Eat to the beat

Gourmet offerings, high-end snacks, and pop-up chefs come to rock festivals and music venues. Should you give a fork?


EAT BEAT Good food was never the part of the concert plan. In high school, the punks and shredders ate giant Pixy Stix, filled to the plastic brim with unnaturally purple sugar dust — purchased from the all-ages venue snack counter — followed by late night Del Taco red burritos slathered in Del Scorcho and stuffed with crinkle fries. Flash forward a decade or so, and the vegan Malaysian nachos with spicy peanut sauce and pickled veggies from Azalina's were all I could talk about after Outside Lands, save for the requisite "oh my god" Metallica utterance.

I wasn't the only one. From every corner of that packed festival, people — and of course, bloggers — were raving about The Whole Beast (featuring pop-ups from the Michael Mina Group) tucked away by Choco Lands, Andalu's fried mac and cheese, and Del Popolo's massive, industrial-looking rustic pizza truck.

While the higher-end meal options have now been going strong at Outside Lands for a few years — and, granted, food has long been a part of the festival equation — the gourmet pop-up thing, and locally-sourced, quality food offerings are on the menu more and more in brick-and-mortar music venues in San Francisco. Last week, the Great American Music Hall hosted an event dubbed the Great American Pop-Up. Seems it's more open to experimentation in the slower summer months.

The one-off (for now) event was a family affair for the Great American Music Hall. There were six pop-up food vendors set up in between the grand bronze pillars of the Tenderloin venue, chosen by security guard Drake Wertenberger, who stepped forward at a managers meeting to coordinate. Jessica DaSilva, who works in the box office at both GAMH and sister-venue Slim's, was there selling imaginative sweet treats for Milk Money/Dora's Donuts Shut Yer Hole Truck, including a strawberry cheesecake push-pop, and the chewy chocolate raspberry cookie I devoured. There was also local, sustainable sushi by Ricecrackersushi, some colorful Asian fusion dishes via Harro-Arigato & Ronin, and a whole lot of sausages sliced by the Butcher's Daughter.

It felt nearly illicit to be in the venue without the anticipation of a live set, like we were sneaking in. And the warmer lighting opened up the intricacies of the architectural design. But this event was focused squarely on the food, with the tables pushed out onto the floor, and a flannel-clad DJ spinning inoffensive hip-hop while munching on something from a paper plate.

Last year, Slim's created something similar, but broke it down to one chef at a time hosting rotating gourmet pop-ups once a week for the month of August. Those too were more about the unique food offerings, less about music. There were dinners served in the venue by Jetset Chef Alex Marsh and Cathead's BBQ (which now occupies its own legitimate space down the street from the venue).

GAMH and Slim's both already serve dinner nightly at live shows, but publicist Leah Matanky tells me there were no hard feelings from the in-house restaurant staff.

On regular show nights even, Matanky says she's seen an increase of interest in gourmet food at the venues. "We have seen our kitchen sales numbers increase noticeably over the last couple of years. We've started running nightly food and drink specials that include things we don't normally offer and people have really responded to that. We still offer the full array of bar food...but you can also get gourmet specialties like the baked polenta pizza with smoked mozzarella or the grilled tri-tip steak with garlic-herb potatoes."

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