Isthmus held it’s third ever food cart festival called “Isthmus a la Carts” on May 9, 2014 at Olin Park. It was a streeteaters paradise: almost all of Madison’s food carts in one spot during a pleasant but windy May afternoon. The event sold-out to 500 ticket holders and it’s easy to see why. Who would pass up the chance to sample dishes from Madison’s food carts all in one spot for $20? (Note: the 2013 fest experienced rain and this year was much nicer. Ticket prices in 2012 were $15)
Here were my favorite food cart items from Isthmus a la Carts in 2014:
1. Gili’s Paninis is a new cart this year and I was honored to be the first “customer” at their cart during the fest. The format is kinda like Subway: choose your bread, sauces, meats and cheeses and they’ll prepare you a custom sandwich. But here the ingredients are fresh and the choices are unique. I had pastrami and smoked turkey with red pepper mayo and pepper jack plus all the veggies. Later on at the fest Gili’s served sweet paninis made with Nutella. Warm, gooey Nutella.
2. Sticking with the sandwich theme, I loved Slide‘s Mr. Sweet Potato Head slider. The curry sauce is a nice touch.
3. Fried and Fabulous did not disappoint. I think they had the longest line at all times but it’s understandable considering they were serving deep fried Oreos, jalapeno poppers and popcorn chicken. The cart owner Steve even had his whole family pitching in to help keep the line moving. Thanks for the extra dipping sauces Steve’s dad!
4. Bubbles’ Doubles was a welcome addition to this year’s fest. It was great to see cart owner Bubbles-who is perhaps the friendliest food cart owner in all of Madison-and enjoy his spicy doubles (doubles are a common Trinidad and Tobago street food. And they’re delicious.) A run to one of the drink carts was necessary after this stop.
The fest was not without some disappointments. Some of the advertised vendors (Melted, Caracas Empanadas) never showed up at the fest. The gates opened at 4PM but only one or two carts were serving food at that time, cart owners clearly needed more time to set up the event and some were still pulling in after the fest opened. The lines were long but moving quick in most places.