Three Rivers Arts Festival food feeds whims, trends, classics
Like the eternal, inexorable movement of the tides, the moon and the arrival of summer, there's a sort of calming stability to the return of the Three Rivers Arts Festival.
Of course, that stability can be taken literally, if you choose to eat the equally inevitable deep-fried Oreos, finding the energy to move again may be a problem.
The food booths facing Point State Park again offer a veritable cornucopia of deep-fried delights, and all the Teriyaki Chicken-on-a-Stick ($8) and Chocolate-covered Marshmallows ($4) you can consume.
It may not seem like it, but the festival concessions business is constantly on the move, and fully capable of adapting to new trends and whims of the public — even if a predictable menu of durable “classics” is what generally pays the bills.
The Edible Salad Bowl ($8 to $10, with chicken, shrimp or steak) isn't brand-new, but it's new enough that not everybody is doing it yet.
“It's made out of a tortilla shell, fried until crispy,” said Teresa Folino, who was serving them up. “It's shaped like a bowl, sort of.”
You can get that icon of healthy snacking, the Fresh Fruit Smoothie ($7) from the same booth as Fried Oreos ($6). Peanut Butter Chocolate Covered Pretzels ($2) seem like they have maybe one ingredient too many, but the Sriracha Chicken Bites ($10) seem to have just the right combination of portability and brand-name hot sauce to catch on.
“It doesn't scream ‘Sriracha' — it's just a hot chicken nugget,” explained Amy DePalma of Mt. Pleasant, eating lunch at a table on the Point State Park lawn. “More spice needed.”
Mike Studd, 36, of Canonsburg was into the Loukomathes — or Greek Honey Dough Balls ($5).
“It's delicious,” he said. “It's like a warm piece of dough that melts in your mouth, with cinnamon sprinkled on top.”
Only a few days into the arts festival, Studd had already figured out the bargains. While devouring a Kielbasa with Sauerkraut ($7), he noted that the day before, he got Chicken-on-a-Stick, which was $8, “but you can combine it with Lo Mein for $10 — that's a pretty good deal.”
For some offbeat ethnic fare, there's Helmut's Strudel, serving “Hot Fresh Austrian.”
“There's cherry, apricot, cheese and apple,” said Hazel Guess, who was attempting to refill the pastry display case. “Yeah, it's new this year. It's selling well. $5 for half, $10 for a whole (strudel).”
The predominant flavor of the Three Rivers Arts Festival is rain, of course. As of yesterday afternoon, the slate-gray skies seemed to be keeping it to themselves.
Audra Lee, manager of Chan's Concessions, spends all summer traveling to festivals in Chicago, Florida, North Carolina and elsewhere. Lollapalooza in Chicago is a particular favorite. The company was started in Pittsburgh and has been serving the Three Rivers Arts Festival since 1989. Like everyone else in this business, she's constantly watching the skies.
“People want to connect after a long winter all cooped up,” Lee explained. “We lose more than half (of our business) when it rains.”
Friday the 13th will be a lucky day for food-truck fans. Some of Pittsburgh's most popular trucks will be there, including Oh My Grill (grilled cheese), Franktuary (hot dogs), BRGR (gourmet burgers), Mac & Gold (mac & cheese), Miss Meatball (meatballs), Saucy Mama's (Italian), Nakama (sushi) and Zum Zum Polish Pierogies.
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7901.