Every year, Lexington, Kentucky hosts a two-day food and music festival called Crave. Crave celebrates local food and culture by having no chain foods or concessions and being produced by local publishing company Smiley Pete Publishing. Dozens of vendors and thousands of attendees flock towards Masterson Station Park where hundreds of different foods are sold for only $1, $3, or $5 while live, local bands play. I had the opportunity to attend this festival yesterday and was pleasantly surprised by how fun it was.
Despite knowing that it took place in a park, I was unprepared for how spread out and informal the festival was. Vendors set up fairly small tents across the fairgrounds and advertise themselves and their food via handwritten signs. While a few of the larger restaurants such as Sage and Pollo had trucks or extended areas, most restaurants kept it small and intimate. Initially, I had assumed the set-up would be more artificial and compressed like the Evansville Nut Club Fall Festival and was pleased by how open everything was.
The food selection was fairly diverse, featuring Asian, American, Southern, fusion, and more with local favorites like Bru Burger Bar, Coles 735 Main, Lexington Pasta, Sav’s Grill, and The Village Idiot. Vendors did a fairly good job of offering numerous selections with most of them presenting a sweet option, an appetizer, and an entre. While I didn’t have the time (or resources) to try them all, I was mostly impressed by what I did eat. Bru’s white chocolate peach bread pudding was delicious, with its bread thick and saturated but not dense. The peanut goat at Sav’s Grill was incredibly tender and light. Han Cook In’s dumplings with pork and sweet potato noodles had a crisp, flavorful exterior with a savory but light center and pleasantly sweet honeyed popped rice sticks. Dupree Catering was a fun experimentation in world fusion cuisine, showcasing jalapeno grilled watermelon excellently paired with pistachio and chihuahua cheese. Mad Scoops, an ice cream company based in Richmond, Kentucky, had a lovely, diverse selection, sizeable portions, and perfectly sweet and creamy ice cream (My favorite was Mad Monkey, which came with banana ice cream and mini buck-eyes – so good.). It’s just a shame that I couldn’t try more and that a few of the vendors were closed by the time I got there (about 9:00pm).
Since I did get there late, I missed all the family-friendly activities (no big loss for me), most of the crowds, and most of the bands. I was able to hear the final songs for JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound, which seemed like a fine, middle-of-the-line band with a cacophony of sound propelled by rhythm. Obviously, I wasn’t too impressed with them but that could be because I was hearing them at the end of their set. However, I adored Misc. Jones, a soul and R & B band coming from the jazz tradition. I loved their singer with her energetic, soulful voice and willingness to just let herself and the band go with the music for a moment. Unfortunately, they are an entirely new band with very little information about them up right now, so I can’t even look up who their singer is! I hope they start adding more on their Facebook page soon because I am a complete convert.
There were, as there usually are, one or two things that I didn’t quite care for, the most glaring one being the price on the food and the portion sizes. Crave is advertised as free (to attend) and food is supposed to be cheap at only $1, $3, or $5. Vendors make up for this by offering incredibly tiny portion sizes. The bread pudding that I was so fond up came in a 2 oz. cup as did a $1 Thai tea drink, a caprese cracker, and a spoonful of ice cream. Some of the vendors like A Cup of Common Wealth offered a decent amount for the money, but most were simply disappointing. While I understand that vendors need to make money and can’t just give away food, it’s nonetheless disappointing to see descriptions of fabulous cheese and bacon spreads or handcrafted hummus or decadent confections and get barely a mouthful. The $3 options often suffered from the same affliction, and it was usually only the $5 ones that were satisfying or seemed worth the price. In the future, I would suggest that some of the vendors re-evaluate their selections and try to give customers a better deal.
Overall, however, I did enjoy myself and would call the festival a success. Even if some of the portions were insultingly small, the food was always either just plain delicious or intriguing. The layout of the venue prevented people from bunching up and making participants feel claustrophobic. The stage was well set up with good acoustics and loud but not deafening speakers. The bands (that I heard, anyway) were either good to listen to or great. So it’s definitely something I hope will continue and something I plan on bringing a lot more money to next year. After all, how can I say no to weird and wonderful food?