5 Boro PicNYC

Governors Island in the summertime is a great treasure of New York City.  It is situated right between Manhattan and Brooklyn and accessible by free ferries from those two boroughs.  Only open to the public in the summer, it offers bike rentals (free on Friday afternoons!) for its visitors to zip around the waterfront.  It is an oasis of greenery, cute colonial buildings, and art installations.  Also during the summer, Governors Island is the host of many food-related events so obviously we made sure we were on the first boat over there.

This weekend was the 5 Boro PicNYC (haha so clever!) on Governors Island.  The event is held in a wide open grassy lawn. Different food vendors from around the city have tented booths and distribute free food.  Because it is a pic-NYC, people plopped down on picnyc benches and picnyc blankets to enjoy their little plates of food and beer while enjoying the sun and listening to live music.  Alex and I had a ton of fun and a ton of delicious food: for us, the event went off without a hitch.


The first bite we sampled, though, was a bit outside my comfort zone.  From the Vandaag booth (Vandaag is a sleek restaurant in the Lower East Side that specializes in authentic Scandinavian food), we had blood sausage topped with caramelized onions and whole grain mustard.  When I cut the black sausage open, I found lots of tough fibers.  It tasted like, well, blood.  The idea of blood sausage has never appealed to me...and the sausage from Vandaag sadly did not either.

Next, we had a different kind of sausage - kielbasa - at Peels. The thick sausage was cut into discs and grilled with glorious orange flames.  Then, they topped the charred sausages with a green garlic poblano chile and slaw.  The kielbasa was a welcome taste to wash out the previous flavor in my mouth, but Alex ate a little faster than me and said that the sausage was cold in the middle.  Uh oh.  We promptly chucked out the plates and Alex told the pitmaster that the sausages needed a bit more time, perhaps in less direct heat so the outsides would not burn and the insides would be cooked.


Next door, we finally had a pleasant sausage-eating experience with Alobar.  They smartly prepared very thin sausages of lamb, duck, and bison that would undoubtedly cook fast and evenly.  We tried the lamb sausage in a spicy cucumber sauce.  The sausage had a strong lamb aroma and flavor and the cucumber sauce was pleasantly cool and spicy at the same time.  I'm not sure whether lamb and cucumber are ingredients commonly paired together, but in any case this was first successful dish of the day.

The next stall was Rick's Picks, a pickling company that we have seen at the Union Square Greenmarket. Besides just cucumbers, Rick's Picks also pickles produce like okra, corn, and string beans in different kinds of pickling liquids, including ones with hot sauce.  Alex tried Handy Corn, a tangy relish of corn kernels.  I tried The People's Pickle, their most popular and typical pickle.  It was also very tangy and savory.

Then, we had a spectacular chicken taco at the next booth: Slow Food NYC.  Slow Food NYC's mission is to encourage food vendors and restaurants to serve authentic, sustainable, high-quality produce and ingredients.  In my nutrition class this past semester, we talked a bit about the idea of slow food in Europe (people spending more money and time to prepare food, and then sitting down to really enjoy what they're eating) and how this idea is completely lacking in America (where we eat on-the-go and sacrifice the quality of food in favor of quantity, perhaps).  Anyway, the line for Slow Food NYC was perfectly indicative of its title: a long, slow-moving queue.  However, the end product was soooo worth it.  We watched as the food prep guy chopped up beautifully grilled chicken breasts and then assemble small tacos.  The crunchy tortilla had chicken, onion, and a green salsa, sprinkled with a dose of crumbled cheese.  It was amazing: simple ingredients, fresh-tasting, and perfectly balanced.  Definitely one of the best things we ate all day.

For a welcome break from the food so far, we next stopped at the Madria Sangria booth.  The booth was decorated with whole fruits and bottles of their ready-made sangria.  The bottled sangria already has the flavors of different fruit infused.  It was extremely sweet, but it wasn't too bad since we weren't drinking much and we had just eaten a bunch of salty/fried/grilled food anyway. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, I kept eyeing the sangria line that grew longer and longer, but not like I could have really had much more alcohol anyway.

Speaking of alcohol, these events (5 Boro PicNYC, Cook-Out NYC, and Pig Island) have beer from Sixpoints Brewery...which is why another sangria would have resulted in a sleepy Sandra unable to get off Governors Island.

After sangria, we sampled turkey and pork chili from Lucky Chili, which we discovered is right in Greenwich Village by NYU.  Both chilis were tasty and flavorful.  I was expecting them to be a tiny bit spicier, maybe with some "alarms," but they had good smoky flavor anyway and a consistency that allowed us to have chili "shooters."

We then had a strange interlude of hot sauce tasting.  I like spicy as much as the next person, but I've never really seen hot sauce as the main ingredient at food festivals.  We had some hot sauce on cheese and hot sauce on tortilla chips. While not enormously spicy at first, one of the sauces from High River crept up on us a few minutes later and gave me this unnecessary heat inside my mouth (unnecessary because it was also ridiculously hot and sunny on the lawn).

Next, we had lots of tasty bites from Jimmy's No. 43, a restaurant in the Lower East Side.  I guess because Jimmy's was one of the sponsors, they had five stations with: coleslaw, bahn mi, barbecue chicken, flank steak, and sausage.  The coleslaw was extremely salty and not-great, but everything else was fantastic!  I'm not usually a fan of bahn mi sandwiches, but Jimmy's was fresh and bright.  The bread was a bit chewy and tough, but I really liked the spicy aioli on top.  The barbecue chicken was amazing: tender, juicy, and smothered in a perfect barbecue sauce.  As Alex can attest to, I nom-nom-nommed into a drumstick, not even caring that barbecue sauce was dripping down my chin.  Usually, I eat pretty neatly but if I gave up my decent manners to eat this chicken, it might just say something as to how good it was. Their flank steak was served on a little crostini and topped with chimichurri sauce and, similarly, the sausage was served with sauerkraut and mustard on a little island of bread.  Overall, I'd give Jimmy's No. 43 a big barbecue-sauce-coated thumbs up.

In the middle of the lawn, there was a tent for Jarlsberg cheese.  They featured this "cheese dip" that was like...shredded cheese mixed in a mayo sauce.  Oh goodness, that was some really good cheese dip, but terribly addictive and probably terrible for you.  Jarlsberg also made three different kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches: veggie, meatball, and pork.  The meatball pate grilled cheese was a little strange because the addition of marinara sauce overpowered the cheese and tasted more like a meatball sub, but the pork grilled cheese was deliciously salty and cheese-y.

When we took inventory of the whole field, we finally declared that we had finished sampling all the food vendors, but on the edge of the field, there were some vendors selling additional food.  What did the afternoon need?  Ice cream.  From Van Leeuwen, we had mint chocolate chip ice cream and earl grey ice cream.  The mint chocolate chip was delicious: the mint was refreshing and looked very natural, unlike the frightening neon-green that mint chocolate chip can often be.  The earl grey was a bit disappointing at first - I have never seen earl grey ice cream and was so excited to try it, but at first it was quite bitter.  I guess the bergamot flavor is very sharp and doesn't particularly go well in the form of ice cream.  Oddly, as I got down to the cone part of the ice cream, the earl grey tasted better and better: my hypothesis is that the starchy cone mellowed out the bergamot.  Earl grey ice cream sandwiches, anyone?

Overall, we left 5 Boro PicNYC extremely satisfied.  We tried to not over-stuff ourselves, but had enough stomach space to sample a little bit of everything.  We tried some amazing bites (that chicken taco!  the barbecue chicken!  sangria!) and some less-than-amazing.  The event was so well-organized: the crowds weren't enormous and everything flowed smoothly. It was the perfect way to kick off the unofficial start of summer 2012!