This year the highly anticipated Eat Real Festival in Oakland’s Jack London Square kicked off with the west coast premiere of Meatopia, a grand celebration of meat founded and hosted by food writer Josh Ozersky. The meat-centric culinary event began in NYC some years ago and features a lineup of chefs from across the country that includes some of the best pitmasters, BBQ barons and meat mavens around. My friend Chris forwarded a google offer for 50% off the ticketed event (which included two drinks!) so Mr. K and I were able to enjoy unlimited tastes created by some serious masters of meat for a reasonable $25 each.
The Meatopia was held separately off to one side of the main Eat Real event and required proof of entry. The area was ringed by ten food booths and in the center were bales of hay where you could sit and enjoy your food. Some of the booths had long lines, so I made a beeline for the booths that were open. The first was Pizzaiolo which was offering luscious Meatballs with pine nuts in a savory tomato sauce. The chef-owner Charlie Hallowell was slinging the dishes and greeting everyone as they came up for a serving. He has two restaurants in Oakland, Pizzaiolo, Boot and Shoe Service and another in the works. I’m glad I went there first as they soon ran out of meatballs and closed up shop.
The next booth was run by Nicole Brisson the Executive Chef of Mario Batali’s restaurant Carnevino in Las Vegas at The Palazzo Resort.
She was serving slices of baguette topped with Carne Crudo, a mound of raw ground beef tenderloin, which melted in your mouth and was brightly seasoned and fresh tasting with shallot, capers, dijon and chives.
Mr. K came back with a plate of Pork ‘n Grits with Hayloving Sauce from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q. Tender slow cooked pulled pork shoulder made from Fatback Farms pork, cheesy grits and topped with a lip-smackingly tangy barbecue sauce. Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q has become one of the South’s most respected restaurant groups with 29 restaurants from Denver to Charleston, S.C. The owner Nick Pihakis has a commitment to traditional recipes while spreading the word about heritage breeds, proper pork-raising and the humane treatment of animals and has garnered recognition by the James Beard Foundation with consecutive nominations for Best Restaurateur.
One of my favorite plates was by Kim Alter, Executive Chef at Haven, one of chef/restauranteur Daniel Patterson’s restaurant empire. She has worked in the highly esteemed kitchens at Aqua, Manresa, Acquerello and Ubuntu. In 2010 she helped open Plate Shop in Sausalito where she served as head cook, gardener, and butcher where she established a reputed devotion to nose-to-tail cooking. Anyways, back to the food… It was a blood sausage, which was ominously black and squishy looking but when I lifted it up to take a bite, a fresh and very inviting aroma hastened its approach. It was delicious and then there were so many delectable tastes and textures to explore: the frisee added a lovely vegetal crisp, there were pieces of dense crunchy cracklings, tender melt in your mouth slow roasted flesh, silky slices of liver and heart, pickled vegetables and croutons.
I shared seating on a bale of hay with Jane who was enthusing about the giant bbq’d Dino Beef Rib from award winning barbecue chef Harry Stewart. Stewart opened up Great American BBQ in Alameda in 2007, and has since made the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Top Bargain Bites” list in 2009 and 2010. By the time I went over, the Dino Ribs were by request only, but I was able to get chef Stewart to pose for me with them.
We enjoyed the very simple BLT with tomato and lettuce on on slices of soft white bread slathered with homemade orange blossom honey mustard and Duke’s mayo. A dainty wisp of a sandwich, we all agreed that it would have been improved with more bacon. Lilly and the Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q Team have amassed numerous awards and championship titles and published a cookbook, “Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book: Recipes and Secrets from a Legendary Barbecue Joint” in 2009.
Rick Hackett of Bocanova (yay, representing the locals) served Marinated Pork Ribs with Tomatillo Sauce. Chef Hackett worked at such establishments as Chez Panisse, Bay Wolf, Oliveto, Postrio, Acme Bread, Enrico’s in North Beach and was the opening chef at MarketBar in the Ferry Building. He and his wife Meredith opened Bocanova in Oakland’s Jack London Square in 2009, which aims to celebrate Pan-American cuisine incorporating the bounty, talent and cultural diversity of the Bay Area.
Mr. K came over with a plate of Smoked Lamb Shoulder with Bok Choy Ragu Lamb Wine Reduction Sauce, from the Award Winning BBQ Team Ribs Within from Hillsborough, New Jersey. The pitmaster, Doug Keiles creates vibrant blends of seasonings reminiscent of Caribbean and Asian flavors with a zesty Cajun kick.
The only disappointment was the Chicken with Peach Chutney, mainly because the line was super long and the plates were very slow in being filled. After the longest wait of the evening, I was served a couple of dried out wing tips that yielded very little meat even though there were piles of meat cooking on the grill. Salt’s Cure is run by Chris Phelps and Zak Walters in West Hollywood, which opened in August of 2010 to rave reviews. They handcraft all products in-house and only source ingredients grown & raised in California. One unstunning plate out of all of these shining examples of expertly prepared meats is really pretty good odds if you ask me.
The scaled down version of Meatopia offered unlimited tastes of carnivorous delights from 10 meat maestros, (compared to over 40 chefs at the East Coast event) and included two drinks each (sodas, beer and wine) which was a pretty good deal at the discounted rate of $25 from Google offers and Living Social. The lines were much shorter in this ticketed event, compared to the lines at the Eat Real festival, but many of the booths also ran out of food. But by this time, we were pretty stuffed and decided to end our epic meatathon.
We passed The Chairman Bao truck on our way out, promising we will visit them soon… that will have to wait for another post.
The demi-Meatopia is well suited as a prelude to the festival, although we can only hope it will be offered on a truly grand scale in the future.