Long lines at the Atlanta Street Food Festival

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Lines got gnarly at the inaugural Atlanta Street Food Festival Saturday afternoon. The event, which benefited the Atlanta Community Food Bank, brought around sixteen trucks to Piedmont Park and, in turn, hundreds of hungry Atlantans.

I showed up at 2 p.m., hoping the lunch-goers had cleared out by then. I was wrong. I was very wrong. People were very much interested in eating for the entire day, and the experience quickly turned into a culinary purgatory.  

In the three hours I spent standing in lines, I snagged a cone of fries with red curry ketchup ($5) from The Fry Guy, a bready gyro from MIX’d UP ($8), and two small lemonades (total $6) from Main Squeeze Lemonade, a squeeze-to-order vendor who was serving as fast as lemons grow.

My one-hour wait for lemonade wasn’t even the worst in the park. The line for Yum Yum Cupcake & More was so long you’d think the desserts were free and came with gold bars. The Cajun-inspired Just Loaf’n Po Boys also boasted a queue that reached upwards of 75 people. In the absolute worst cases, trucks ran out just as people made it to the front to order.

While standing in lines, I thanked the weather gods for rain earlier in the week that kept temperatures at the park bearable. (High five to the genius who brought the tent equipped with misters.) The bands playing on stage were also a nice distraction from the heat. 

There seemed to be confusion about whether people had to buy tickets to get into the event. Groupon ran a deal for tickets, but when I presented mine to an event coordinator, she said the tickets were really just a donation. In the future, I hope event organizers make the donation process more transparent. The good news is that, thanks to the fundraising, the ACFB will be able to buy $42,350 worth of groceries.

Leaving the park I started thinking about what I wanted out of a food truck. A friend recently reminded me that the hawkers in Singapore serve only one dish. To get a complete meal there, one needs to visit several vendors. That’s what I want. I don’t want risotto, $12 burger combo meals or, in general, big plates with price tags I associate with actual restaurants. 

Maybe I waited in the wrong lines, but small dishes seemed largely absent on Saturday. The long waits, perhaps, are symptoms of menus that go beyond what small kitchens can produce in a timely (and skilled) fashion. 

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