Featuring fare from more than 50 restaurants, the first day of the 'Great Arizona Picnic' took over the park, filling every nook and cranny with food and beverage tents, ticket booths, and stages for live entertainment.
In conjunction with the picnic, the Epicurean Expo has taken over the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, exhibiting specialty and high quality kitchen utilities as well as artisanal products and chef demonstrations, if you can get a seat! A great place to cool off if you can't find shade outside, this Expo provides air conditioning, a few samples and connected beverage areas like the Tiki Hideaway and 'Mix Like a Master,' where Valley bartenders show eager visitors the basics of mixology at scheduled points throughout the day.
Thirsty picnickers can pay an additional fee for entry into the Tequila Deck, Skyy Bar ($5 each), and/or the Southwest Festival of Beers ($20--unfortunately that one was Saturday only) where drinks are poured at the end of long lines. The Festival of Beers harnessed the novelty of a tiny plastic beer mug as the sample size for the 200+ beers from various breweries from all over the country--only 1 ticket ($1) per ~3oz fill. The ticket is almost worth the sight of grown men with such tiny little cups. This area will be filled by the 'Blues and Brews' event today, which seems to have a very similar set up to the Saturday iteration, yet with a bit of blues playing on stage.
An option this year is the VIP Experience: Passport to the Picnic ($125), which provides free access to the aforementioned libation stations, as well as a free beverage of choice, and a small VIPs Only section near the biggest stage of the picnic. Within this exclusive VIP area, one can find free beers or cocktails as well as catered snacks, which are accompanied by welcomed seating and shade. This, however, is where the VIP perks end, and despite the fancy lanyard, you must still pay with the masses for any of the restaurant vendors scattered around the park.
Vendors of primarily Scottsdale based restaurants, as well as a few chains, set up tents throughout the park and offer selections of their menus for a few tickets per plate (1 ticket=$1 and a long wait in the ticket line). With choices from Pita Jungle, to Cowboy Ciao, Distrito, and Jamba Juice, the festival visitor can satisfy most any craving with just a few tickets. Some of the more popular vendors mean a longer wait in line, though generally the wait was worth it. Tents for Roka Akor, Bombay Spice, Crust, and Spinato's had lines curling through the crowds, adding to the cramped foot traffic pattern of the festival in general. Most food was freshly prepared on site, and served hot to the customers as they ordered, successfully recreating the restaurant's flavors in a temporary location. With such a crowd, vendors like Spinato's were constantly in demand, selling "...at least a few hundred pies--maybe 500 as one worker said--all in just one day!
So while the crowds may be intimidating and the sun hot, the Great Arizona Picnic is a pleasant place to find a taste of some of Scottsdale's popular restaurants all in one, convenient location. And better yet--still one more day to visit. The Great Arizona Picnic will still be open Sunday April 14th, from noon-6PM at just $10 per person. For more information on the various events, music, demonstrations, and vendors, go to www.scottsdalefest.org.