One of my favorite food personalities is Anthony Bourdain. I watch his shows religiously. The former chef turned author and journalist is full of heady wisdom and pithy quotes. One such quote has been knocking about my brain recently. Or, at least, a vague recollection of one.
The gist of it is that the wining and dining experience of restaurants is a rather pompous affair and there’s really no better way to enjoy food than beachside with a cold beer or refreshing cocktail. No shirt, no shoes, no problems.
It’s this aesthetic, I think, that is the draw of food festivals. Although they may not provide the desired setting, especially in landlocked Czech Republic, they are characterized by a more laid-back approach and a focus on the joy of food. They also have the added benefit of variety. And so it was with much anticipation that I went this past weekend to Restaurant day at Piknik Box.
Of all the vendors at the festival, Piknik Box is the sole permanent fixture and host of the event. Located in Björnsonův sad, the little park behind the Moravian Library, this open-air café serves light snacks and drinks, excellent coffee (Rebelbean), and various baked goods year-round – weather and custom permitting.
During the festival, however, their baked goodies join the rest of the crowd and “The Box” serves mainly as thirst quencher and caffeine pusher. Their divine Makronky od Hanky has its own stand at the festival.
My personal favorites are the pistachio and salted caramel macarons, but there are always many flavors to choose from – some more exotic (passion fruit) and some classic combinations (cherry and chocolate). Piknik Box also has a small stand, and no trip would be complete without taking home a jar of their homemade salted caramel spread – great for slathering on crepes or simply eating by the spoonful.
This past weekend, other vendors included some old-guard favorites and heavy-hitting newcomers. The list of attendees is gradually posted on the event’s Facebook page beforehand, so I already had an idea what I was after – some Asian flavors from Chinatown Brno and porky goodness from Būcheck.
I started out with two orders of dumplings, one meat and one vege, from the Chinatown crew. These flavor pockets are double cooked – steamed to cook through, then pan fried for an additional textural element. All are served with smashed cucumber salad and toppings of your choice (sambal, soy sauce, black vinegar).
While the meat dumplings are nice and savory, I actually preferred the vege because of the relative freshness of the filling and hint of ginger which tickled the taste buds and nicely counterbalanced the strong tang of the black vinegar I topped them with.
Next up was the apparent crowd favorite Būcheck. One food trend yet to really come on the scene in Brno is food trucks. Enter Būcheck. Making a special appearance on the weekend, you can also find these guys at their permanent residence tucked behind the cheese shop on Zelný trh.
As you might guess from the name, they specialize in pork. Namely, “burgers” featuring barbequed pulled pork or Asian-style pork belly. Both come on brioche buns and are awesome. The pulled pork, as you would expect, is cooked long and slow until fall-apart tender and is topped with a delicious homemade BBQ sauce and zesty slaw.
The pork belly in particular is out of this world. Tender and satisfyingly unctuous, it’s bathed in a hoisin-based sauce and topped with plenty of cilantro and crushed peanuts. Completing the savory menu are some wicked fries. These are made from thick-cut, skin-on potatoes deep fried in sádlo (pork fat). Shall I repeat that? Deep fried in pork fat.
After their pork bath, they receive a nice salting and are served with a choice of tartar, spicy or BBQ sauce. Finally, Būcheck also offers a daily homemade sweet special, usually some inventive cake. Alas, I don’t have a sweet tooth and so cannot comment other than to say that they always look amazing.
All in all, I left feeling pleasantly stuffed. That most of the people involved in the event are amateur cooks simply fulfilling a personal passion makes it all the more impressive. This was my third visit to the event and, rain or shine, I’m sure I’ll be back next time – keep an eye on their upcoming events.