New York is a giant playground for adults. Though some complain it’s noisy, cramped, and expensive, you tolerate such things for those moments and experiences that make you scream “FUN!” so hard it tears your vocal chords. And everyone has their own medium for this fun. Some embrace the boisterous and debaucherous nature of Manhattan’s meatpacking district. Others flock towards the nearly-limitless supply of talented musicians and artists of Brooklyn’s gutted-out warehouses. If you’re anything like me, though, you gather your hard-earned dimes and nickels and spend them on what matters most: food.
When it comes to food, I crave not only quantity and quality, but novelty – something special, unique, something that catches me off guard with a delicious uppercut. There are restaurants sprinkled throughout the five boroughs that attain this feat, but nowhere is there a region more hyper-concentrated with ludicrously-creative favorability per square foot than Smorgasburg, Williamsburg’s semi-weekly food festival.
Yes, you read that correctly. Every Saturday and Sunday from April to November in Williamsburg and DUMBO, there is a food festival. And no, this is not some lame-ass pop-up event featuring a couple of pretentious chefs offering overpriced tapas with salty dispositions. This is a massive explosion of cutting-edge cuisine, powered by a hodgepodge of inspired restauranteurs, offering the kind of food that keeps you awake at night, trembling with awe. Pretty much everything is under 10 bucks and it’s free to get in.
How much variety is there? Somewhere in the ballpark of one hundred vendors gather along the waterfront. A quick ride along the L or a ferry ride from Manhattan is all you’ll need to enter this paradigm of flavor. What kind of dopeness exists in this hipster food epicenter? The range is mind-boggling: Tandoori chicken muffins. Fatty bacon on a stick. Grilled stuffed octopus. Gourmet chicken and waffles sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar. Arnold Palmer slushies. Outdoor cocktails. And sandwiches for days (but we’ll get to that).
Had I multiple stomachs and an unlimited bankroll, Smorgasburg would be my idea of heaven: happy people masticating righteous grub in breezy sunshiny weather. It happens twice a weekend, every weekend, from now ‘til November. You, my friend, have no excuse not to get down with your gluttonous self.
On to the sandwiches. Oh, yeah. This week, we’re playing with three.
Week 17: Smorgasburg
Ideally, this will be part one of two (or hell, maybe three) part exploration of the sandwich game at Smorgasburg. I sampled a slew of grinders, tortas, heroes, sliders, arepas, hoagies, and more at this event. Spoiler alert: they’re all crack.
Three will be featured today. The first two are just examples of finely crafted sandwiches. The last of the lot, however, crosses bold lines and may be the most innovative sandwich to be featured on this blog to date.
Sammich #1: Cemita’s Mexican Sandwiches:
A cemita, for those of you unfamiliar with the Spanish language, means “that which must be devoured.” It originates from Puebla, Mexico, the word “cemita” referring to the bread it’s served on, somewhat of a Mexican brioche. I have said in previous posts that I respect any sandwich for being fat, and this is a certifiably fat cemita. This is the master work of Danny Lyu, who slangs these fatties at various food festivals throughout the city when the weather’s right. Given the choice of southern fried chicken, Angus barbacoa, chipotle chicken, or carnitas, topped off with avocado, sour cream, crisp veggies, all in between a light but thick ass cemita bread, it’s hard to not drool just a bit. One of these would be enough to tide you over for an afternoon.
But this is Smorgasburg, you cowards, a time to succumb your darkest carnal desires. Push forward, past the pain, and embrace your taste buds.
Sammich #2: Mighty Quinn’s BBQ
Next up was perhaps the longest-lined venue, one centrally positioned not far from the water. There, among small buns, some phenomenal cole slaw, and a slew of hungry yuppies, was a cutting board and a determined woman with brisket. I have had the privilege of attending both their Manhattan location as well as their stand here, and both deliver, hard. Creating what is known as Texalina BBQ (a fusion of Texas, Carolina, and sex), Quinn’s cultivates a brisket so thick, so tender, so moist, you will forever wonder what that shoddy “brisket” you’d been eating before was. Dive in to this half a cow in a roll and be happy that you’ve lived to see this moment.
And yes, you’re satiated. Stuffed, even. But, you want, nay, you must go for the trifecta.
Sammich #3: The Ramen Burger
The Sandwich Project favors those bold few who venture into unknown culinary territory. Grappling with the very concept of this next sandwich has caused lesser men to go insane, but I decided to risk the chance of madness. For the people. And for the sandwich.
I present to you the ramen burger. Yes, that’s right. A cheeseburger with ramen noodles for buns.
How can such a creation exist? Does it defy God? I’m not a scientist, but from what I decipher from online articles in between shots of whiskey, it seems probable that it is cooked, as all ramen is, boiled in a pot. Then egg is added and it is placed in a condensed bowl, where something happens and it turns into a bun.
Yes, that was a sloppy explanation, but when things this good happen, you don’t ask questions.
Infused with Asian seasoning, sauces, and scallions, Keizo Shimamoto’s beast of a burger has made some serious splashes in the culinary world, and earned Shimamoto very deserved fame.
And these three just scratched the surface of this festival of festivals.
Special thanks to Kimberly Angelovich (my best friend’s new bride-to-be) for the dope camera work of this week’s Project. When I see that much ambrosial sustenance, a white light flashes before my eyes and I enter feral rage mode. I can barely remember to chew, let alone work a camera.
When people wonder what makes this city great, events like Smorgasburg are the answer, proof that this urban expanse is truly a playground for adults.