Editor’s Note: Former MP: Chicago editor Adam Peltz left MenuPages this summer for the greener pastures of law school in Boston. We were very sad. When he filed this dispatch from the Phantom Gourmet Food Festival, however, we were filled with joy again. Enjoy! -Leila
As a new arrival to Boston, I’m only slowly starting to get a sense of the Phantom Gourmet phenomenon and the surrounding Cult of Purple. Food festivals usually center around a particular food item (lobster, strawberries, pickles), an ethnicity (Italian, Caribbean) or a city’s restaurants (Taste of Chicago, for example). But the Phantom Gourmet Food Festival, held in Fenway last Saturday, is a celebration of one person’s favorite foods, and an apocryphal person at that.
This is worth an aside. Aren’t food critics already anonymous? Yes, but the trouble with having a name is you can often attach a face, since most food critics had at least semi-visible prior lives (the New York Times’s Frank Bruni, formerly the Rome bureau chief, famously has a grainy photo of his mug splashed on the walls of every major kitchen in the city, thwarting his attempts to critize in secret under fictional aliases).
What do we know about the Phantom Gourmet? And by “we,” I mean Wikipedia. It seems that the PG is a real person, gender unknown, who resides in neither Boston nor Providence and has a penchant for pizza. Meanwhile, the Phantom Gourmet qua corporation is owned by David Andelman, who occasionally narrates for the TV show that’s hosted by his brother, Dan. Neither brother is purported to be the Phantom Gourmet; however, one can surmise that the image of the Phantom Gourmet, swaddled as he or she is in purple cape and top hat, is entirely their invention.
So I suppose I can…thank them for the purple beads that were thrown around my neck as I turned onto Lansdowne Street to collect my forty dollar will-call ticket for the Festival (kind of a lot considering that even water was a la carte). I was unprepared for the number of people dressed in purple — some in a whole hell of a lot of purple — but I was prepared to eat.
Doesn’t this look great? It wasn’t. The chocolate cupake from Kickass Cupcakes in Somerville certainly kicked something, namely my teeth when I tried to bite into it. Stale as a Mitt Romney joke! And the chocolate ribbons on top were just as hard, making it an extremely challenging and disappointing bite.
This Cheesesteak from the suburban Cheesesteak Guys had a pleasing texture, but was salty, a little flavorless, and most puzzling of all, lacked cheese. Isn’t that disqualifying?
More uncomfortable comfort food after the jump…
Chicken pot pie in a little cup is kind of adorable! Harrow’s in Reading is famous for them (famous enough to have www.chickenpie.com as their URL), but one of the best parts of CPP is a crispy, flaky crust, and this sample was very soggy. Certainly a hazard of serving food like this en masse outside, but that ought to be considered when signing up to participate. Also, it was a tad bland.
Redbones in Somerville does a brisk business, and this tender pulled pork with spicy sauce stacks up well against New England barbecue. None of this was consolation to a Texan I was with, who took a bite and simply looked sad. However, everyone liked the lightly curried pickle that came with the set.
Wholly Cannoli out of Worcester certainly has a unique interpretation of the Italian dessert. This is basically a cube of whipped cream, surrounded by a chocolate shell covered with chopped nuts. I’m not really sure what the discoloration is on the right — sugar drip? — but I ate it and it didn’t make me sick. Actually, the confection was pretty tasty, even if I’d be hard-pressed to call it a cannoli.
These broccoli rabe spring rolls from Exchange Street Bistro in Malden were a big oily fail. Whereas the soggyness of the chicken pot pie crust was a disappointment, the greasy, flaccid coverings of these spring rolls were an unmitigated disaster. The broccoli rabe itself was undercooked and bitter, and the horseradish mustard sauce, dribbled over the rolls like so much misdirected semen, was unhelpfully sharp and one-dimensional.
Gee, could someone explain to me the logo for The Sausage Guy, who you may have seen around Fenway on game day? This lady riding the rocket imagery is TOO SUBTLE. I think it has something to do with green cheese, like on the Moon where she’s probably headed?
Okay but seriously, the sausage was truly disappointing. To be fair, when it got to my turn, the Sausage Guy had just served his last queued-up tube and had to reload, meaning I didn’t get the benefit of all those extra minutes of sausage and pepper searing on the filthy griddle. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that the meat was only half the length of the bun (which was terrible on the merits), or that half the meat was actually onion, and the whole package tasted like the color gray even after the addition of mustard. I threw almost the whole thing out. On the other hand, the guy was a good enough sport to pose for this picture, which is currently my desktop background. So not a total loss!
There were things that I actually liked: Spike’s Junkyard Dogs was doing something right with their Texas Barbecue 100% beef frank; Black Cow Ice Cream of Millis and Natick made a good choice in serving cake batter ice cream, a smart substitute for vanilla; Finz Seafood in Salem and Dedham bucked the trend by producing an genuinely crispy calamari, served with a well-considered tangy Buffalo sauce.
Otherwise, the generally middling fare from suburban chain restaurants did not speak well to the Phantom Gourmet’s taste level. If these are the PG’s favorite dishes in the Boston area, I’d shudder to think what didn’t make the cut.
The crowd, however, made it all worthwhile:
Pirouetting plump purple people pageant!