Now, this is the way it was supposed to work. You pay $40 each to get into the festival. You go have some food, maybe wait in line for 15 minutes or so to buy some Southside Market Texas barbecue ($12). Take it to the amphitheater and watch some music. Get hungry again and go have some Philly Cheesesteak ($8). Go watch a chef demonstration by Chris Cosentino. Go get some bacon samples or a BLT ($2/$7). Get a bottle of water ($5) and maybe a micro-brew beer ($12). Go watch some more music. Go get a book signed by Guy Fieri. Get a famous Katz's Pastrami ($7) and then maybe some Juniors Cheesecake ($5) for dessert. Watch another demonstration or listen to some music before you head home. Spend six hours at the event (it was open for ten) and it's a great day of food, music and meeting other folks interested in food. (Note: your $40 entry fee gets you one free plate of food from any of the vendors). Parking was $15.
Now if you had paid $531 each it was all you can eat at each food stand, special seating, meet and greet with the stars and admission to the wine tasting tent with VIP parking.
Now how would you feel if you paid $40 and you spent almost five of those six hours standing in line getting just two food items. Never having a chance to see any demonstrations, never being able to go listen to any of the music. Now think about spending $531 and going through the same thing (which also meant never getting to the wine tent).
I'm not going to go into detail about the horror stories others have told. I'll only give you my experience. From what I understand we had "great luck". Please note that there were a few positives (see this post) but this post is about the negatives. I will mention that there was a special "wrist band" credit card payment thing that broke in the first two hours.
Mr. L and I got there just before 2PM. As we were walking to the event we noticed quite a few folks leaving already (the event started at noon). We had heard folks talking about credit card machines being down so we figured this is why folks were bailing. We got in line to buy tickets (spent maybe 15 minutes in line) . While there we were approached by a gentleman who handed us a laminated card which had the Food & Beverage Menu on one side and prices for the event on the other. I bring this up because I guess we were one of the few with the cards. We constantly showed our card to folks who saw us looking at it. Once you got in to the event there was nothing that showed you which food place was where, what time events were happening, who was on stage musically at what time, who was signing books etc.
In checking the menu card, Mr. L and I decided to hit those places which we normally wouldn't have access to...i.e. the places back east. We figured we really couldn't afford to spend the money going to every place and thought this was a good plan. Local vendors we could personally visit since we lived in the area. We also (along with 15,000 other folks) figured to use our "free item tickets" at the places that cost the most (the $12 Texas Barbecue) . So we walked into the venue and...holy crap. A sea of bodies everywhere. Lines. Lines going in all directions. Lines not moving. Just a mass of people.
We quickly figured out that the lines for the major places (Katz, Tony Lukes, Pinks) were outrageously long. Three or four long lines for each place going in all directions. So we thought we'd make a circle of the venue and try to see if we could find a short line somewhere. Looking between a sea of folks we realized there was nobody in the Barney Greengrass line, so we saddled up and got us a six piece box of Homemade Rugelach Pastry for $5. It was pretty tasty. We noticed another stand right next to it that had no lines. The drink booth. Selling beer for $12. We bought a bottle of water for $5. We passed several very long lines where people were saying that they had been in for over two hours already. Yikes. So we just kept walking around trying to figure out where everything was if we wanted to come back to it...which led us to the amphitheater where we were able to spend ten minutes watching Marshal Crenshaw. I would have loved to have stayed but I wanted food so we kept moving to the other side, where we found even more long lines. "Two hours to wait for a burger", someone called out. Peering through the mass of humanity I saw a small white tent in a far corner. So I headed that way. As I broke through a crowd of folks waiting in line (for cheeseburgers or cheesecake, it was hard to tell) I saw it was the Charles Chocolate place. And there were only about ten folks in line. And they were selling S'mores! Eureka, scored again, we had found food! (The S'mores were really good by the way). We got one and headed to find more food.
At about 3PM we finally saw what we thought was a short line. The line for Zingerman's...where they were giving samples of four different types of bacon. My kind of place! So we got in line. And we waited. And the line barely moved. And we waited. That's when we started hearing more horror stories. Folks that had gotten there at 11:30 and this was only the second food line they had been in. And we waited. And the line barely moved. So I left Mr. L in search of...anything. Found that the lines for the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was only twenty deep so I jumped in. Paid $6 for a sandwich that was oozing peanut butter and jelly out the sides. Not sure if it was because there was no refrigeration but the sandwich was a mess and it was just served on a piece of wax paper. But I took sustenance back to Mr. L...who was still waiting in line. An hour and 45 minutes later we finally got to the front of the bacon line to see...tons of bacon. Tons. Sitting on racks. ONE guy in the back making BLT's. You were supposed to be able to ask for one of the four types of bacon to be on your sandwich but most folks actually didn't really care when they got up to order, they just wanted their damn sandwich. We ordered FOUR of the $2 bacon samples (hey, we were hungry and it was bacon). And we waited a good three minutes before one was put in front of us. The cashiers were just standing there because nothing was coming from the back. We got ONE sample plate put in front of us (which we ate in about two seconds). Then a minute later another sample plate was put in front of us. We were finished with that before the final two samples came our way. Worth an hour and forty five minutes? Er no.
It was about this time that we heard that Katz was out of pastrami :( but we headed in that direction anyway, since they were selling the Anchor Bar Buffalo Wings out of the same booth. On our way we passed some long lines for the Southside Market Texas Barbeque. But wait, what's this? There are three lines for Southside Market and lo and behold though two are pretty dang long, look at that middle line there!!!! It's short! It's winding between another booth and people aren't noticing it. So we jumped in that line and waited about twenty minutes for our Elgin Sausage and Beef Brisket (which normally would be $12 but we used our free eat tickets). What we got were two pieces of bread. Some pickles, one sausage, a couple of slices of beef brisket, some sliced onions and a piece of non melted cheese. No sauce. No condiments. Um, is this how they do it in Texas? In all fairness, I liked the sausage, the brisket was okay (some was really dry while some was nice and fatty) but we both left the onions, cheese and bread for the garbage. I guess we just aren't Texan Barbeque people.
We then decided to be brave. At this point it was about 5:30. We've been in line or looking to be in lines most of the day. Haven't watched any demos and only listened to about ten minutes of music. We decided to try the Anchor Bar Buffalo Wings. The same line that had the Katz pastrami. But what's this? There is more pastrami? Yahoo. So we get in line. It's a short line. Shorter than the bacon line. Score! Ah, silly me. We wait. And we wait. And we wait. Every ten minutes or so, someone would actually get served a plate of wings. People would cheer. And then we'd go back to waiting. Please note. We were waiting in that line for almost two hours.
Thankfully the line for the wings/pastrami was near where the book signings were so I was able to meet Nate Appleman of A16 and get a book signed (while Mr. L held our places in line). I also got out of line once to get something to drink. At that time I asked the girl working the drink stand what the problem with the wings/pastrami place was. She told me that the lines had gotten mixed so there were both folks waiting for pastrami (which they were out of but they were making more of) and wings. If the person at the head of the line (there were about eight lines) was waiting for pastrami, that line was at a complete standstill until that front person got pastrami (or they gave up and got out of line). Are you serious? At this point Mr. L said we were in line and no way in hell was he getting out of line to go stand in another line for food. We wanted our wings and pastrami and dammit we'd wait forever for it! Famous last words.
So finally pastrami came. People cheered. The line moved. Folks in front of us were ecstatic. As the three folks in front of us collected their pastrami sandwiches and wings (5 wings $5, 1/2 a Pastrami on Rye $7) we playfully said we'd send them a Christmas card (hey, you wait in line for two hours with folks you become friends). And then Mr. L placed our order. A pastrami sandwich and some wings. But wait. It seems they had run out of pastrami again and it would be another 45 minutes should we like to stay in line. I thought Mr. L was going to strangle someone. He wanted his damn pastrami!! Dejected we collected some chicken wings (they weren't bad) and went to find a quite place to sulk. We were lucky enough to run into our new found Christmas card friends (shout out to Clifford, Amy and Gretchen!) who graciously gave us one of their pastrami sandwiches (thank you again, because it would not have been fun to have gone home with Mr. L after waiting in line for two hours and NOT gotten some Katz pastrami!).
At this point in time it was past 7:30. The place had cleared out quite a bit (except for all those folks still waiting in the Katz line). We tried to get Jr. Cheesecake or Graeters Ice Cream but they were already sold out. We watched a bit of the Guy Fieri show. We did stand in line for a bit to get a Pinks hot dog but since it was almost 8:30 and we had been on our feet except for maybe ten minutes in the last six or so hours, we took the hot dog to go and went home. A bit hungry I might add.
So not the way most of us had planned our day. I understand the lines to get refunds outside were just as long as some of the lines to get food. We were just happy that we meet so many nice folks in line, otherwise we would have probably left early and called it a day much sooner. And when I hear that some folks got there at 11:30 and had to stand in line an hour to get in, an hour to get a wrist band and then spent 4 hours inline for food and only got two items? Yikes.
Though it may sound like I'm making light of the situation I'm not. 15,000 folks all waiting in line for hours in the heat to eat was not fun. I missed seeing demonstrations and musicians I would have loved to have seen. I was completely exhausted by the time I got home. My feet still hurt. It was not a fun day at all.
Please note. Mr. Levine of Serious Eats who was instrumental in putting on this event did send an e-mail apologizing to Mr. L who posted a comment on the Serious Eats blog:
Like many others we have applied to get a refund of our $40 entry fee and our parking pass.
That photo above of Bobby Flay was taking by me about 7:30 while he was signing books.
I'm still a fan of Ed Levine and Serious Eats. Though I doubt Mr. L will go with me to any food festivals in the future.