Article and Pictures by Al Katkowsky (Ice cream pic: Sue Bachner)
Did you ever hear the one about Woodstock? No, not the “brown acid” part. The part where they planned and planned and planned for weeks and months? And expected 200,000 people? But then 400,000 showed up instead?
The scale may be different, but it happens all the time…
“You’d better have tickets.”
It’s rare that someone says that to me as I approach a venue, but as we got closer, things got clearer: the remaining tickets were now gone, and the seventy five or so folks walking in the opposite direction from us at the one hour mark were doing so because they could not get in.
The First Annual Westbury Food Truck Festival set up shop in a portion of the parking lot alongside the NYCB Theater at Westbury. Fourteen food trucks and twenty-four vendors have brought their goods and services for the 2,000 who are expected to attend. Little did they know that, by days end, 4,000 will have come through the gates.
I’m completely down with the Trucks. I’m looking forward to some variety. You bring me ingenuity, passion and drive and I’ll meet you halfway. Here’s my money. Better you than McTrough. Or Burger Thing.
We do about fifteen minutes on the security line. It looks long, but in fairness, it moves along quickly.
The trucks are set up on the periphery, and the vendors are mostly set up in the middle. Beanbag toss and other games are available (no cost) for the kids, and beer and wine vendors are located near the building. We’re talking Paramount/Jones Beach prices, for the curious out there.
I’d expected live music. Huh, why? Because of the venue right there? Dude. What do I know. It may have been a fun addition.
The food lines are intimidating. I chicken out. Some lines are for individual trucks, and some are combo lines that divide to various trucks as you get closer. Sue gets on the line for Grover’s Grub, in pursuit of a Roast Beef sandwich (and a shorter wait.) I delay the inevitable, and speak to some of the vendors. The kind folks at Rhythmology tell me about their salsa and social dance classes. I spend a quick moment with John Muscat of Mr. Peppers Hot Sauce Company (really good sauce, by the way!)
Damnit. Now I’m hungry, and I know it’s going to take a while. I can’t put it off any longer, and I join the wait for food. From my notes of the day:
5:15: I get on the food line
5:20: I have not moved
5:25: I have not moved
5:30: I have not moved. I am instantly reminded that there is a reason I don’t go to Six Flags.
I ask the couple behind me what they’ve had, and they point to a shorter line, suggesting I check it out and return to my same spot on line. Very kind of them. As I weigh this offer, the wind kicks up and a gazebo knocks into us. Nothing major, but I take this as a sign and bolt over to the Bratwurst (non food truck, always available at NYCB.) Bread ratio was 2 to 1. Still, a decent hold-me-over.
Still out on leave, I get a beer for Sue and head back to her at Grover’s Grub. I am greeted by a combination disappointment/anger facial expression that I haven’t seen since she missed the rerun of the Rick and Morty “Citadel” episode. “They ran out of roast beef,” she says. Four persons from the front of the line, she is denied. I am reminded of my experience waiting for returned tickets for Page & Plant at Jones Beach in 1998, but I digress. She gets the Pulled Pork. “Not bad!” Inevitably, a comparison comes up between this and our favorite (Souper Fry in Merrick), which is very tough to beat. Also, she digs the ice cream that she gets from “Bona Bona Ice Cream.” The wait time for this was fairly normal.
I return to my line, Sue accompanies. We will divide at the end, she to “Fry Daddy’s Gourmet Fries and Deep Fried Treats “, and me to “Farm To Truck”; this because of a recommendation earlier in the day.
A guy from “Farm To Truck” braves the crowd, goes down the entire line, relating bad news: of the ten items on their menu, four remain. One of these is “fries.” There’s a silent groan from the assembled. The thinking is palpable: do I cut my losses and leave? Do I stick it out, having been on line this long already? On assignment, I am committed. Others exercise their options.
Finally, I order. As hard as waiting on line has sucked for all of us, the workload for the truck guys has been heavy and continuous with no break, and having to deal with the faces of frustrated, worn out customers as they finally approach cannot be fun or easy. The same Farm To Truck guy from earlier is taking orders. He greets every single customer with a smile, and an apology for the wait. This is impressive and appreciated.
Their Po Boy Sandwich subbed in a Sour Cherry Jam, which was a fun variation. The Irish Green Bread was tasty, but it dwarfed the portion to an extent. The House Made Truffle Fries featured a Pimento Aioli; a new variation to me that I thought was worthy.
Sue comes up with the classic Philly Cheese Steak, and Fried Oreo’s from “Fry Daddy’s”. The Philly is a very decent size. The cheese is cool (temp) and I don’t know if it’s really supposed to be, but I don’t care. It is my first time for Fried Oreo’s. Don’t smirk. I have no barometer to go by. All I know is that I am exhausted, and we need the chocolate boost just to get back to the car.
Waiting sucked, but the true disappointment of the day is that we don’t get to try nearly as many things as we would have liked to. This was one of the enticing aspects of The Festival.
Is it our own fault? Are we on the Kool-Aid Express? Has the Food Truck hype instilled in us the expectation of a one-stop-shop roadside high-end food experience, with convenience to boot?
Possibly. As for the Trucks themselves:
- We need to remember that they are just vendors on wheels, with as much potential to satisfy and disappoint as any restaurant. Some are fancy; some are “nosh.” Not every instance of mobile eats means you’ve stumbled upon The Drive-By Gourmet.
- It’s not like walking up to an ice cream truck, with a thirty second to two minute turnaround. Food orders take time to prepare.
As for the Westbury Food Truck Festival itself, there were mostly frustrated comments that I heard in person, and read online. But it needs to be noted that reviews of the food by people who got in very early and didn’t wait as long were better than those from the mid afternoon line.
“Okay. Um…quicker food tastes better?”
Ha! Possibly. Seen another way, quality and quantity are both valued, and worth paying for. But we also pay with our time. And we’d like to be done more quickly. To try more trucks, perhaps (and yes, we’d have gladly spent more money.)
After the long day, I and everyone else want to know what happened. You always want to know what happened, am I right? Do the organizers get it?
“Food truck events have gained popularity in other parts of the region, and we really wanted to bring a community event like this to Long Island,” said a spokesperson from NYCB at Westbury Theatre this week. “We knew going into it that the vendors had exciting food and products to offer, but the turnout exceeded our expectations. We’re looking forward to taking what we learned our first time out, listening to guest feedback, and planning an even bigger, better event for next year.”
Although the cynical among us may choose to think, “That’s it, they had their chance,” I think otherwise. Let’s face it: business is business, and everyone wants to stay in business. And I’m down with the Trucks.
Bring them. And let’s face it, Woodstock was great, but even they would have done things differently.