Another Outside Lands has come and gone, and as usual, the party in Golden Gate Park continues to set the bar for some of the best festival food to be found anywhere in these United States. In a milieu that too often lends itself to the soggy, cold, oversalted, and overpriced, we found restaurants ranging from the high-end (Rich Table) to the proudly down 'n dirty (Bacon Bacon) putting on their best faces—at prices that, if not inexpensive, were certainly justified by the flavor punch they provided. Here are our observations on the best things we ate and drank, and the insanity we saw along the way.
· Despite a full-court press from Karl the Fog, the mood at Outside Lands was resolutely sunny. But even by that standard, two things had everyone gushing: Paul McCartney's three-hour Friday set, and The Whole Beast's lamb poutine, which set the standard for warming, belly-filling, beer-soaking festival goodness. Triple-fried, still-steaming fries were coated in a rich lamb gravy with crispy bits of lamb chorizo, more roasted lamb, fried herbs, and soft mozzarella curds on top. The line for the poutine was the longest we saw all weekend, so the word was clearly out; luckily, watching people's eyes roll into the backs of their heads with pleasure when they took their first bite provided pretty good entertainment during the wait.
· Another source of rib-sticking goodness: 1300 on Fillmore's creamy shrimp and grits, which were added to the lineup for the first time this year. We only wish they'd been brought onboard sooner, as they're a genius pick for a cold-as-ice festival day. They may originate from the South, but they're the best weapon against Golden Gate Park fog we've yet discovered.
· Fresh off their appearance on Bon Appetit's Best New Restaurant longlist, Rich Table brought their A-game with warm and fluffy porcini doughnuts and whipped raclette. The salty/sweet combination made for a welcome snack, and the ease of hand-to-mouth eating meant these fried treats disappeared like magic.
· Little Skillet's chicken and waffles, always a treat in the sunshine on Ritch Street, were an especially welcome dose of warmth during the fog-filled wait for the Red Hot Chili Peppers' closing set. A hardworking band of cooks manned the waffle irons at full blast, and both components were hot and crispy even after a long, cold walk back to our blanket. The truly brave or insane could order them as a combo platter with mac and cheese and watermelon. (Their reliably excellent red-velvet cupcakes sold out, prompting a fair number of disappointed sighs at the booth.)
· With Magnolia's Dave McLean at the helm, Beer Lands once again brought the goods, with solid options from a swath of local breweries. Sierra Nevada's Outside Lands-only saison is tasty with good spice, if a bit too sweet to marry well with the food. We preferred Linden Street and Dying Vines' Hop Candi, a sessionable 4.8% ABV brew that still packed enough aroma and palate-cleansing bitterness to stand up to the saltiest of festival fare.
· Meanwhile, at Wine Lands, we sampled something entirely new: draft sake from Momokawa, an American producer. They're the first company ever to serve it on tap, and it proved to be a pretty genius pairing with BBQ (as Memphis Minnie's long ago discovered).
· Outside of the two festival-designated Booze Lands, alcohol selections were less appealing, but the ubiquitous wine and beer stands meant that $7 Heineken and house Cabernet were at festival-goers' fingertips at all times. Despite our ambivalence towards Heineken and outright aversion to Heineken Light, we fell prey to the easy access more than once over the weekend, and have the empty wallets to prove it.
· Despite (or because of?) its recent legal turmoil, Bacon Bacon had strong public support, drawing a line three times that of its neighboring food trucks. In true San Francisco fashion, we saw a trio of strolling stoners cry, "Bacon!", extinguish their joint and immediately make a beeline for the queue.
· Next door, the Rib Whip was having a hard time moving its titular item, which may have offered too much of a messiness threshold compared to their pulled-pork sandwiches. That's too bad, because the ribs were delicious, tender and smoky. We paired them with the aforementioned sake and a bowl of Homeroom's Gilroy garlic mac and cheese, which had a creamy, curdle-free texture, perfectly al dente pasta, and a bright garlic flavor that nicely counteracted the sweet BBQ sauce.
· Carnivores and their appetites tend to get all the love at festivals, but one of the best dishes we tried was also one of the few that contained vegetables: Luella's fresh-pressed sandwiches, heaped with lemony artichokes and creamy ricotta.
· The addition of extra coffee vendors was a welcome sight this year, providing a caffeine and warmth boost without a crazy line.
· Arepas, while delicious, can be a bit of a clumsy mess in a festival setting, with the soft cornbread crumbling under the weight of cheese. Pica Pica, however, thought theirs through, offering a trio of tasty little arepa sliders spread with a thick smear of mashed avocado. We sampled both the juicy pulled pork and shredded beef to top ours, and weren't disappointed.
· The most unexpectedly delicious surprise of the festival: Il Cane Rosso's French toast. Custardy, with a perfectly crisp exterior, it was topped with a solid glug of good maple syrup and a few puffs of whipped cream, and though it may be the beer talking, we thought it was good enough to rival Nopa's. Proof: We almost didn't order it in the first place, and ended up going back for a second round.
What was your favorite sip and/or bite at Outside Lands this year? Do share in the comments.
Rose Garrett contributed reporting to this story.