Food and Wine at Outside Lands: You Should Probably Be Excited

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J. Birdsall
Aztec Chocolate Cupcakes from Mission Minis
Just imagine: Al Green could chow down on a mint It's-It ice cream sandwich this weekend in Golden Gate Park. Those brothers from Kings of Leon might try a Maverick's pulled-pork sandwich or a gourmet cupcake from Mission Minis. Maybe Cat Power will munch on sweet potato fries from Pacific Catch, or a savory crepe from Ti Couz

It's certainly possible, though possibly unlikely, that the main musical acts will partake in the food options at Outside Lands' Taste of the Bay and Wine Lands this Saturday and Sunday. Did you catch that change? The Bay Area festival formerly known as Outside Lands has a new extended moniker for its food and wine offerings and, it appears, a bigger commitment to gastronomy. This year, along with a contentious music lineup, the festival will include more than 30 food and wine sellers, nearly all of them local.

That focus on San Francisco vendors is important to the folks at Another Planet Entertainment, the production company behind Outside Lands. "It's a challenge -- there are a lot of food vendors that go to different festivals around country, but there aren't any music festivals that focus on regional and local cuisine," said Allen Scott, vice president of Another Planet.

The cuisine at Outside Lands is a different breed of festival fare. Instead of hiring traditional street food vendors, the organizers have gone to (or been approached by) actual brick-and-mortar restaurants, imploring chefs to truncate their menu into a smaller, less expensive hand-friendly meal.

Despite an apparent marketing push to include it, Scott bristles at the idea that Outside Lands is jumping on the gourmand bandwagon this year. "Always, since its inception we've wanted Outside Lands to be known for including San Francisco and Bay Area foods," he said, adding, "SF is probably the best culinary city in the world -- we wanted to celebrate that. [We] didn't want typical hot dogs, hamburgers."

Though Scott says it has been a slow and steady process to get local restaurants to equip themselves for an outdoor festival. The first year, half the vendors were from out of town; now Scott says only 10 percent are non-local.

It's all about tailoring your menu into a condensed meal, says Brandon Arnovick of Mission Minis -- though this wasn't an issue for his already fest-ready treats. Arnovick sold a thousand little cupcakes a day at last year's festival and credits the event with getting people to his shop. The local aspect is key for Arnovick as well. "It just makes sense to pull from the city's own culinary finds, versus some shish kabob dude that's at every fair."

Ari Feingold, Outside Land's vendor coordinator also mentioned vendor variety as an important factor in the mix. "Its important that there's a diversity of menu items. We take it seriously that if someone is doing a Hawaii ahi poke, that no one else is doing that." 

All signs point to the food at Outside Lands being a showstopper this year. The list is impressive; there will be barbecue oysters from Anchor & Hope, tator tots with lavender honey mustard from Grumpy's, cilantro lime chicken skewers from Asqew Grill, and jambalaya from Yats' New Orleans Original Po Boys. Split Pea Seduction, Pica Pica Maizekitchen, Namu and Philz Coffee will be represented there as well. 

Despite some criticism of the music lineup, Scott says he expects 80,000 people will come to Golden Gate Park this weekend over the two-day event. Perhaps the fancy food options with keep them coming back for more.

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