Thoughts on Magnaball: The Food

I’ll be honest.  I have been following Phish for over twenty years now and I still feel intimidated by the musical analysis I see from various fans.  I think that is a big reason my plan to start a jam a week series has stalled. Compared to some of the folks who write about the music, from the very technical to just the very well described, I feel like my thoughts on the music come off like, “um, it was cool yo!” We’ll see if I get some courage along the line.  Meanwhile, there are lots of places to go to get your musical review fix.

Instead I’ll go with one of the main areas of Magnaball that struck me right in the gut, the food (HA! see what I did there?)  There has been a great deal written about this festival being the tenth one since Clifford Ball in 1996.  I have not attended them all, but a pretty fair sampling: Clifford Ball, Lemon Wheel, Big Cypress and now Magnaball.  Along the way, none of the food at the others is what I would call memorable.  At the previous three I attended the food was a step above carnival food.  Don’t get me wrong, I love carnival food, LOVE IT. However, if you’ve eaten one elephant ear, you’ve eaten them all.  Sorry Mr. Sausage, you were delicious but you would not have made the cut at Magnaball.

Maybe it’s a sign that the fan base is maturing (more on that another time) or that Phish and their partners just really know how to put one of these things together or that we as a population have become more contientious about food, but the food at Magnaball was a significant upgrade (as promised I might add.)

Now, I am not a man of unlimited means nor blessed with a matabolism that burns calories like a 25 year old distance runner so I did not try every foodstuff available. I would have drained my bank account and gained roughly 30 pounds if I even attempted that.  I did, however, get a pretty good sampler over the three days. There were some good points, some bad points and a few regrets.

The Good

Of all the food I had over the weekend, three items standout as stellar. I would highly recommend them to even the most discerning of eaters.  The number one thing I ate though it was on Sunday so you could argue I didn’t get their best was the chicken biscuit from the Ozark Mountain Biscuit Company.  A fresh made biscuit with fried chicken breast, served with romain lettuce and tomato ailoi. Fantastic. The biscuit was fluffy and flaky and the chicken was moist throughout. It is really hard to make such a dish without drying it out and the OMBC nailed it. The tomato aoli added just enough spice to make it interesting and the lettuce, which I usually don’t care about, added a bit of texture that really worked. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

Quinoa salad. Sorry I forget the company that brought us this dish, but it was out toward the Joyous Lake campground. I know what you’re thinking, quinoa? Yes quinoa. I’ll admit I was skeptical about this grain for a long time, in part because I failed when preparing it once. The key is making sure it is thoroughly rinsed, if not it tastes like soap. That was not an issue with this salad. Mixed greens, apples, corn and black beans dressed in a citrus inspired dressing was perfect.  It usually comes with avacado, but that just isn’t my thing and I can’t see how the pasty texture of the avocado would have improved things, but to each his own and either way I’m sure it would still be delicious.

Pimento cheese sandwich. This ain’t the Augusta National pimento cheese sandwich, which I’ve been told is basically pimentos in american cheese. I suppose it scores points for nostalgia. No, this was an item at the Cafe Gordeaux which was a bit more of a farmer’s cheese, the pimentos mixed in to make almost a spreadable type cheese. It went excellent on toast and provided a great finishing spicy kick that went great with strong coffee.  I wasn’t the only one who like the pimento cheese because they were sold out by Saturday morning. Toast and jam was not nearly as satisfying for breakfast.

Close But Not Quite

At any other venue or show, these next two would have been tops, but the competition was stiff to say the least.  The spicy peanut noodles inside the venue (sorry forget the vendor again) were a very good, hearty pre-show meal. Just enough heat to make it interesting and who doesn’t like an aldente noodle? The drawback was that it was billed as peanut and while it may have contained peanut oil or some peanut paste, overall it was hard to taste.  Speaking of the oil, there was a lot of it. Don’t be confused this was not a healthy dish by any means.

Ricci’s Pizza. This was along the main drag leading to the Joyous Lake camping ground as well and I thing they had other locations open as well. What appealed to me the most was that it was just your basic pizza, but well done. Good crust, nice chew to it, very good sauce to cheese ratio and good sauce on its own. Nothing to complicated, just a good piece of pizza.  Which is great, but compared to the other food isn’t enough to make the top.

Skip It

Jerry Rolls. I’ll admit, I was drawn in by the clever name and the sheer size of the roll. An eggroll as big as a burrito? I’m in! I shouldn’t have been.  There is a pretty good reason eggrolls are kind of small.  By the time you finish one the grease hasn’t had time to coagulate and/or drip into a pool on your plate.  Also, a smaller eggroll remains crispy, the Jerry Roll does not. Basically it is a huge piece of fried dough that has enough oil to lube a small engine.jerryroll At first the dough is ok, only to get gross and soggy by the end. The filling was nothing more than shredded cabbage and it remained raw even after deep frying. Maybe if it was flash fried first or something like kimchi was used it would help but I’m not sure. Anyway, by the time you reach the end of this monster you are left with a puddle of oil, soy sauce and shriacha, all soaking a pile of raw, unseasoned cabbage. Resist the urge with this one.

Pizza in the venue. For all good things that the pizza outside the venue had, pretty much everything was the opposite for the pizza inside the venue. It was dried out, consisted of odd combinations. Basically, pineapple should never be on a a spicy pizza.  The crust was tough, practically like chewing on a rawhide. Also they served it a bit cold, which didn’t help things at all…and I actually like cold pizza.

The Ones That Got Away

Grass-Fed Sliders. Right next to the Ozark Biscuit Company was a vendor selling grass-fed beef sliders.  They looked perfect, but I was already waiting for my chicken biscuit. If it would have been a lamb-beef combo, I might have had to made the sacrifice and eat an additional meal.

Risotto Balls. You may have seen people wandering around the venue with half dozen egg containers. They contained what looked to be fantastic risotto balls. The half dozens that I saw were sampler boxes that had sweet and savory balls. I would have gone to get the risotto balls, but both times the fancy struck me, I had great places in front of the stage. Sometimes you just have to stay on Page side, deep-fried goodness be damned.

More from Magnaball, stay tuned!


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