By Melissa Kandel
The single-greatest goal when attending a food festival is to eat. (Obviously.) If I were to write My Ultimate Guidebook for Crushing Food Fests: A Retrospective from Someone Who Possibly Knows, I’d include that on Page 1. Maybe even just the word “eat” in a kind of swirly lettering that’s stylish and cool. The second goal, however, is more avant-garde in nature, harder to pull off yet no less satisfying upon completion.
Here it is: Seek out a booth with a line that flaunts the most ridiculously dressed attendee on its end and go there.
Here’s why: At the very least, you’ll allow your eyeballs the opportunity to stare at a bright green tank top festooned by a pattern of lopsided umbrellas, (a sight rarely experienced in this lifetime), and at the most, you’ll walk right into a conversation not soon—if ever—to be forgotten.
“Great day for a Bloody Mary!” Squealed a man into the very inner workings of my left ear. “Maybe the greatest!” Silver hair topped by a straw fedora, the guy wore a green tank top (told ya) and contagious smile.
I smiled back.
“It is,” I replied, wondering how this sprightly fellow who liked umbrellas and tomato-based cocktails found himself at a Newport Beach brunch festival—aptly named Fresh Toast—put on by OC Weekly during one particularly sunny Saturday in March. The event, with proceeds in part going to the Ben Carlson Foundation, featured 30+ local restaurants serving up scrumptious brunch fare, from Fruity Pebbles bread pudding and spicy cheddar scones to herbed goat cheese brioche with avocado pesto. (It was every bit as delectable as it sounds.)
Another highlight of Fresh Toast was its Bloody Battle, which saw eight Orange County vendors competing for Bloody Mary glory, a spicy skirmish all attendees won by virtue of trying the delish concoctions. For the better part of four hours, more than 1,500 Fresh Toasters scuttled from booth to booth, eager to eat against the sparkly blue coastal backdrop of the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort. Also, there was Umbrella Tank Top Guy.
“Obviously they called her Mary,” he revealed, answering a question I never asked. Didn’t care though, he was so fun.
“Yep. She was the Mary, the one they named the drink after. Mary was a waitress who worked at this old bar in Chicago called the Bucket of Blood. Put those two things together and you’ve got the whole story. So, I guess you could say that woman was Bloody royalty!”
He was at that moment handed a Ghost of Bloody Mary by the mixologists from Saint Marc Pub-Cafe, made from a handcrafted tomato consommé puréed then filtered overnight to remove solids and colors, hence ghosted. Shortly after, I lost Umbrella Tank Top Guy to the throng of enthusiastic foodies whose mission I fully understood; there’s no shame in trying to taste as much brunch fare as humanly possible in a single afternoon.
Still, the curious exchange returns us to the significance of Rule No. 2 from My Ultimate Food Fest Guidebook, out February 2018 from Just Kidding I Won’t Actually Write That Press. Because while I don’t know for sure that Bucket of Blood’s Mary is the one whose namesake adorns the drink we all know and love, (read more about the questionable history of the Bloody Mary here), I do know that if the best thing about a fully stocked, brunch-tastic food festival like Fresh Toast happens to be what you put in your mouth, then the very next best thing is who you do it with … and how awesome that person’s outfit might be.
OK, time for the photos …