Food-truck festivals are, generally speaking, more trouble than they’re worth. The excessively long lines, the terrible live music, the accidental sunburns and the dearth of parking make such gatherings better in theory than practice. But it is possible, fleetingly, to find the unicorn and ride it into the sunset under the right circumstances.
Food-truck festivals are the modern-day food court, a hipper version of the central marketplace or square. Unlike several other street markets that shall remain nameless, there aren’t stalls filled with useless hippie garbage or reject artwork — each vendor is offering something that would rate as “pretty solid” at best, if not somewhere higher in the B+/A- range.
I broke my general policy of avoiding the fray at the food-truck festival in downtown Greensboro on Sunday primarily because my girlfriend Kacie and I could walk from our apartment, eliminating any concerns about parking. And rolling up on the late side, about 90 minutes before the whole thing shut down promptly at 9 p.m., we figured we could avoid the peak of the throngs.
We were right.
Chirba Chirba, the popular Durham-based dumpling shop, barely drew a line by 7:30 p.m., but we kept walking to a beer tent, where only a couple people stood in front of us for some Shotgun Betty brews from Raleigh’s Lonerider brewery. For whatever reason, the crowds crushed the local trucks — y’all make great food, but with roughly 50 trucks packing Greene and Market streets downtown, I’ll see y’all at the bar next week. Instead, we walked up to Tan-Durm, an Indian food truck from Bull City, and shared an order of tasty lamb samosas.
Ideally I wanted to hit Baguettaboutit, another Triangle truck that I’d learned about during Greensboro’s food-truck pilot program a few years back on Commerce Street and instantly loved. Lucky for us, the late hour afforded us a minimal wait, and we were handed a queen of spades card as our “order number” — a pretty ingenious way to avoid mispronouncing names and to reuse the tickets.
We split a messy buffalo chicken-chipotle sausage shoved inside a hollowed baguette and filled with “a double punch of ranch and buffalo sauce” before heading over to Baozi for Chinese steamed buns stuffed with dragon fruit pork.
Tables and chairs decorated the old Guilford County Courthouse lawn, the only positive use for the space I’ve ever seen, leading Kacie to suggest that something of the sort be a permanent feature of the grass. I couldn’t agree more.
Never before have I witnessed a food-truck festival so diverse, and I don’t just mean the dining options — the attendees actually looked like Greensboro does, nearly half black and numerous international populations well represented. I’m guessing it helped that the shindig went down in the center city, and didn’t require any sort of unnecessary and complicated wristband, pre-purchase or ticketing system, inviting anyone in off the street to peruse or participate. Good for Greensboro.
By this time we’d grabbed a hold of the unicorn, me on my second drink and her scouring for something sweet as we traipsed through the fourth and final block of the festival. But by now night had started to fall, our stomachs had begun filling and we couldn’t decide which long line would be most worth it.
Our late arrival allowed us to miss most of the unnecessary cover-style bands, though we caught two buskers playing an unfortunate cover of Sublime, and while the alcohol flushed my face, the setting sun didn’t turn the back of my neck red.
But we’d also cut it so close that trucks started packing it in, some having run out of certain ingredients early on and putting up signs declaring they didn’t have any more rice at one or beef at another.
A long line in front of the Humble Pig evaporated as the minutes ticked away. Sucked in, I asked the person running the window for the best thing they had left. The Carolina fries, he said — an $11 mountain of beer-battered fries topped with pimiento cheese, coleslaw a heap of pulled pork barbecue and some sauces. Fincastle’s used to serve something like that called the Big South when that downtown burger spot was still in business, though it wasn’t on the menu so you had to know to ask for it. I dare say this tasted even better, though luckily former owner Jodi Morphis’ new restaurant Blue Denim surpasses Fincastle’s as well.
While I waited for the heart-attack platter to be ready, Kacie began the hunt for a shortened dessert line. Only a few minutes remained and the crowds had thinned, but hundreds still milled about in the middle of the blocked-off thoroughfares. We’d squeeze in a dessert, we figured, before walking home.
The mini doughnut line had dwindled, but the purveyor stood at its end, directing additional customers away. We found a similar scene at another, and the options at a refurbished ambulance didn’t pique our interest. We hit a cookie truck before the windows closed but unfortunately not before the folks inside served up their last order for the evening. A quick cruise through the rest of the fest and we realized we were SOL.
Not that we were still hungry after giving up and sitting on a curb to dig into those Carolina fries, and Kacie pointed out we had gelato at home anyway. But while we’d practically gamed the system, finding the best way to get down on a food-truck festival, we also crashed just as we reached the pinnacle, maybe 10 minutes shy of walking away with devilish grins as if we’d pulled off some sort of caper.
You can only ride the wave so long before you fall off the board, but we quickly popped our heads above the surf and paddled home, satisfied with our performance especially considering past experience battling the waves.