Vendors do battle with heat along the Delaware

Tom Sullivan , a sous chef at the Twisted Tale at Second and Lombard, mans the grill at Taste of Philadelphia. ALLISON STEELE / Staff
Tom Sullivan , a sous chef at the Twisted Tale at Second and Lombard, mans the grill at Taste of Philadelphia. ALLISON STEELE / Staff
Posted: July 08, 2013

On a day with heat so punishing that even the shade offered little relief, sous chef Tom Sullivan found himself in a particularly unforgiving spot: manning the flaming grill for his restaurant's booth at this weekend's Taste of Philadelphia festival.

"The heat, the smoke, you've just got to deal with it," said Sullivan, who would spend more than 15 hours this weekend at Penn's Landing roasting corn on the cob, chicken, sausages, and asparagus to represent the Twisted Tail, the Southern-style restaurant at Second and Lombard Streets where he works. "Just got to fight right through . . . and by the second hour, my face gets so hot, I don't really feel it anymore."

Sullivan was one of dozens who set up shop along the Delaware River on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, hawking small bites and samplings from their restaurants and food trucks. Given the clear, sunny sky and temperatures that reached the 90s by midday Saturday, Sullivan was especially thankful for the occasional breeze off the water. In fact, he was thankful for water itself, and estimated that he drank about a gallon and a half of it on his first day stationed at the outdoor grill.

"It's awesome cooking for people, seeing people out in the community," he said. "It's hot, but it's great to be here."

Festival attendees sought shade under tents, near trees, or in the Fire Department's first aid tent, where a fan misted cooling water on anyone who needed it. Children splashed and waded in the fountains overlooking the river, and a Wawa booth offering free smoothies became one of the most popular places to be.

"Thank goodness for Wawa," said Tiffani Johnson, who was enjoying macaroni and cheese and chicken tenders on a visit from Washington with her husband. "We've been staying in the shade, drinking water. And no beer. That makes you dehydrated."

At one of the festival's three beer tents, Dave Moore agreed. Moore, food and beverage manager for the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., said that when the temperature goes above 90, people stop drinking.

"It gets too hot, people just want water instead," he said.

It takes a lot of ice to run a three-day food festival in that kind of heat: about 8,000 pounds just to keep the beer and wine cold for the first two days, Moore said.

Lynette Gueits, owner of the Delicias food truck, which sells arepas (a corn flatbread) and more, said she was going through more than 150 pounds of ice every four hours.

"That's why we need it delivered," she said, gesturing to the steady stream of golf carts trundling back and forth with piles of ice.

The heat brings other challenges to food trucks like hers. The cooler containing the meat and vegetables must be kept to a certain temperature, for safety reasons. But as people line up for food, the cooler is opened and closed constantly, meaning it requires constant monitoring.

At the Korean-style Foo Truck, the day's menu featured lighter items, like an open-faced banh mi sandwich and tofu fritters.

"We're trying to cater to people's tastes at this time of year," the truck's Nadine Brosnan said. "Not everyone wants to eat something hot."

Ice cream stands and trucks were doing a brisk business. Plus, employees there had the added bonus of standing near large freezers, not open flames.

"This is the day for us," said Kristina Dera, owner of a Rita's Italian Ice store in Mount Laurel, as she dropped scoops of a cotton candy-flavored frozen treat into a cup. "We're hoping to sell out. And either way, this is a cool place to be."


Contact Allison Steele at 610-313-8113 or asteele@phillynews.com.

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