Monday, May 19, 2008

Would You Like Fries With That?

The second Brian and I turned the corner of Trenton Avenue just before noon on Saturday, we knew the festival was already well on its way to being a huge success. And by huge, I mean so much huger than it was last year. The number of food and art vendors seemed to be double the amount from 2007. I immediately began eyeing the cute purses, aprons, and jewelry I wanted to buy. Dozens of tables were lined along several blocks and the entire length of the festival was sandwiched by two stages starring local musicians and performances by the Walking Fish Theatre.

Our first official stop, though, was to Viva Las Vegans. The truck was parked off to a side street and I was a bit worried about festival-goers missing the sidelined truck. I met Blythe and Derek, the wife and husband duo behind the operation and the first thing I noticed is, OK, Blythe is gorgeous. She and I talked about the inspiration behind Viva Las Vegans—she just wanted some simple and quick vegan comfort food that literally didn’t cost an arm and a leg. We talked about how we ended up in Philly (or really, how I will eventually end up in Philly) and our job experiences. Our first conversation went so well, I almost forgot to step aside from the window when the first customer came along. I left to help Brian place some recycling bins along the avenue. We were both pleased and surprised by both the picture perfect early summer sunshine and the huge crowd.

Pretty soon, we wanted to eat and we, of course, were going to hit up the vegan food truck. We did eyeball other food vendors and that’s when we were even happier to have Viva Las Vegans. There wasn’t much vegetarian-friendly fare, let alone vegan options. One vendor had vegan stew, to which Brian remarked, “Who wants to eat stew at a street fair in the sun?” By the time Brian and I returned to the truck, the line was bustling. I ordered the crispy soy chicken sandwich with jalapenos and Brian got a fish filet. Derek was generous enough to give us both for free. As we waited for our food, Brian offered up my services to Blythe and Derek and they both quickly took him up on his offer. I was admittedly nervous about the possibility of being more of a hindrance than a help to them since I still use my fingers to solve even the simplest of calculations. Blythe assured me that she’d yell out the prices for me and also, there was a calculator. I ate my delicious sandwich and went into the truck.

Viva Las Vegans has devised a complex and sometimes fragile ordering shorthand. For instance, when someone orders a crispy chicken, you write down “CC” and hand that off to the cooks. When someone orders a soy burger, you write down “SB.” OK, so that was easy. Yeah, but what the hell do you write when someone orders a fish filet and French fries? FF and FF? Derek insisted that “FF” would signify French fries and writing out “fish” would be the filet. It only took one or two ambiguous FF’s before I caught on.

As far as I know, everyone’s change was correct and we only lost one order, which we quickly fixed. Vegan customers are about the friendliest bunch you could ever hope to serve. One customer loved the idea of the truck so much that he asked that the generous remainder of his change go toward buying the next customer’s order. How often does that happen at Burger King?

During my truck time, I also met the owner of the Northport Fishington Cookie Factory, who supplies Viva Las Vegans with their cookies. Brian and I split the oatmeal cranberry cashew concoction and, oh my god, was it good.

In addition to that cookie, I ate a chocolate nut vanilla cupcake from Baked, a local microbakery that provides baking lessons and vegan and nonvegan baked goods for special order and Philly bakeries and cafes. When I bought the cupcake, I planned to share it with Brian. After one bite, I asked him if I could buy him another one because I no longer wanted to share mine with him. The cake was so moist and not too sweet while the frosting was creamy with the perfect balance of sugary and savory flavors.

A member of Philadelphia Tree People made vegan chocolate chip cookies. This cookie was out of this world delicious—soft, buttery, and, since this is still a compliment, one that did not taste vegan at all. I reluctantly gave my last cookie to Brian but don’t think that didn’t hurt.

Derek and Blythe assured me that my help at the window was indeed very helpful. What little I did for one afternoon, however, was nothing compared to what they do everyday. Standing and working in tight quarters to deliver delicious, high-quality, vegan comfort food takes a tremendous amount of hard work and elbow grease. I admire the risk and bravery it takes to launch a small business and especially the dedication it takes to provide much needed vegan grub in the food world.

If you’re ever in Philly, please do yourself a favor and visit Viva Las Vegans at 33rd and Market. Order a Big D with extra cheese, bacon, and ask for some fries to be sandwiched in between (Blythe’s second creation for Brian on Saturday). Then leave a generous tip.

Pictures by Brian.


Sky said...

So jealous! Looks like you has a great time. Next time I'm in Philly I'll have to hit up the truck with you. :)

Taylor said...

Sorry I missed the fest, but it looks like you had a great (and delicious) time!

Joselle said...

Maybe you two can make it next year. :)

Brian said... arm and a leg! You're awesome, Palacios!


The Soy Brian