SunFest reinvents its food court

‘Top Chef’ fi­nal­ist Lind­say Autry adds fresh fare to menu

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - SPOTLIGHT - By Phillip Valys

On a grassy stretch of wa­ter­front in down­town West Palm Beach, chef Lind­say Autry is pic­tur­ing one of the strong­est, flashiest ad­di­tions to SunFest 2016: the food court.

Stand­ing be­tween Ever­nia and Fern streets a stone’s throw from the Tire King­dom stage, Autry is look­ing over the con­ces­sion booths that com­pose the Eatery, the re­branded, up­scale row of ven­dor booths un­veiled through Sun­day dur­ing the 34st edi­tion of SunFest.

“SunFest has great mu­sic, but this helps peo­ple re­mem­ber SunFest also has great food,” Autry says, gazing at the booths’ rus­tic sign­boards, which bear phrases such as “Nashville Chicken and Fries” scrawled in bold, chalk-style let­ter­ing. “It’s go­ing to draw more peo­ple in and tan­ta­lize them.”

When the five-day mu­sic and arts fes­ti­val bowed along the In­tra­coastal, so did Autry’s new vi­sion of the Eatery: up­graded dé­cor and a re­vamped menu, which now in­cludes Nashville hot chicken, waf­fle fried chicken, ve­gan-friendly bowls and a Sun­day brunch. It’s a trendy, health-con­scious face-lift for SunFest’s pop­u­lar food court, al­ready home to ba­con cup­cakes, ele­phant ears and other deep-fried grub.

“It will still be very car­ni­va­lesque,” Autry, in charge of shap­ing the menu since De­cem­ber, says with a South Carolina twang. “We’re not rein­vent­ing the wheel, but we are bring­ing veg­e­tar­ian and gluten-free op­tions to the ta­ble. Peo­ple are very aware of what they eat th­ese days, and SunFest no­ticed that there wasn’t as much at­ten­tion to the food, the guest experience. So we’re fresh­en­ing it up.”

SunFest hired the Palm Beach Gar­dens-based Autry through a new part­ner­ship with the Palm Beach Food and Wine Fes­ti­val, a 10-year-old foodie af­fair founded by Autry’s fi­ancé, David Sabin. Autry, whose re­sume in­cludes stints as Sea­son 9 fi­nal­ist on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and ex­ec­u­tive chef at Sundy House in Del­ray Beach, worked with Sabin and long­time SunFest con­ces­sion­aire San Fran­cisco Puffs and Stuff on the new fes­ti­val fare.

“I started look­ing at trendy food, healthy food. Chicken and waf­fles aren’t healthy, but they’re su­per­pop­u­lar now,” says Autry, 34, who rose through the culi­nary world un­der James Beard-win­ning chef Michelle Bern­stein. “I was just read­ing about how Nashville Hot Chicken was catch­ing on, and then two weeks later, KFC started of­fer­ing it. So that had to be added.”

There’s also grilled- cheese sand­wiches, in­clud­ing the Palm Beacher (spinach, ar­ti­choke and moz­zarella on ci­a­batta) and the SoFlo (a Cuban-style sand­wich with ham, Swiss and pick­les on me­di­anoche bread). The waf­fle fried chicken is served with spiced honey. Crispy fried pick­les are plated with Sriracha ranch sauce. Autry even nod­ded to the Sun­day brunch trend: the Sun­day-only “Fun­day Sta­tion” of­fers hash brown waf­fles, which come “loaded” (cheese, ba­con, sour cream and salsa) or “On the Sweet Side” (maple syrup and ba­con).

For health-con­scious fes­ti­val­go­ers, there’s a gluten-free flat­bread pizza (also with pep­per­oni and bar­be­cue chicken), and a Veg­gie Bowl, with rice, black bears, av­o­cado and chimichurri.

The new Eatery is a string of 20 col­or­ful booths stretch­ing along south Fla­gler Drive a block from Meyer Am­phithe­atre, boast­ing fa­mil­iar SunFest sta­ples (Ital­ian sausage, pineap­ple chicken) and new of­fer­ings. Anew wooden plat­form, which or­ga­niz­ers are call­ing a “board­walk,” runs par­al­lel with Fla­gler, and will fea­ture plush lounge chairs.

“We wanted to freshen up the whole experience. You buy your chicken fin­gers. You turn around. Now what? ‘Where do I pop a squat? ‘Where do I scarf it?’” Sabin says. “You go to our new board­walk. It feels like dock­side din­ing at a wa­ter­front res­tau­rant.”

Sabin says he “leapt at the chance” to help re­vamp SunFest’s menu af­ter ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Paul Jamieson ap­proached him dur­ing last De­cem­ber’s Palm Beach Food and Wine Fes­ti­val. A self- de­scribed “SunFest freak,” Sabin ties his fa­vorite me­mory to Sh­eryl Crow’s 2008 per­for­mance, when the pop-coun­try singer brought on­stage an unan­nounced spe­cial guest to cover “All Along the Watch­tower.”

“It was Eric freakin’ Clap­ton,” Sabin says, reached by phone in New Or­leans. “It still gives me goose bumps to talk about it. It’s once-in-a-life­time, this god­fa­ther of rock ’n’ roll.”

Jamieson says Sabin and Autry worked with SunFest or­ga­niz­ers to beef up the vol­un­teers and ven­dor staff for the Eatery, which he es­ti­mates cost about $30,000 for construction and menu test­ing. He says the cou­ple are mas­sive SunFest fans, and trusts that Sabin and Autry’s Eatery vi­sion hews close to the “some­thing for ev­ery­one” SunFest vibe.

“This is one of the neat­est new things we’ve had in years,” Jamieson says. “The food at SunFest is thought of as one kind of thing: fun­nel cakes, big, greasy burg­ers and Ital­ian sausage, and peo­ple think that SunFest is all about that. But peo­ple want a more eclec­tic menu, and this is it. Eatery is a great ex­e­cu­tion of that.”

Lind­say Autry, left, changed the per­cep­tion of SunFest’s food ven­dors as of­fer­ing “car­ni­val food.” Two of the new items added to the Eatery menu are glutenfree flat­bread pizza and Nashville Hot Chicken.

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