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:
Choices at Gili’s Paninis
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.
Starting the fest off right with a whole panini from Gili’s
2. Sticking with the sandwich theme, I loved Slide‘s Mr. Sweet Potato Head slider. The curry sauce is a nice touch.
Slide’s Mr. Sweet Potato Head
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!
Deep fried Oreo from Fried and Fabulous
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.
What Isthmus said about a la Carts
By: Anna and Kailey
Isthmus held it’s first ever food cart festival called “Isthmus a la Carts” on May 11, 2012 at Olin Park. It was a streeteaters paradise: carts in one spot during a gorgeous 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 $15?
food cart fest
Streeteaters Anna and Kailey hit every single cart, sampled nearly every dish and generally talked about how great food carts are. We loved seeing our favorites and introduced ourselves to some new kids on the block like Slide who serve mini-sliders on Dayton Street near Memorial Union South.
Slide’s mini sliders
Here’s our top three sampled goods:
1. Caracas Empanadas. The sweet plantain and roasted garlic empanada was incredible and the homemade Guasacaca sauce was icing on the already delicious cake. Anna would have preferred to drink the sauce. It was just that good.
2. Fried and Fabulous. There’s really no way to go wrong with deep fried Oreos and balls of cookie dough. Their full menu also features healthy snacks (not like we tried them…) and parks late night by the Madhatter bar.
3. Banzo. The falafel tasted great (as always) when tucked inside its petite pita. In a shocking twist, Anna (med cafe’s number one fan) declared Banzo’s falafel BETTER than med cafe’s. The falafel was absolutely the best she’s ever tasted.
Also, shout-out to Monty’s Blue Plate Diner. They only had coffee and doughnuts but that maple iced coffee quenched our thirst in a big way.
Despite the wonderful atmosphere at the fest there were a few let downs: Igo Vego’s veggie burgers were dry and odd tasting, the Surco cart was there but strangely not serving anything, three carts were offering the exact same spring rolls and we failed to realize that beverages were not included with our ticket price (luckily we hit the smoothie carts to calm the heat of some Thai food).
The fest reenforced everything we love about streeteating: nice business owners who are proud of their mobile businesses and delicious food. Throw in some great weather and friendship and you have yourself an outing at the first ever Isthmus a la Carts.