neighborhood with their “porkocalypse” tacos (combining shoulder, skin, and pork belly into one sacrilicious mix) that were as successful as they were spicy (says the 115-pound Jew). To those who combined it with what I can only assume were Guatemalan Insanity Peppers on the side, may god have mercy on your soul.

Eastside_Food_Festival-2015-Tofu_Balls

Chef Nguyen Tran’s Crispy Tofu Balls

Catering to the other side of the meat-eating spectrum was Starry Kitchen, who, along with a little help from Chef Nguyen Tran (who was sporting a giant banana costume), were advising all in attendance to “enjoy [their] balls in yo’ mouth.” It was an offer too enticing to pass up, naturally, and the bright green crispy tofu balls being served ended up being the best item served at the whole event. Nguyen, as Cartman would say: “I love your crispy tofu balls, chef.”

Another standout vendor was Belle’s Bagels, a pop-up bagel outfit run by Nick Schreiber. The approach here was extravagantly straightforward, combining substantial, dense bagels with schmears and toppings  ambitious enough to make a Noah’s employee hyperventilate.  

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Inevitably, though, open restaurants, just like open bars, are a mixed blessing, and at a certain point, weak festival-goers (me) were in need of a place to sit. Space outside to collapse heads-in-hands was limited, but chairs were aplenty in the Demo and Panel room, where chefs, artists, and other assorted hungry people were discussing and enlightening one another on a variety of culinary topics throughout the day. It was where you could stop in and consider the similar plights between restauranteurs and musicians, or find out that there is such a thing as a “2015 Barista Champion.”

By night’s end, people who were initially overjoyed to pay $60 to eat their guts out were admitting defeat, walking past ice cream—glorious, glorious Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams—without a second glance on their way out. If that isn’t a sign of the porkocalypse, I just don’t know what is. FL

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