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The Five Best Bites at Bonnaroo 2016

on June 11, 2016, 12:00pm

“Stay hydrated” is essentially the mantra at most music festivals, but with the constant, cloudless heat at this year’s Bonnaroo, it’s been doubly important. Still, you can’t survive four days of music on the Farm on water alone. Thankfully, Bonnaroo offers as vast a selection of food as it does performers.

Of course, there’s plenty of local Tennessee fare at the plentiful food stalls and trucks. Like its audience and artists, however, Bonnaroo attracts vendors from across the country. Some do their best to source local ingredients for their imported cuisines, while others opt to drive in the products they prefer. Food trucks make the trek from across the States, and carts of snacks are available at almost every turn. Choosing what’s best to gnash can be almost as stressful as deciding which bands to catch, so we’ve chosen our favorite foods to help you cut through the clutter.

To wash it all down, Bonnaroo has announced some new drinks available onsite. In addition to the usual brewers’ delights, 12 locations around Centeroo will be serving a pair of speciality drinks: the Sweet Leon Lemonade with Tito’s Vodka, and a Whiskey Smash. Frozen margaritas and a “tropical oasis” is also available at select stands, with wine offered at every concession stand. What’s more, over at Crafty’s Cocktail Bar at the Food Truck Oasis by the Kalipso stage, Downtown Life mixologist Jane Danger has created a Rum Buck, the Honeybadger tequila cocktail, and the Downtown Life old fashioned. Water first, food second, party third. And party hard.

Breakfast

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Most of the best breakfast bites are going to be found directly in the campsites, whether guest or GA. But for those willing to venture into early-day Centeroo, there are some banging morning options to help kickstart your day. Cracked, Daniel Krause’s food truck from Champaign, Illinois, serves up what’s not just the best breakfast sandwich on the Farm, but one of the best you’ll find anywhere. Dubbed the Goy Vey, as a play on the contradiction between the amount of pork and Krause’s Jewish heritage, the ciabatta sandwich is loaded with bacon, salami, a fried egg, cheddar cheese, sweet and spicy cream cheese, and a hashbrown based on Krause’s mom’s recipe. Cracked has been seen at a number of festivals since launching in 2012, but it looks like Bonnaroo will be their fest home for the foreseeable future. Which is a good thing for those looking to start the day right.

Lunch

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The grilled cheese is an institution at Bonnaroo. Usually folks are talking about the dollar sandwiches you can find out in camping, but Bacon Land offers up by far the best option. With just the right amount of white American cheese pressed between two halves of sourdough bread from Nashville’s Bobby John Henry Bakery, the thick cut slices of hickory smoked Benton’s bacon from Madisonville takes this crispy, crunchy delight over the edge. Bacon Land is the brainchild of Bonnaroo founder Kerry Black, launching in 2013 and remaining the only food vendor on site actually operated by the festival. It’s a good thing Black loves bacon as much as music, because the stall will go through 1,600 pounds of bacon this weekend, and you’ll love every bite.

Snack

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Humpty’s Dumplings out of the Glenside suburb of Philadelphia is making their debut at Bonnaroo this year, and the word of mouth is already spreading. Nick Freedman owns the mobile version of the business, which only launched a few months ago, so seeing them here is like seeing a baby band take the That Stage by which Humpty’s sits. Though the main restaurant in Glenside can rotate through 50 varieties of dumplings (and noodle dishes!), seven made the U-Haul trip down to the Farm: Philly cheese steak (of course), honey chipotle chicken, jalapeño mac and cheese, “magic” mushroom, spinach mozzarella ricotta, and peach cobbler or nutella banana bread for sweet treats. When I asked if there were any sauces to go along with the fried balls of goodness, I was told, “Once you bite it, you’ll see.” Trust us, go and see this.

Dinner

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Sometimes when you’re down on the Farm, you forget that you’re actually in the South and not some magical other planet. So while you’re here, you should probably chow down on some good ol’ fashioned Southern grub. No one does that better than Phat Daddy’s Creole Eats. Andy Welborn and his family have been running the company for 20 years, 14 of which they’ve spent with Bonnaroo. They hit about 40 festivals throughout the year, but being based in Mountain City in east Tennessee makes them a hometown favorite here. You can’t beat the jambalaya, but it’s taken to a completely new level when smothered in the crawfish etouffee based on a recipe Welborn’s wife, Peggy, brought up from Louisiana. Sure, you can get it with the gator tail bites (also a fest favorite), but the saucy, spicy crawfish deliciousness gives you an added bit of deliciousness in which to dip your jalapeño cheddar hushpuppies. “If you live in the swamp, that’s just what you eat,” Welborn tells me. Well, they must eat damn well in the Louisiana swamp land.

Dessert

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Amish donut. Say these words to any Roo veteran and they’ll start salivating. Nate Peachey’s Sarasota, Florida-based company has been hitting up plenty of fests in its 10 year existence, but it’s established itself as a Bonnaroo favorite since coming here six years ago. The doughy delights are made entirely from scratch on site, and almost always served freshly pulled from the frier and dipped in sweet, sticky glaze. The long lines that often form here are a.) well worth the wait, and b.) only because they’re running two mixers to make the sourdough yeast-raised donut, ensuring that all the gooey goodness is as fresh as possible. These guys go through a five-gallon bucket of scratch-made glaze in about an hour, so just do the math on how much work these 50 staffers go through to make anywhere from 40 to 50 batches a day. And they make delicious pretzels for snacks, all at completely reasonable festival prices, especially for their large size. Save room for dessert — literally.

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