This year, Three Rivers Arts Festival also a trip for your taste buds

| Friday, June 7, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Part of the appeal of the Three Rivers Arts Festival is its dependability. You know that, year after year, some things won't change, like the same food choices of chicken-on-a-stick, pierogies and deep-fried Oreos.

Yet, there's change in the air, as there is in the city surrounding it. Food trucks are finally allowed to add some variety to the menu — at least on Fridays. The food booths have spiffy new signage, which coincides with the subtle-but-remarkable improvements to Point State Park and the fountain, finished at last.

The Downtown crowd clamoring for lunch Friday afternoon seemed remarkably diverse. The variety of people was offset a little by the uniformity of outfits: business casual, Penguins gear, or some combination of the two, in the solemn hope that hockey season would continue a little longer.

This diversity can show up in strange, surprising ways. You could be fairly certain that the “Chicken on a Pita” ($6) would be both tasty and a big, sloppy mess. It was both. But you wouldn't have expected it to be served by a model and Miss Lebanon runner-up.

Marie Lou Nahhas, 23, of the country of Lebanon, has been working at her family's food booths at the Arts Festival for six years, in between modeling gigs and semesters at Pitt. They sell spinach pies ($4), gyros, tabbouleh, grape leaves, falafel (all $6) and other items from a triple-sized set of booths facing Point State Park.

“Modeling isn't something you do all the time,” Nahhas said. “I was fifth place in the Miss Lebanon contest.”

Juan Jiminez' booth seemed to offer something new: chocolate-covered strawberries ($2), in addition to ice cream, sundaes, crepes and other sweet stuff. But no, he's been here for “like, five years — my boss for, like, 15 years.”

“I enjoy the seeing all the people, many different personalities, the music, the weather,” he said. “Yeah, it usually rains at the beginning, but then the weather is usually good.”

Food trucks, parked on the Penn Avenue Extension near Stanwix, are a welcome change this year. They included Bella Christie'z and Dozen (baked goods, treats), BRGR (gourmet burgers), Franktuary (gourmet hot dogs), Zum Zum (pierogies) and Oh My Grill (gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches).

Oh My Grill's Sicilian Melt ($6), featuring fontina, mozzarella, provolone and diced pepperoni on Texas Toast with a “tomato soup dipper,” was particularly good. Unfortunately, the food trucks are only there on Fridays, so your next chance is June 14 between noon and 9 p.m.

The free water stations at various points around the Arts Festival offer a chance to refill your water bottles and cut down on waste.

On June 14, there will be a special pop-up take-out restaurant appearance from Conflict Kitchen, the Pittsburgh art/food project that has gained international attention for serving food from countries that the United States is “in conflict” with, as well as information about the countries on the wrapper.s Right now, they're featuring Iranian street food. It will be part of the food court at Point State Park.

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7901.

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