In San Francisco, the Outside Lands buzz starts in the spring, when the lineup is announced. "What day will Neil Young play?" people wonder. "Just how cold is it going to get, this year?!" we all worry.
"How much am I going to be able to eat?" I think.
As someone who writes about food and music, I find Outside Lands about as good as it gets. This year, after finding myself duly impressed by the musical lineup, ("Good; good; f*#$ yeah!' was my ever-so-professional assessment), I turned my attention to the food offerings, which, if the previous year was any indication, were bound to be pretty damn good.
Last year, I wrote on just how much the music festival has grown since its inaugural 2008 year. In addition to an increasingly impressive musical showing, Outside Lands has become a destination for food and wine lovers, too. San Francisco restaurants, food carts, and farms are showcased; an always-buzzing Wine Lands tent shows off what California has to offer; and good-natured festival-goers drink beer while waiting in the (sometimes, very long) food lines. Outside Lands always aimed to be a destination festival —now, it truly is one.
2012 was a cold year in the outer lands; we grumbled, as San Franciscans are wont to do, and layered, as San Franciscans are trained to do. As the inevitable fog came slinking across the Polo Fields every night, reflecting the technicolor beams from the stage in a misty, magical light show, we put on our winter hats and drank whiskey. We danced harder and sang louder, to the likes of the Alabama Shakes, The Kills, Amadou and Mariam, and Stevie Wonder. We exited the park en masse, huddling together and spreading out across the Sunset and Richmond for soul-reviving bowls of pho.
I did all of these things. What's more: I ate. An impressive number of new food vendors joined last year's already rich lineup—food trucks like Bacon Bacon and the much-lauded Del Popolo, along with offerings from brick-and-mortar spots like Bun Mee and Southpaw BBQ.
Outside Lambs was a newcomer that spoke straight to my animal-parts-loving heart. Helmed by The Whole Beast, a whole lamb was grilled over oak, and was then expertly broken down into parts, showcasing a gorgeous, charred exterior and a glistening, rosy-lamb interior. Teams from Bourbon Steak House and RN74 served up the meat in various iterations—everything from lamb balls (really, my receipt said "balls" and nothing else) to lamb poutine, doused in a chorizo-infused roux.
Perhaps most significantly, the Outside Lands team listened to your (and my!) complaints about the historically abysmal beer offerings. Beer Lands featured offerings from some of the best Northern California breweries around, including Linden Street, Pacific Brewing Labs, Speakeasy, Lost Coast, and Magnolia (among others). While there was still plenty of Heineken to go around, the wealth of beer options was a much-needed, and truly excellent, addition.
We had our work cut out for us, to say the least, when it came to exploring all of these excellent new food choices. But we couldn't help but go back for some old favorites—the crazy-good offerings from 4505 Meats and the Malaysian-infused dishes from Azalina's. We couldn't pass up a trip through the Choco Lands, still holding down its sweet spot among the trees, or a return to the always-excellent boxes of chicken and waffles from the Little Skillet.
But like every year, I left with the feeling that I could have done more. I could have tried more beers; I could have found room for another box of lumpia; I could have run from stage to stage and caught one more act. I could have channeled my 16-year-old concert-goer spirit and shoved to the front of the crowd by the Third Man Records truck, where Jack White played a surprise pop-up show.
So is the heartbreak, and the magic, of Outside Lands. You just can't do everything. Thank goodness for next year, when the stages will spring up and the food trucks roll in to Golden Gate Park, and we'll do it all over again. Maybe the sun will even come out. Either way, you'll find me there with my winter hat on—fried chicken sandwich in one hand, whiskey in the other.
Check out the best things we ate at Outside Lands in the slideshow above.