The Food of Wakarusa

Arkansas, like other states, has its share of festivals and fairs throughout the year.  Standard fair fare usually centers on easy to cook fried items and high-sugar desserts.  But one Arkansas festival has a completely different view on things.

Wakarusa is the annual festival held around the first weekend of June at Mulberry Mountain, 16 miles north of Ozark.  It’s four days and three nights full of music, camping, performing arts, vendors and food.  You’ll hear a lot about other aspects of the festival — but have you ever heard about what they cook up for attendees?

It might be the clientele that comes that dictates the cuisine.  Many of the people who come to Wakarusa each year are of the back-to-nature set.  Some are vegetarians or vegans; others are searching out organically raised vegetables and free-range meats.  And there are always the adventuresome folks.

Here are some of the crazy items featured at the 2012 Wakarusa Music Festival:

Breakfast.  Being a camp-in festival, there are a lot of people out and about all hours of the day.  You can have breakfast any time from several vendors (a few of which are open 24 hours a day throughout the length of the event).  I found one vendor who served up a whole lot of French toast.  Breakfast sandwiches were another specialty — sandwiches made with egg, cheese and a choice of breakfast meat (bacon, ham, sausage or turkey sausage) served up in either a tortilla, a croissant or on toasted bread.  And then there’s the Chinese food stand that offered up bacon, sausage, hashbrowns and eggs cooked up on the griddle and served in a paper boat.

Chinese food.  Flaming Wok was a hot stand in its different locations around the festival.  There you could purchase traditional favorites with a Wakarusa flair — such as General Chicken (General Tso’s chicken made with deep fried tempura battered chicken and a sweet-hot orange sauce) and vegetable lo mein.  Spicy lo mein was also a crowdpleaser, as were crab rangoon.  And the sririacha was flowing freely.

High-end traditional fare.  You can find a few more traditional festival offerings at Wakarusa… but in most cases they’re a bit higher quality than you might find from a concessionaire at another event — such as hand-stirred organic kettle corn instead of popcorn, or gourmet weiners battered and fried rather than traditional corndogs.  Chili cheese fries utilizing homemade chili and hand-cut fries were also available — at the same booth where you could get a quarter pound burger.

Crepes.  Sweet and savory crepes were a specialty of one very popular vendor.  These weren’t the standard small breakfast roll creations you may have encountered at one of a couple of popular breakfast chains.  Instead, these 10”x8” folded creations were packed with all sorts of ingredients in unusual combinations — such as cinnamon caramel apple, peanut butter banana, blueberry or strawberry whipped cream, blueberry nutella banana cinnamon, cheese marinara spinach, spinach black bean cheese tomato, and salsa avocado cheese spinach.

Quesadillas.  Not just another Mexican specialty, these tortillas were packed with punch — well,  maybe not punch but with just about everything in the world else.  Among the ingredients I saw were black beans, salsa, roasted red bell peppers, rice, a whole slew of different cheeses, zucchini, sweet potatoes and apples.  My favorite quesadilla was the Feta Medadilla — a tortilla layered with artichoke hearts, black olives, hummus, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red bell pepper, feta cheese spread and mozzarella.  The folded over tortilla  is handed over to diners in a folded paper plate — easy to eat and easy to recycle.

Pizza.  The traditional Italian round flat pie may not seem that unusual, but at Wakarusa you could find all sorts of variations.  Spicy sauce was popular, as were all vegetarian (and even one vegan, cheeseless) pies and such.  
Toppings such as bell peppers, mushrooms and pineapple were popular.  One vendor even sold French bread pizzas from his stand.

Grilled cheese sandwiches.  For the economically challenged festivalgoer, a meal cheap as a beverage (colas, bottled water and beer all ran $3) was a bonus.  Enter the grilled cheese sandwich, offered in a blinding amount of variation from garlic-rubbed sandwiches to caprese-inspired toasted rounds to the true blue original with buttered bread.  

The Jerry Roll.  Every festival or fair needs at least one unusual dish, and this one takes the cake.  The Jerry Roll (named after famed Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia) is an oversized egg roll weighing in at an estimated ¾ pound, deep fried and then loaded up with sriracha, soy sauce and duck sauce for $6.  For a dollar more, diners could choose to have meat stuffed in — pork tenderloin, curried chicken or lamb gyro meat, enough for two people to consume and be full.

Peanut noodles.  Several different vendors went Thai-style and offered long noodles (usually spaghetti or fettuccini) served up with vegetables and peanut sauce.  Some offered them hot while others served theirs cold in boxes.

Wraps.  Handheld was the name of the game at this event, and one of the more popular handheld items was the Portabella Mushroom Pita.  This was sauteed portabella mushrooms, fresh tomatoes and lettuce and onions doused with a little Ranch dressing and served in a soft pita.  Nice, tasty and a real treat.
For more Wakarusa food photos, visit this Food of Wakarusa Facebook album.
Kat Robinson

Kat Robinson is the communications manager for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism's tourism division. She is a lifelong Arkansawyer with years of residency in Little Rock, Russellville and Jonesboro.

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