New Orleans, La. –
The roving spud masters known as At Fry Bar serve their gourmet garlic/ parmesan/rosemary fries at local art markets. The Peace Love & Sno-balls trailer whirls out a rainbow of syrup-soaked shaved ice at Audubon Park on the weekends. A food truck called Geaux Plates parks outside Uptown bars with inventive banh mi-style sandwiches. And at second line parades, Linda Green serves yaka mein, that only-in-New Orleans, Asian/soul-hybrid soup.
They're all examples of the deep traditions and budding trends in street food across the city. But this Saturday, Sept. 24, they--and many others--will finally all be in the same spot: the Street Fare Derby, an offbeat culinary event at the Fair Grounds Race Course. With more vendors from New Orleans, the Northshore and even Baton Rouge signing up, this street food festival is shaping up as a grand tour of inventive eats, complete with music from Kermit Ruffins and Papa Grows Funk and a day of live horseracing to boot.
For those who attend, the day is a chance to sample from the area's wide and fast-growing range of street food without crisscrossing the city. For those behind the event, however, it's also a chance to showcase a street food scene they believe has more to offer than just a good, quick meal.
The Derby is the work of Lizzy Caston and Erica Normand, who last year launched the Web site NOLAFoodTrucks.com as a guide to local street food. Caston earlier helped start a similar site, and a similar street food festival, in Portland, Ore., arguably the nation's epicenter of street food with some 600 licensed vendors. Caston is a firm believer that a robust street food scene can be a low-cost tool for urban development, by reclaiming vacant lots or dark street corners, and small-business growth, incubating future conventional restaurants.
But in New Orleans, food truck operators and others often complain that murky regulations and licensing requirements from City Hall have stifled their growth.
Simply put, there are a lot of people who want to open trucks here but can't figure out how to do it legally. The NOLAfoodtruck.com team say they get requests every week from people asking how do we start a food truck in New Orleans?' But right now, nobody really knows, so all they can tell them is good luck.
The event producers hope that the Street Fare Derby will be a springboard for greater advocacy and help demonstrate the street food scene's potential. That's a potential the event's host, the Fair Grounds, has already experience firsthand.
Last year, the track invited local food trucks to cater a new series of evening races, called Starlight Racing. It was part of a marketing effort to draw a younger generation to the historic racetrack, and it's in synch with food truck events held at other horse tracks around the country, and for the very same purpose.
Indeed, the Street Fare Derby coincides with the Fair Grounds' biggest race day of the year for quarter horses, or racehorses bred for short, flat-out sprints. If the Derby is successful, perhaps more New Orleans street food will find itself on the fast track too.
Street Fare Derby
Sat., Sept. 24
12:30 p.m.-6 p.m.
Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots
1751 Gentilly Blvd., New Orleans