"I don't know much about art, but I know what I like . . . to eat!" I heard one gentleman remark as he stood salivating before the row of food booths at this year's Utah Arts Festival. I could relate. Of course I love the music, sculpture, painting, photography, jewelry and crafts. But the feature nearest and dearest to my heart (and stomach) would of course be the food. This year it's even wilder and more outrageously exotic than ever.
The only problem with Arts Festival food is deciding what to eat. There are more than 22 vendors from all over the country, and they all aggressively vie for your attention by producing concoctions that look and taste anywhere from the exciting to the awe-inspiring. Because you probably don't have the entire weekend to eat your way from one end of the festival to the other, I very graciously did it for you, then waddled home to tell the tale. Allow me to enlighten you on the best places to spend your hard-earned dollar and appetite.First of all, your best bet would be to resist all the tempting smells that greet you at the gate and waltz straight down the line of food stands to Outback Jack's Australian Road Kill Grill. Standing in line and reading the signs is almost as fun as eating your meal. They advertise "Rather large butt on a bun" and "Plucked and headless chicken and veggies." Of course they'll put a shrimp on the barbie for you as well. The meals are reasonably priced at $4.99 to $5.99, and include huge helpings of well-seasoned chicken, beef or shrimp and "veggies" often wrapped in pita-type bread for your Arts Festival dining convenience. Even if you're not eating, make sure you pass by to see Jack's authentic cork-fringed hat.
If it's seafood you crave, try the King Crab Fritters at the Golden Gate Food stand. They use "krab" in some of their other offerings, but these fluffy little fried creatures are the real thing. At $7 they're a little pricy, but they do come with tasty honey mustard sauce and salad. They're good enough to make you forgive this Florida-based company for naming their company after a San Francisco icon.
If you're a purist, you'll like nothing better than the Corn Roasters, who offer just that. Huge, sweet, juicy ears of corn grilled to perfection and seasoned with your choice of condiments, including fresh lime slices. Such a deal, for only $2. Slices of warm, steaming Great Harvest bread, baked right there on the asphalt premises, are also a good choice for those of you with simple taste.
Marsalee's Thai Food is good and fresh, as is the menu at the V & L Island Market and Grill, which features teriyaki and the like. You'll notice I tend to recommend the more exotic and unusual. Pizza from the Pie Pizzeria is as fine as always, Bruegger's Bagels are light and flavorful, and Big City Burritos are large and satisfying, but those are foods you can have any day of the week. There are some delicacies at the Arts Festival that you might only get to try once a year.
And if it's only a little something sweet you want, pass right by the Dippin' Dots booth (super-frozen ice cream pellets? What were they thinking?) and indulge in one of the spectacular sundaes from Scandinavian Desserts. Their very tall hot fudge brownie sundae and strawberry shortcake with ice cream would make the Tower of Pisa envious, and the huge, homemade waffle cones can be stuffed with any number of creamy ice cream flavors. Desserts cost from $2 to $3.50. You might be tempted away from these confections by the stand that ambitiously offers creme brulee, but steer clear of that one. There's a reason you don't often find this refined dessert at raucous outdoor events. It just can't be done right under those circumstances.
The finicky epicure might be repulsed by the riotous sensory assault provided by the Arts Festival food vendors. They're bold, colorful and creative, just like the artists' displays. But none of us attend the event for its subtlety, do we? This is a frolicsome festival, not a stodgy exhibition. And the food here fits in perfectly. Try to discipline yourself so you don't spend all your money in the delightful arts and crafts booths before you get to the food area. Fine dining can be an art in itself, and it's one everyone can master this year at the Utah Arts Festival.
Rating: * * * * for fun!
Utah Arts Festival, Friday through Sunday, June 27-30, at the Triad Center, 300 W. South Temple, noon to midnight, Friday through Saturday, and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. Checks and credit cards are not generally accepted at the food booths, so bring plenty of cash and enjoy!