Cheese coma status: slowly recovering.
It's Monday and our heads (and guts) are still spinning from the barrage of all things coagulated casein that were thrown down at Santa Ana's Oozefest Saturday. Orange County is usually out of our coverage area (we leave that to our cabrones at the OC Weekly), but we were so floored by the amount of game-changing cheese dishes present at the tiny first-year event (all served despite triple-digit heat), we had to let L.A. know that its shock-food dominance finally has a challenger.
Organized by Foodbeast, a blog known for its perpetual promotion of hyper-caloric mash-up bro food, Oozefest spit on the grave of the Grilled Cheese Invitational by building the world's tallest grilled cheese sandwich (25 feet), then having its 20 food vendors each serve a completely original cheese creation — no bread required. The result was that the only actual grilled cheeses on the premises were either stacked high waiting to be measured or consumed en masse during the nighttime eating competition.
In their place were increasingly ridiculous things like nacho cheese–slathered ice cream, cream cheese cotton candy and a burger on buns made entirely of mozzarella sticks. Crazier still is that the combinations weren't just edible but downright enjoyable.
If you thought Pizzanista's macaroni-and-cheese pizza or Grub in Hollywood's bacon-cheese pancake was weird, then let us introduce you to Slapfish's crunchy/warm/sweet lobster-mascarpone beignet, topped with cheese dust, which at the end of the day's two sessions was crowned Best Food by a tally of votes from attendees. The prize? A statue of a cheese wedge so dripping in plastic orange campiness, it could have been a prop in a Nickelodeon Gak commercial.
Usually a food festival has a few buzzy standouts, with most restaurants bringing a customer favorite or a sure-fire crowd pleaser. But each of the Oozefest vendors (many of which were from within a few blocks of the downtown Santa Ana parking lot where it was held) cooked things that could usher in a new era of culinary mash-ups.
Little Sparrow brought a sandwich made of bone-marrow macaroni and cheese with jalepeño-gruyère nacho cheese, tortilla chips and a mozzarella stick on Native American–style fry bread. Social in Costa Mesa made fresh duck-fat-and-pimento-cheese hot pockets that looked more like Toaster Strudels, if frosting was made of room-temperature duck juices instead of sugar. Even corporate-y Slater's 50/50, which tends to show up to food fests with quartered versions of its bacon-beef burgers, brought a "macaroni and cheese patty," which was a deep-fried gob of macaroni and cheese shaped like a burger patty.
Dessert was not spared from the orange-tinged madness: La Sriracha Racha topped a churro-and-cheesecake ice cream sandwich with its flagship Sriracha; and Waffles Inc. created clouds on a stick with its cream cheese cotton candy, which had a cheese-waffle center and was sprinkled with bacon-cheese crumbles that melted like savory Dippin' Dots.
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The undisputed show-stealer for us, however, was Dos Chinos' so-bizarre-it-works "faux fried Mexican ice cream:" a scoop of butter-pecan ice cream, toasted Frosted Flakes, sharp cheddar nacho cheese and chili-lime peanuts. Goopy warm cheese, crunchy sweet cereal and spicy nuts are the last things we were expecting to experience as toppings for our favorite ice cream flavor, but the combination sent us back for seconds (and no, we weren't high).
As we continue to nurse our brutal cheese hangover, we can't help but dream that the next Oozefest lands in L.A.