Eat Real Returns 

Berkeley's Spice of Life Festival gets a surprising sponsor, plus Behind the Cart does a bingo brunch.

The first Eat Real Festival, in 2009, sweated under the glare of an Oakland wave, and while there were fearsome lines and food shortages over its three days, it was a success. Some 70,000 people showed up, in no small part to check out the Bay Area's young street-food scene, then on its first legs.

Last year Eat Real expanded, as organizers knew the kinds of crowds to expect and how to minimize snarl. This year's fest is later than in previous years — September 23-25, in Jack London Square — but promises to be no less sweaty.

Again, organizers — who inaugurated an LA version of Eat Real earlier this summer — are tweaking the format. They've invited fewer food trucks this year (sixty, compared to ninety in 2010), apparently to limit the mass of queued-up food seekers from choking the central promenade. Also new this year: a Craft Food Market, made up of nearly three dozen food artisans hawking a range of things, from coffee and jams to pasta and pickles. And — are you excited yet? — get ready for Eat Real's Jam Bar, which sounds like some sort of hip-hop poetry slam from the Nineties performed behind a counter, but I bet is going to be, well — a jam bar.

Eat Real standbys are back again this year, though, including the butchery competition, various food demos, a multi-tap beer garden, music, and a literary festival.

It's always been a bit hard to nail down Eat Real's exact rationale (apart from a being a sprawling, end-of-summer outdoor festival in Oakland, a food-focused bookend to Art & Soul). Neither purely a street-food festival nor a pickle-forward maker fair, Eat Real describes itself as "part state fair, street-food festival, and block party created to celebrate and showcase good food," according to a press release. Maybe that's rationale enough.

Attendance to the festival is free, though you'll have to bring cash for food and other stuff you buy (all prepared food items are priced at $5 or less). For more information, you can always check out the festival website, at EatRealFest.com

The Gourmet Ghetto Lives Up To Its Name

Eat Real might be your last chance this year to eat food outdoors with thousands of strangers, but it's not your only one. The ninth annual Spice of Life Festival takes over Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto this Saturday, September 17 (11 a.m.-7 p.m.), with the usual mashup of entertainment and food, but with a surprising new sponsor: Google Offers.

You know Google Offers — it's the mega-browser's deal site. Reps will be on the ground to explain Google Offers and to dangle subscriptions, and they're kicking things off, says a rep for the North Shattuck Association, with Gourmet Ghetto Week, starting September 17.

Last year, Spice of Life made the transition from festival food stalls — all those meat-on-a-stick and fried-food purveyors that show up at multiple food festivals — to smaller, more local vendors, including some food trucks. Expect Boffo Cart, Namu, and Hapa SF, as well as local businesses Tara's Organic Ice Cream, Bistro Liaison, Lush Gelato, and the brand new Local Butcher Shop. Ground zero for Spice of Life is Shattuck Avenue and Vine Street.

Food Carts Come To You

Okay, so it's a Wednesday night, and you're on North Shattuck, finally, to try the weekly food-truck pod Off the Grid.

Then you see the lines.

We've been there, too, weighing whether to stand in line at the Fiveten Burger truck for thirty minutes, or spend five to walk to the Cheeseboard for pizza.

At a continental-style brunch this Sunday (September 18, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.) at Berkeley's Firehouse Art Collective, you won't have to choose. This is the third Behind the Cart event organized by street vendor Michael Davidson, aka GrilledCheezGuy. We'll let Davidson explain the idea behind the gatherings: "As a local popular food cart vendor something I realized early on is that people are interested in the stories behind the carts. We all want to know how the GrilledCheezGuy came to be or what inspired the Creme Brulee cart to hit the streets. This event provides the opportunity to enjoy some of the local food carts best dishes while also sharing stories at the end of the dinner."

Sunday's brunch features food (and stories) by INNA Jam, El TacoBike, Tea & Good Company, Simply Mochi, Schulzies Bread Pudding, 23 MonkeyTree, S + S Gastro Grub, Blank Tea, and, of course, GrilledCheezGuy. The full menu's at Behind the Cart's Eventbrite page, same place you can buy tickets (cost: $40). Remember to bring champagne if you want (orange juice will be on hand for spiking), oh, and there's a twist: a Bingo-like game will determine the order of the courses. Guess that's the way the carts roll.

Update: A previous version of this article got wrong the name of one of the participants in Behind the Cart. It's S + S Gastro Grub, not S + S Gastro Club.

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