The Manayunk EcoArts Festival kicked off Wednesday night with a tasty sizzle as the Eats Along The Street (EATS) food festival took over the Propper Brothers’ building.
EATS attendees did well to arrive hungry at this gathering of the area’s best internationally-flavored, locally and organically-sourced restaurants and food trucks. Though everything from jambalaya to beef curry, octopus salad, soup, pizza and gourmet burgers crammed the space, the delicious gauntlet began with a stunning wedding cake. Robed in gently shimmering pink and white fondant, its circling tiers featured hand-cut appliqués molded from real lace.
Bridal clients of Sweet Elizabeth’s on Main Street can order a cake with lace that matches their wedding gown – one of many details that make cakes a time-consuming “labor of love” for co-founder Elizabeth Paradiso: each cake takes at least eight hours to make. On Wednesday, she offered EATS guests a taste of pumpkin cake in honor of the fall season, as well as year-round favorite “wicked” chocolate cake, named for her hometown of Boston.
For a wholly different flavor, the gentlemen of Lucky’s Last Chance restaurant were spreading buns thick with peanut butter and then nestling the creamy spread against thick bacon-topped burgers, to be served with a gelatinous blob of sweet purple jelly – an unexpected combination that was the talk of many attendees.
Not everyone was a fan.
“Peanut butter overwhelms everything,” judged Manayunk resident Michelle Drapkin, who is eight months pregnant. “One bite of the peanut butter on there, and I was done.”
“It tastes like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” said husband Patrick Clarke. “It doesn’t seem like a burger.” He and some other guests much preferred the Mac-n-Cheese burger that was offered alongside the peanut butter one.
But a Lucky’s Last Chance chef, squirting jelly with abandon, pointed to many pleased customers. “People make a funny face when they think of peanut butter and jelly on a burger,” he admitted. But the sweet-and-salty, all-American goodness of PB&J wins them over. “Ten out of ten people come back for the jelly,” he said.
Across the room, sous chef Drew Stark of Jake’s and Cooper’s crafted tiny salad plates featuring a delicate swirl of tahini-laced hummus under grilled summer squash and zucchini, a few sprigs of green and meltingly tender slices of rosemary-infused octopus. A taste also revealed a refreshing, summery burst of mint.
Nearby, Elaine Fleming of the Couch Tomato Café offered up warm tomato carrot soup, an unusual signature dish. The thick, orange vegetarian soup had a fresh, flavorful depth, but the ladies of the Café wouldn’t divulge the secret spices in the soup’s simmered-from-scratch vegetable broth. “Those carrots were raw and crispy two hours ago,” Fleming said proudly.
Outside on Cresson street, a whole lamb sizzled on a spit while a hungry crowd gathered, sipping Yard’s IPA beer. Next door, Nomad Pizza baked their wares in a fiery oven ingeniously rigged in the back of a large truck. Currently located in New Jersey, they’ll be arriving in Philadelphia this fall. Employee Ashley Battle guessed that the Margherita pizza is their top seller, but a slice with buffalo mozzarella, caramelized onions and shiitake mushrooms was divine, a salty crust perfectly complementing its subtle sweetness.
Not everyone could partake in it all. Chester County resident Joe Lacek had come into Manayunk for EATS and hit Guapo’s Taco Truck before tucking into a floury, double-folded slice of Nomad’s Pizza, but his companion Dan Sack, allergic to gluten, watched empty-handed.
Fortunately, Guapo’s used corn. “The tacos were pretty killer,” he said, praising the homemade guacamole.
One of the night’s clear favorites was Manayunk’s award-winning Chabaa Thai Bistro, whose beef curry drew raves, along with dollops of sweet and savory coconut sticky rice flavored with shrimp, tamarind and lemon grass.
The crowd didn’t abate as the night went on, and trash cans soon teetered with discarded empty plates, evidence of myriad well-enjoyed culinary samples, and a good time for a good cause: the event was a fundraiser for Wat Bodd Voraditt, an orphanage house in Thailand. Along with supporting various programs for needy kids and families, organizers hope to raise funds for a modern onsite kitchen which will not only prepare and store food safely, but aid in training young residents for productive culinary or hospitality careers.
The 2nd annual Manayunk EcoArts Festival continues on Saturday and Sunday along Main Street, celebrating eco-friendly business and artistic initiatives with booths, lectures, and other special events.