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Tiptoeing Through the Tulips

May 11, 2015

Washington Park is really a remarkable place. On a beautiful spring evening it can be elegant. And on a sunny spring afternoon it can be a bit overwhelming.

This past weekend was Tulip Fest. Yelp was a media sponsor. And I have to say that I got a kick hearing the Yelp name ring out from the stage announcements. There were also other friends of Yelp there. Emack & Bolio’s, which hosted the Meet the Ambassador Yelp Event, had a truck in the park. And of course Slidin’ Dirty, which hosted the first Official Yelp Event, was there in their newly redecorated ride.

Incidentally, Slidin’ Dirty just got a great write up in the Times Union. Why this great place that focuses on elevated versions of comfort foods using local ingredients didn’t get a starred review is really beyond me. But on Yelp it gets 4.5 stars on 53 reviews. That’s no small feat.

But I wanted to talk more about Tulip Fest and Washington Park, especially since I was generously invited to cover Champagne on the Park last Thursday, which is the kickoff to the madness of this giant spring spectacle. In part because it was there that I learned something important.

It doesn’t matter what you’re cooking. If you’re serving food outside, bring fire and char something.

I’m serious. McGuire’s was there serving a couple of different samples, each of which had several components that had to be fastidiously applied. And I absolutely salute that effort. The lemon buttermilk panna cotta had to be topped with strawberry rhubarb compote, lemon zest, a sliced strawberry, and a miniature mint leaf. When serving hundreds of portions from a tent, that’s a pain in the ass.

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Cafe Hollywood, which is decidedly less fancy, wheeled out a gas grill and was cooking up hot dogs and chicken skewers with onions and green peppers. Guess which place was more appealing?

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Man, the smell of charring onions and green peppers just does something to me. Plus when you’re outdoors and sipping on sparkling wine, you want to have food that’s as easy to eat as possible. Meat on a stick totally does the job.

It wasn’t a contest. But if it was, Cafe Hollywood totally would have won it. Although I was hearing a lot of love from the crowd about the crab rangoon from LAX On Lark.

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What was probably most remarkable about the whole thing was seeing how a section of the park could be corralled off with the strategic use of tents for a fancy affair. There was a fellow in a top hat, and quite possibly the best dressed bunch of people from the area I’ve seen gathered together in one spot for a long time. If Tulip Fest with its crush of humanity isn’t your thing, I’d seriously consider keeping your eyes open for this annual event next year. The tickets aren’t inexpensive, but it’s a fundraiser for the Lark Street BID, and it’s four hours of free flowing wine in the park.

It’s hard to believe that it was even the same park I returned to a few days later. This time it was abuzz with the sounds of generators that supplied the food vendors. Standing in long lines in the heat isn’t really how I want to spend my time at Tulip Fest, so I had to give up on my friends at Slidin’ Dirty (but I was glad to see them in such demand).

Little Miss Fussy was happy with her hot dog from the Price Chopper grill, which surprisingly had almost no line at all despite their mastery of cooking food on fire outdoors. The booth smelled great.

Perhaps because I spent $6 for a lemonade at a nearby stand, I didn’t feel robbed paying $3 for a hot dog. And I was practically giddy to find out that a bottle of water from the Price Chopper booth was just a buck. It’s always good seeing Price Chopper live up to its name.

Regrettably, by the time Little Miss Fussy was done with her hot dog, Emack & Bolio’s was out of everything but peach ice cream. Again, good for them. So I promised to take her to the store sometime later this summer for something more chocolatey.

I’m not quite sure how to really do Tulip Fest right. Part of me thinks the answer is to go early, bring plenty of water, find some fun festival-type food before the lines get crazy, and then meander around the park catching a band or two. But part of me wonders if more food vendors are needed. And I also wonder if the crowds might be better managed if the food was a bit more dispersed throughout the park.

Or maybe I’m just getting too old for this kind of thing. People seemed to be having a great time. The weather was beautiful. And cigarette smoking wasn’t allowed (which is a big plus in my book). I didn’t see any crazy drunks, and even with a few minor disappointments even Little Miss Fussy wanted to return.

We’ll try out our strategies for success next year, and see how it goes.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2015 9:50 am

    I went for the tulips and they were hard to find with all the rows upon rows of vendors. The festival needs more flowers, not more food.

  2. May 11, 2015 10:55 am

    It wasn’t untill afterwards that I realized I was having my own little CrabbyFest – but many of us have a view about what the festival “should” be. And thank heavens we often get wonderful weather and it’s the kickoff bash for Albany. In spite of all the things that could be improved, it’s got a little something for almost everyone, and let’s hope it’s got a few more decades to go so that we can all see our little dreams for it unfold.

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