Music the star at Lollapalooza, but food plays big supporting role
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After three years serving up quasi-Vietnamese fare at Lollapalooza, the Tank Noodle team has finally learned the ropes in feeding hordes of sweaty, tired festival goers.
Manager Dhien Ly said the booth has learned a couple lessons and tweaked its menu to best suit its audience.
That menu includes egg rolls ($6), sriracha fries ($5) and lemongrass noodles ($10).
“We switched out the menu a couple times to feel out the demographics,” Ly said. Tofu, for one, “opened up an option for the vegans and people who don’t wanna do meat — and that worked out really well.”
This year, Tank Noodle set up shop once again as one of 30-plus “Chow Town” vendors at the Grant Park music festival. Spanning the length of Columbus Drive from Balbo Avenue to Jackson Drive, booths featured thick, greasy five-dollar slices of pizza, Hot Cheetos fries and cones of rainbow-colored ice cream.
Tank Noodle is not the only vendor catering to customer needs.
14 of them, including typical meat lovers’ picks like MBurger and Sausage Haus, were both vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. Classic kids meal options abounded, with endless spins on fries and chicken tenders. Apples, snacks and sunscreen were available at scattered “Bodega” booths.
Molly Lena, first-time Lolla attendee, said Friday that “so far it’s been phenomenal.”
“I haven’t been disappointed with anything that I’ve eaten,” Lena said. “It’s not as expensive as I was expecting it to be, which definitely makes it a lot more enjoyable, because you’re not spending so much money just to have something in your stomach.”
Yet for most people, the food at Lolla is merely a matter of sustenance. Jamie Evans put it best: “Lines are short, prices aren’t anything too extraordinary and the food is decent.”
Hungry fans within festival grounds can expect to fork up about $10 for a standard entree-sized meal. And drinks can take the biggest toll, with prices often in the double digits for alcoholic beverages.
It is difficult to walk more than a couple minutes within Grant Park without encountering “bar” or “beer and water” in big, bold lettering — under which ice coolers hold wine, lemonade and Lollapalooza’s classic blue cans of Deja Blue water.
For those who don’t want to pay for water ($2 for a 12-ounce can), stations throughout the festival allow people to fill up their own water bottles. Lena said she appreciated the stations, which don’t pry more money out of Lolla-goers’ pockets and are “there for everybody.”
Some attendees said they would like to see more; though generally efficient, lines of people waiting to hydrate ran much longer than those for bathrooms. Kathy Lindblom, waiting in line at one crowded station, said her pizza and corn dogs so far have been “delicious.”
“So the quality is good,” she said. And the price tag is “reasonable compared to other festivals. It’s overpriced, but that’s expected.”
Maria Green disagreed. She paid $10 for three wings and fries at the Harold’s Chicken Shack booth, and called that price “crazy,” especially when compared to what she would pay elsewhere ($5.99 at the Harold’s in the South Loop).
Tameeka Lockhart, on the other side of the counter, said simply: “It’s a festival! You have to have festival prices.”
“Everything is made fresh,” added Lockhart, a Harold’s manager. “Absolutely the same. We didn’t take any shortcuts because we’re at Lolla.”
For Ly, who was busy selling steak vermicelli noodles and chicken sriracha fries, the hardest part of working Lolla has not been the heat or chaos, but cleaning up.
Now that they’ve gotten it down to a science, it only takes “about a couple hours.” As Lockhart — who looked forward to catching Bruno Mars late at night — agreed, vendors are too busy to enjoy the festival themselves. But still, Ly said it is worth it.
“My favorite thing about this is the energy at the event,” Ly said. “There’s a lot of young people, a lot of happy people. The energy with all the music, the food, the alcohol is really fun.”