San Francisco has always been a great food city. The Bay Area is a locavores paradise. Food sold here is locally produced and grown within 100 miles of the city year round. The Bay Area is experiencing a food cart trend has peaked and is very similar to the food cart culture of NYC. This was until the Off the Grid SF was created in June 2010.
The Off the GridSF website describes it as “a roaming mobile food extravaganza that travels to different locations daily to serve delicious food, with a free side of amazing music, craft and soul. We’re bringing all your favorite gourmet food vendors together to create a market like you’ve never seen before.” Vendors include the Creme Brulee Cart, TaKorea, The is only one venue worth mentioning that even comes close to it here in NYC/Brooklyn and it is the Red Hood Ball Field Food Vendors.
For about the past 40 years vendors have set up their grills and blenders during the July and August sports season along the fringes of this remote Brooklyn 59 acre facility. There were no places when the field was build near the low income housing in Red Hook to get food or drink, so logically picnic goers brought their own. As the years passed artists and the like escaping the rent increases in Manhattan were naturally attracted to this area. They, like Columbus, soon “discovered” what was going on at the park. Local mags/blogs began spreading the word about the cheap sports and eating event that took place each summer in their hood. Word spread and the Red Hook Food Vendors eventually got a shout out by the NYTimes food section. And, you guessed it, The New York City Board of health soon paid a visit as well. They weren’t too happy with the open fires, improper cooking facilities and vendors not following proper food sanitation practices that other licensed vendors did throughout the city. Threats were soon made by the Parks Department but due to huge public uproar which included a plea from Senator Chuck Schumer .
The Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain with his show No Reservations stopped by and filmed right before the possible closing was announced. Big names in the New York food scene along with the hard work of executive director of the Food Vendors Committee Cesar Fuentes and his community support, the vendors were back to work. Some had to throw in the towel because the list of regulations to follow and proper procedures to abide by was just too long. They had to readjust in many ways and of course many say it’s just not the same.
Food bloggers voices were heard as well as many blogged in support of the food vendors. One particular blogger J. Slab of The Porkchop-Express did an extensive entry on the history of the field. This mercado seems to be showing signs of having a bright future as seen in this article in the NYTimes this past April. It may not be the same as 40 years ago but it still gives those who have stuck around an income and local spectators good food to eat while watching Brooklyn’s own Cabinet Soccer Club vs. Beşiktaş Football Club, league champions of Turkey.
The Off the Grid SF is and inspiration for NYC since it’s a well organized and food community driven event that happens year round and many times during the week. It has brought new life to Fort Mason that has had it’s ups and downs financially since it was designated as a national park in 1976. The mobile food market sponsored here by SF Food carts which is run and was started by Mark Cohen has been proven to be a way to revitalize communities as others have been welcomed into the Mission, Haight/Ashbury and the Civic Center/Tenderloin neighborhoods of SF.
New York City has no shortage of food and street vendors who offer up just about anything these days. What is missing is a venue where a number of vendors can get together like at Off the Grid in SF and the Mobile Pods in Portland OR. Why not and make a night or day of good eating and live entertainment instead of just getting lunch or a small bite during the work day? I got an idea…how about putting one by the old wharfs below Brooklyn Heights? Do you out there know of an empty parking lot or other open space for such an event? Where would you put one…?