Part 1: Defying the Weather In Pursuit of a Good Time
Food Trust's Night Market couldn't be stopped Thursday night in University City. Neither oppressive heat, snaking lines, violent weather nor fleeing crowds deterred the dozens of vendors in attendance. Hundreds of people descended on the parking lot at 39th and Market for a truly Philadelphian street-food experience, complete with a beer garden, picnic tables and everything from tacos to crepes to cheesecake.
After careful consideration, I decided to pass on Honest Tom's fish tacos and Renaissance Sausage's hummus burger (though they both looked good), and risk line-fatigue by joining the mile-long Nomad Pizza queue. It was worth it. Nomad had set up a make-shift oven and tent, serving up thin-crust gourmet pizzas in rapid succession to a mob of eager diners. I love thin-crust pizza--I've never been much for the gooey, heavy Chicago-style stuff--and this was some of the best I've had. I ordered the Margherita (basil, mozzarella, parmesan, olive oil), and got a "whole" personal sized pizza for $9. With hefty chunks of melted mozzarella and fresh, juicy tomatoes heaped atop a crispy crust, this was a slice to remember. The Hopewell, NJ based Nomad will be opening a Philadelphia location in September, where vegan restaurant Horizons is currently located. I can't wait.
Just as I was finishing my pizza around 8 (there were nowhere near enough chairs, and I ended up sitting on a curb with the pie balanced on my knees, which was fine, albeit it tricky in a sundress. But it would have been nice to have more table space), I heard a girl complaining that it was going to rain and looked skyward to see looming, purple clouds. As Philadelphia summer storms are wont to do, it broke suddenly and forcefully. The crowd scattered in a matter of seconds, girls clutching their skirts in the gales of wind and covering their hair. I live close by, which meant not only that I was able to seek refuge before getting rained on, but also that I was able to return as soon as the storm died down.
I came back at 9 to find the space soggier and emptier than I'd left it. But it was by no means deserted. In the dark, it felt almost like a carnival, with the strings of lights adorning the trucks glowing yellow, people talking and sipping beers. For dessert (the reason for my return), I headed over to Sugar Philly. I had wanted to try Sweetbox's cupcakes, but I was unable to resist the allure of Sugar Philly's creme fraiche cheesecake (silky cake topped with strawberries and blueberries and sitting on a bed of graham cracker crumbs). Their macarons are also delicious, perfect pocket-sized, brightly colored treats. I adore Sugar Philly; their desserts are my favorite mid-afternoon sweets indulgence, and they are always so friendly and welcoming. As I waited to order, I watched a camera crew set up and shoot a scene of founders Franklin Shen and John Suh, and chef Daniel Tang biting into French macarons in the truck's window. The camera crew was from the Food Network. Sugar Philly brought a touch of celebrity to Night Market--Duff Goldman of Ace of Cakes fame was there to film a segment with the truck, serving macarons and hanging out with the Sugar Philly staff. Because I'm a bit of a Food Network dork, this was very exciting to witness. I'm glad I braved the 100 degree heat, lightning and driving rain for this event, and I look forward to the next one.
Photo Credit: nomadpizzaco.com and Nicole Woon
Part 2: A Victim of Too High Expectations.
As with many things in life, if you set up too high expectations, you're bound to fall...and fall hard. Having been to the Food Trust's night market in the fall -- a street full of food carts with twinkling lights and eclectic music -- and to many amazing street festivals in NYC, and having seen images of night markets all over the world, I was definitely disappointed upon walking into a fairly empty parking lot at 39th and Market.
I was fully expecting something more bustling, and what I got was something fairly sparse, with food trucks spread out around the outer edge, and a handful of them creating a line down the middle. The oppressive heat certainly didn't help matters, making it hard to even think about eating anything hot -- which pretty much applied to two-thirds of the trucks present. In addition, the lines coming out of either side of the single beer truck were pretty ridiculous as well. At first, my friends and I thought Guapos Tacos might have had the longest line, until we realized how many people were standing around waiting to get hydrated.
After some dithering on our part, my friends finally decided to grab tacos at Tyson Bees. As I'd already been introduced to them by my friend Diana, I didn't feel the need to have them again on a super hot day. My friends though found Tyson's bulgolgi (Korean BBQ short rib beef) tacos and thai basil chicken tacos quite satisfying and well-seasoned. If I'd had any appetite for it, I would've grabbed the steamed roast pork bun -- noted on Tyson's website as Philly Cookout 2010's appetizer of the year.
I, on the other hand, floated over to Jimmies Cupcakes instead to pick up a much-needed ice cream sandwich. After perusing their menu options, I went with the strawberry ice cream sandwiched between two sugar cookies. While the cookies 'n cream ice cream and the chocolate chip cookies would've been a killer combination, the heat made it more appropriate to choose something a bit lighter. The strawberry ice cream tasted pretty good, but the sugar cookies were a bit thicker than I would've preferred.
All that said, I probably didn't give the whole experience a chance. I certainly blame the weather first and foremost, as temperatures in the 80s would've made it more likely for me to linger longer. Especially since I'd heard that Duff Goldman was giving out macarons at my favorite Sugar Philly truck! However, I honestly didn't last more than 20 minutes before ending up in the air conditioning at Capogiro a few blocks away. And I'm kind of glad I wasn't outside when the rain started pouring a few hours later!
Kudos to the Food Trust for a good effort (for the marketing was quite spectacular!) even though the results were kind of mixed. Thankfully (for those of us at Penn), most of these trucks are staples in the neighborhood, so we really don't have to go very far to see them in action!
-Hoi Ning Ngai
Monday, June 13, 2011
Part 1: Defying the Weather In Pursuit of a Good Time