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Emporiyum: Better than the Bacon Festival

April 29, 2014
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1558523_390346417773007_7180932989308368910_nYou might have heard that Saturday’s Maryland Bacon Festival at Rash Field was kind of a disaster. The Emporiyum food festival, which took place in Fells Point the same day (and Sunday), also had glitches with long lines and food supply—how popular these fests are says a lot about Baltimore’s exploding foodie culture—but left a much better taste in attendees’ mouths.

If you were at the Emporiyum, you might have been unsure if you were at a food fest or a porn set—the oooohs, ahhhhs, and “oh my god”s—were everywhere. They might have come after tasting the heaping mound of sweet lobster chunks pressed between a hot buttered New England roll from Luke’s Lobster or in between slurps of the steaming bowls of pork ramen being slung by Toki Underground. We certainly heard some gasps in response to Volt’s lamb bolognese with homemade torchio pasta, or maybe it was the crab cake slider being served by Bryan Voltaggio himself. Whatever the trigger, the sounds proved that the food, when available, was indeed yummy.

We stopped by on Saturday and sampled a myriad of things, mainly from local places, but also from well-known joints in New York, DC, and even Columbus, Ohio. The event featured free (at times, small) samples from most of the vendors along with the option to buy full size portions to eat there or take home.

Dooby’s was serving up tastes of their melt-in-your-mouth pork belly buns, DC’s Astro doughnuts showed off flavors like maple bacon and crème brulee, Stuggy’s went Asian with deep-fried General Tso hot dog wontons along with their staple crabby mac dog, Woodberry Kitchen was frying up shoo-fly chicken legs, and Fleet Street Kitchen was plating up a delicious pork boudin blanc sourced from their own farm (to name a few of the 35+ vendors).

We were especially eager to try the out-of-towners, notably Momofuku Milk Bar, the well-known NYC dessert mecca, and Columbus-based Jeni’s Ice Cream. Milk bar was offering up samples of their compost cookie and, even better, their trademarked crack pie, a butter and custardy pastry that pretty much fits the name. Jeni’s, who wrote a bestselling book on DIY ice cream making, was selling scoops and had us pining for August with their creamy Sweet Corn & Black Raspberry flavor.

It was nice to see such collaboration and intermingling between the local businesses—at one point Woodberry lent Voltaggio their larger fryer—but the event didn’t come without its hitches. As we mentioned, some of the sample sizes were pretty small and, if you got there later in the day, almost non-existent, resulting in paying a $15 entry fee just so you could pay for more things; something that left many people disappointed.  Lines were also an issue at times, with the wait for Toki and Volt being well over 20 minutes throughout the day. These types of hang-ups are sure to come with any first time event but we certainly hope they’re fixed if they plan on any future installments.

  • Michelle

    I liked the idea of the event but I’m still confused as to how they were able to charge a cover. $15 in order to get into an event where I ended up having to pay another $40 to eat enough to fill me up? No thank you. Give me Brooklyn’s Smorgasbord any day! Not to mention the fact that vegetarians were basically s*** out of luck.

  • Martine

    Agree with Michelle, especially since the website specifically said, “Tickets get you chef-created small bites, copious samples from all of our vendors, and two sample-size pours from Heavy Seas Brewery.” To me that suggests that the small bites are included with the tickets, not that you pay $15 to get in and then pay for anything bigger than a crumb. I ended up leaving with some friends to get lunch in Harbor East because there was pretty much nothing a vegetarian could eat besides dessert.

    I think a lot of vendors were unprepared in general, but especially unprepared for two days. Sweet Corn & Black Raspberry ice cream sounds awesome, but on Sunday the only Jeni’s flavors available were chocolate, salty caramel, toasted coconut, and some rainbow thing. The first three you can buy at Whole Foods in Mt. Washington, and the last was not my cup of tea — I was really hoping to try something new. The doughnut place ran out of all their doughnuts around 1 or 2. And I didn’t see any samples at Momofuku Milk Bar, though maybe I missed it.

    I posted some of this criticism on the Emporiyum’s Facebook page. At first they replied thanking me for the feedback, but when other people started chiming in expressing their dissatisfaction they deleted the whole thread. I asked on another thread why it was deleted, and they said they were going to reach out to me by email because my feedback was so important to them. Why do I not believe this?

    Hex Ferments, Gordy’s Pickle Jar, and Bittermilk all had great samples and great products. I’m happy to have been able to buy some items from those vendors. However, the overall event was seriously underwhelming. I feel like I was hoodwinked into spending $15 to go to a farmers market/food truck gathering.

  • tack8765

    While the event didn’t go all that well did anyone get one of Charm City Cook’s Salted Caramel Brownie’s? Ah- Maz- ing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • late2theparty

    I left hungry, thirsty, and feeling completely ripped off. What a waste of $15!