Another forkful disappears and Ms. Kluender is off again. Her 5’ 2” frame is engulfed by the mob in a matter of seconds. Alone, standing among thousands of San Franciscans in the Fort Mason Center parking lot, I hungrily dig in to the remaining noodles from the compost-able carton. The line inches forward and the Kimchi cucumbers I had eaten 10 minutes earlier are a distant memory. I glance at my watch between mouthfuls. Twenty minutes since I joined this line to place my order at the KoJa Kitchen food cart. This is the nature of Off the Grid-San Francisco.
Months earlier, Ms. Kluender and I both enjoyed the food cart culture that had popped up in Boston. Along the Greenway, I would occasionally take an afternoon break from a day spent speaking with editors and tweeting, to stroll along the former Occupy Boston site, past one or two food carts, and grab a bite from my favorite, Clover. Boston, however, did not prepare us for Off the Grid.
An hour earlier, when we first strolled into the Fort Mason Center parking lot I was thrown in to the sped up Western films of my parents’ era, when the trailblazers would circle the wagons as they came under attack. Now replace those wagons with more than a dozen food carts (trucks in actuality) and even more vendor stalls, leave an opening for thousands of residents to enter the oddly geometrical circle, sprinkle a few locals around the edges, building their appetites with each puff, and you have Off the Grid-San Francisco.
The Allman Brothers
Waiting in line, the house band plays another classic, The Allman Brothers this time. The Asian mother and daughter continue to review the menu behind me as a few feet ahead the black couple I met moments earlier are berated by their friend who returns from the restroom to find her nachos fell victim to their trusted guardians.
Couples and gangs of friends sit in chairs or along picnic tables, squeezing conversation between each bite. I may have picked the longest line but not by much. Friends greet each other as if they have been estranged for years, itching to become acquainted again over the meal in their hands. In actuality, one wanted a taco while the other had a hankering for a korma from across the lot. Ms. Kluender returns with a crème brulee.
Ten minutes later and we dig in. Forks are nowhere near my fingertips as I chomp down on my Teriyaki Zen with Pineapple. To fully appreciate this culinary masterpiece you must understand its ingredients.
• Teriyaki seasoned portabello mushroom patty
• Caramelized pineapple
• Japanese seasoned romaine lettuce
• A drizzle of teriyaki sauce
• Served between toasted rice buns
I feel I owe the chef an apology by mocking the small, paper wrapped sandwiches as Japanese White Castle.
A sweet surprise
Stomachs full, we realize that Off the Grid still has a hold on us. Leaving this gypsy compound is a decision one cannot make lightly. You can dine around the world without leaving the parking lot. Many lingering faces share our appreciation of this gastronomical mirage come to life. As the closing hour of 10 pm nears we finally decide to return home, but not without a treat. Stopping at a small stall, we grab a Fat Face mango, coconut and rice popsicle.
Walking down the sidewalk a couple and their brown, scraggly dog lead us away from our dining companions. Ms. Kluender and I huddle together as the wind blows across the Marina and we share the sweet pop. Best decision we made all night.
Find out more about Off the Grid, their mobile “food pods”, and their regional schedule.