Vendy Awards 2012
Show of hands, who eats food from street vendors?? If you live in New York City, chances are you do, early and often. This past weekend, we went to Governor's Island for their last fete of the summer, celebrating food trucks and vendors in our area - The 8th Annual Vendy Awards. Judges, members of the press, and regular New Yorkers gathered to sample the offerings of a diverse collection of finalists and vote for the ultimate winners in each category of food vendor. Again, we were blessed with beautiful weather that buoyed high spirits as we ate our way across the field of contenders.
Our first bite was from Phil's Steaks, a truck that specializes in Philadelphia cheese steaks. I've never had a real Philly cheese steak, having never been to Philly, so I don't really know what to base my opinion on. That being said, Phil's cheese steak was delicious and a great way to whet my appetite. A warm mound of chopped steak, smothered in Cheez Whiz, sat atop a pillowy sandwich. I was glad it wasn't too salty or greasy. The flavors of the cheese steak reminded me of a White Castle slider.
Next door, the intriguingly named Baby Got Back Ribs proffered us two kinds of ribs on a bed of coleslaw and two pieces of cornbread. The first one we bit into was a barbecue sauce-smothered rib that was tender to the point where the meat was falling off the bone. The sauce was very sweet and thick. The second rib was rubbed with their 21 spice mix. This rib was less tender and we had to work a little to bite it off the bone, but the spices were definitely very vibrant. The coleslaw was a great way to cleanse my palate of the savory barbecue flavors afterwards.
I was really excited to move onto Chinese Mirch next, which we had seen at PARKED earlier this summer. They specialize in melding flavors from Chinese and Indian cuisines, though influences from other Asian countries are not unheard of. They served a big boat of cold egg noodles with sesame seeds with a chicken dumpling and a mysterious green dumpling.... The chicken dumpling was pretty standard, but a bite into the green-colored wrapper threw me for a loop, in a good way. The inside was soft and mushy like a paste, but tasted of Indian spices, like a light, non-saucy curry. How intriguing!
We were extremely eager to try Kelvin Slush so we made a beeline across the field, breaking the order of our tasting. We'd seen them at PARKED and last weekend at Smorgasburg DUMBO. To be honest, I wasn't so enamored of their slushies the other times I've tried them, but the ones at The Vendy's were superb. Why? They were buzzed. Mmm, sangria and bellini slushies! They - Blondie and Brownie (www.blondieandbrownie.com/) - put on a demonstration of how to make slushies, but let's be honest, the only thing we wanted was to taste the final product. Both were delicious!! I didn't taste much alcohol, but I definitely got the peach and the wine from the bellini and sangria, respectively. Neither was too sweet and both were fantastic to sip while munching on other foods. I imagine an alcoholic slush would be amazing in the dog days of summer after a big meal. The line for Kelvin was long all afternoon, otherwise I'd be back repeatedly.
With our slushies in hand, we crossed the field back to Cinnamon Snail. These guys have a vegan food truck that is based in Hoboken, but they were parked outside NYU's Bobst Library last year and they hooked me up with a load of free donuts (LOVE YOU GUYS). Alex adores their vanilla bean bourbon creme brûlée donut...which they sadly did not have for The Vendy's. Not to fret, they offered two platters of food, one savory and one sweet. From the savory plate, I tried some mushrooms soaked in lapsong souchong tea - very earthy and smoky - and a burger patty made with some sweet starch and topped with kimchi. Both were intriguing bites, and although I am totally a carnivore, I appreciated the vegan approach to savory, hearty, good food! Cinnamon Snail's sweet plate was great: it featured a chamomile donut with a lemon lavender glaze, a white chocolate macadamia Twinkie, and a fig pancake. The donut was AMAZING: light, sweet, flavorful, and gave me a perpetual feeling of "gimme more!!!!!". I didn't taste much of the ingredients in the Twinkie and found the texture a little more dense than I would have preferred. Finally, the fig pancake was a beautiful slab of cake with fresh caramelized fig slices atop. I'm normally not a big fan of pancakes, but this one was very pleasing.
After Cinnamon Snail, a small food cart on the back of a bicycle peddled (haha get it?) a traditional beverage of India: mango lassi. Monsieur Singh offered the Indian yogurt in the form of liquid shots (mango and strawberry flavors) and in the form of frozen pops (mango, rose, and honey flavors). As Alex can tell you, I was instantly won over by Monsieur Singh. I love mango lassi, especially accompanying a spicy meal of curry, and I was elated by the choice of flavors and textures. I asked Monsieur Singh what differentiates lassi from regular yogurt we see in stores, and he replied that lassi has fruit, dairy, and a mixture of herbs and spices. I found this to be most evident when looking at the lassi and seeing flecks of brown and green herbs floating inside. Let me tell you, the lassis were breathtaking, and not only because my tongue got stuck to a very cold ice pop. Mango flavor is most popular, but I was in love with the rose pop, which incidentally was called "rose, je t'aime". It tasted of rose kulfi (Indian ice cream) and was so fresh and refreshing. I'm not going to pretend I didn't return to Monsieur Singh a few times during the course of the afternoon.
After my love affair with Indian yogurts, we had a stop at Pestle & Mortar for their fresh lobster ceviche. The lobster chunks were tossed in with mango, onion, cilantro, and citrus juice. The ceviche was good and tasted swell, but the portion was tiny and the lobster was a little chewy.
We moved onto the next entrant, Xin Jiang Prosperity Kebabs. I felt a surge of pride when I saw these guys cooking up meat on sticks. Why? Because I see these food vendors in Chinatown all the time and when I was younger, my parents would get us nosh from there all the time. Plus, they were repping some real hardcore Chinese food. We tried a lamb kebab, which was a bit on the small side. On one hand, that allowed for you to try all their other things-on-sticks (beef, chicken, and portobello mushroom), but Alex and I were really trying to save room for all the food, so that resulted in our missing out on everything else. The lamb skewer was super salty, super flavorful, and nice and crispy from the char on the grill. It tasted like a really good kebab you'd make yourself at a BBQ in the summer. I wish we'd eaten more! While we were there, a TV crew was interviewing the woman in charge of the whole operation and she looked so proud of her achievement, and that in turn made me very proud to be Chinese.
From Chinese, we again visited some Indian cuisine with Parantha Alley. My first encounter with parantha was in London's Brick Lane when a big group of us visited for lunch. Our parantha was a big doughy griddle-fried bread that was flaky and greasy. The paranthas at Parantha Alley were quite different: smaller, filled with different stuffings, and topped with an assortment of Indian chutneys. They gave us a chicken parantha, potato and pea parantha, and a goat cheese, date, pecan, and honey parantha, which is extremely non-traditional, but was fairly mindblowing because I could actually taste all the ingredients. I especially loved the yogurt sauce and the cilantro mint chutney. Yum!
Next, we took a geographical detour to the Philippines with Lumpia Shack. They had really delectable mini egg rolls filled with pork, Peking duck, adobo chicken, and truffle mushroom. While we waited for our little boat of egg rolls, they thoughtfully served us a cantaloupe juice, which was fantastic: fresh, not too sweet, and cold. I really liked my truffle mushroom egg rolls, but I loved Alex's Peking duck egg rolls. The duck was extraordinarily flavorful. Both egg rolls were about the size of a pinky finger, but I could have easily eaten a handful of these!
The next food truck was also familiar from PARKED and its booth in the Feast of San Gennaro, La Bella Torte. They served a sample platter of sweets: a mini cannoli, a salted caramel fudge pie, a peanut butter cookie, and a shot of frozen hot chocolate. They boast to having the best cannoli in the city, and while that is a contentious issue, I thought the best thing on the plate was the salted caramel fudge pie. The small bite of pie had a dark swirl of chocolate and a lighter brown swirl of caramel, atop a crumble of graham crackers. Thick, stick to the roof of your mouth, and sweet.
By now, we were in danger of falling into food coma, but persevered onto Uncle Gussy's Greek cuisine. They served an enormous dish of chicken and lamb souvlaki with Greek salad, rice, and French fries. I love Greek food and Uncle Gussy did not disappoint. The meat was juicy and savory, the hot sauce just prickly enough to be combatted by the cool, tangy homemade tzatziki. This dish brought back memories of being in Glyfada, a suburb of Athens, and having dinner at a place where they barely spoke English but where I had a delicious and authentic meal of pork souvlaki...fun times.
Another fantastic vendor we tried was Piaztlan Authentic Mexican Food. I was a little skeptical of the food that would come from this unadorned, understated truck at the end of our route, but bless them, the goat taco we had was delicious. The meat was so tasty, almost like lamb but a little "darker," if you can imagine that. We had our taco with a thin avocado-based salsa. The taco was just so fresh and flavorful I was kicking myself for passing unfair judgment earlier.
After a long string of savory food vendors, we splurged a little for dessert. The first stop was Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls from Louisiana. I was a bit put off by their neon-colored snow cones and I was not a fan of their cloyingly sweet flavors, but the desserts were definitely bold and different from anything you see around New York. I've heard of these specialty snow cones from New Orleans, with sugary syrups and topped with cream or condensed milk. It was definitely a unique eating experience, though I would prefer to have my teeth intact and avoid diabetes.
Another dessert vendor we tried was Melt Bakery, which specializes in ice cream sandwiches. I actually enjoyed their mini sandwiches a lot! I had one with a ginger cookie and green tea matcha ice cream, which was very tasty. The flavors of their ice cream sandwiches aren't necessarily that strong, but I did really like the soft texture of the cookies on either side and the smoothness you get from biting through the cookie into the ice cream. In another instance of permanent damage to my teeth, however, Melt's ice cream sandwiches are very very very very cold. Brr!
Yet another dessert, yet another ice cream. Next was Coolhaus, another truck that does ice cream sandwiches. Sadly, Coolhaus presented us with deconstructed sandwiches...just a scoop of ice cream next to a cookie, so I wasn't able to get the full effect as I did with Melt. Also, it seemed they were reaching a bit far, because the flavors that we tried sounded great on paper, but were not that successful. The dirty mint chocolate chip tasted fairly typical of mint chocolate chip, and the Bushmills Honey Whiskey Hot Toddy...was confusing for my mouth. The most fun thing about Coolhaus was their edible wrapper, but it didn't really make sense sticking out of a scoop of ice cream when it was meant to wrap around an ice cream sandwich....
Finally, finally, finally. Alex wanted Italian ice from Andy's Italian Ices. He chose a nice watermelon flavor to round out our extremely filling meal around the world and around New York. The ice was surprisingly creamy for an "ice" and although the watermelon taste wasn't immediately apparent, it was a nice way to sit back and view our culinary accomplishment.