If you’re expecting a festival with wall-to-wall fried food, you’re about three months too late. The South Florida Fair and its deep-fried obsessions are gone till next year.
SunFest, sprawled along downtown West Palm Beach’s sparkling waterfront and populated with revelers in beachwear, decidedly is the more health-conscious of the big annual festivals. Sure, SunFest has its conch fritters and corn dogs, but vendors here are urged to include healthful options among their offerings.
When the five-day music fest opens its gates at 5 p.m. today, you’ll sooner find gator-on-a-stick than you’ll find deep-fried Oreos.
And this year, you’ll even find vegan fare by Darbster, West Palm’s popular vegetarian bistro.
“We decided to take a shot at it and we applied for space at SunFest,” says Alan Gould, who co-owns Darbster waterfront eatery with his wife Ellen Quinlan. “In the paperwork they distributed they asked vendors to provide at least one healthy item. We can certainly do that.”
Darbster’s popular hearts of palm cake ($12) and walnut tostadas ($10) joins SunFest’s eclectic feast, which includes Grimaldi’s pizza, soul food barbecue, Greek gyros, jerk chicken, Argentine churrasco, Cajun seafood, tropical fruits, Philly cheese steaks, Chick-Fil-A combos, Colombian arepas and Mexican burritos, to name a few.
And, of course, there will be plenty of SunFest’s most famous dish: Tropical Pineapple Chicken ($9).
“People say, ‘I wait a whole year for your pineapple chicken.’ It just kills every year. They love walking around with their pineapple chicken,” says Sharon S. Shortt, vice president of San Francisco Puffs & Stuff Concessionaire, whose company is in charge of SunFest’s food, menu and food vendors.
The pineapple chicken, one of Puffs & Stuff’s classic dishes, is a scooped-out pineapple filled with curried chicken and rice with pineapple and scallions. The dazzling vessel alone has become a kind of symbol of SunFest, says Shortt.
“You may not be able to afford a painting at one of the booths, but you can buy a pineapple chicken and be a part of the SunFest spirit,” she says.
Shortt and her crew served 2,300 of the savory stuffed pineapples to the media horde covering the presidential debate at Lynn University in October.
That night, Twitter feeds buzzed with pineapple snapshots and raves for the dish. Kansas City political reporter Micheal Mahoney tweeted: “And the winner for the best debate spread 2012 is Lynn U. Pineapple chicken. Extra pts for presentation.” Molly Ball of The Atlantic tweeted: “The food here at the debate is strongly in the running for Best Thing I’ve Ever Eaten out of a Pineapple.”
Shortt knows not to mess too much with what works. She should know – this is her company’s 31st year as SunFest’s food concessionaire.
One thing that has worked year after year: on-site cooking. It’s one of her requirements of participating vendors that the food is cooked on premises.
“The sizzle sells the steak,” says Shortt. “People want to see the sizzle. They want to smell the food cooking and know that it’s fresh.”
If Shortt sounds enthusiastic about the festival experience, it’s because she’s not only SunFest’s concessionaire – she’s also the festival’s biggest fan.
“SunFest has a vibe. You can just feel the energy the minute you come in. Everyone is like a big family here, working together, and the customers have this enthusiasm that you don’t see at other events,” she says. “The people who come here, they’re happy people.
“The only thing that can ruin SunFest is the “R” word.”
Rain, she means.
“But we won’t even say it.”
SunFest begins today
Where: Downtown West Palm Beach waterfront
Tickets and information: SunFest.com
Today’s schedule: THE SCENE, page 3.
Go to pbpulse.com tonight for blogs about the opening night acts, including Smashing Pumpkins.
Most unexpected bites:
- A fresh whole organic coconut ($5), sold by Strawberry Fields on Datura Street and the South Stage food court
- Alligator bites ($12), sold by Taste & Tell at the Flagler Drive food court
- Hearts of palm cake sandwich, sold by Darbster at the Flagler Drive food court
- Conch balls ($7), sold by Walkers Seafood at the South Stage food court
Global street food favorites:
- Arepas ($5), sold by South American vendor at one of the SunFest carts
- Falafel and hummus wraps ($10), sold by Strawberry Fields on Datura Street and the South Stage food court
- Greek gyro ($8), sold by Greek Island Café at the South Stage food court
- Quesadillas ($8, $9), sold by C & R Food Concepts at the South Stage food court
- Giant burritos ($10), sold by Build Your Own Burrito at the Flagler Drive food court
- Jerk fish platter ($15), sold by Catering Concepts at the Flagler Drive food court
- Argentine BBQ ($10), sold by Puffs & Stuff at the Flagler drive food court
Handheld eats include:
- Grimaldi’s pepperoni slice ($5), sold by Grimaldi’s at the Datura west food court
- Nathan’s hotdog ($4), sold by The Sausage Factory at the Flagler Drive food court
- Jumbo corn dog ($6), sold by Ralph’s Pizza & Corndogs at the Flagler Drive food court
- Corn on the cob ($4), sold by Mr. Cobb’s Roasted Corn at the South Stage food court
- Frozen chocolate dipped bananas ($5), sold by Totally Bananas at one of the SunFest carts
Café Chardonnay, a Palm Beach Gardens favorite, will be catering the Waterfront Hospitality area, which is located near the Ford stage. The Café will be serving a new themed menu each of the five days, including a “summer cookout” menu, a “taste of Italy” menu, a Saturday night barbecue, and a Cinco de Mayo menu.