Brooklyn Flea kicked off its season of outdoor food festivals this weekend with Smorgasburgs in East River State Park in Williamsburg on Saturday, and, returning to the spectacularly-vista-ed spot it settled in last fall, Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 5 on Sunday. More than 100 vendors each day fed thousands of spring-starved New Yorkers, who came to eat, people-watch, and sunburn the crap out their bald spot because who thinks of sunblock in April? Anyway, we managed to plow through a fair amount of the food at Pier 5 yesterday; here are some opening weekend observations and some must-have dishes.
Early in the season is the time to tuck into such Smorgasburg heavy-hitters as Ramen Burger, Mighty Quinn's, Red Hook Lobster Pound, Pizza Moto, and Milk Truck Grilled Cheese, as none of these usually-overrun spots had lines of any consequence throughout Sunday's prime brunching hours. Ramen Burger kept it simple, by the way: no mash-ups, no bacon, just a slice of cheese if requested, but the crew promised that "interesting things" are coming.
Other recommended returnees include the S'mores Bars at Butter and Scotch (and watch for their dessert and cocktail spot opening in Crown Heights in late summer); the dairy-free frozen delights at Alchemy Creamery; the "Hot" Wings (but not the "Insane", unless you want to ruin your day) at Dan and John's; the Fry Cones at Home Frite; the spicy and sour Dan Dan at Noodle Lane; the sandwiches at Schnitz; the Jersey Style (heads and tails intact) fried anchovies at Bon Chovie, and anything from Palenque Homemade Colombian Food.
But it's the Smorgasburg newcomers each year that energize what has become something of an incubation lab for young chefs. At Pier 5 we sampled quite a few first timers, including:
- Uruguayan sausage sandwiches at Txorizeria, for which everything—from the sausages to the sauces—is handmade fresh by the crew. Next week, they're even going to bake the rolls. The De La Vera version, made with Spanish Sweet Paprika sausage, is a definite keeper.
- Gooey and Co.'s Gooey Butter Cakes, which are a big thing in owner Matt Swanston's native St. Louis. Apparently epic battles rage in that Midwestern metropolis over whose Gooey Butter Cake are more authentic, but Swanston favors adding a touch of cream cheese to his recipe, which gives these straight-up awesome bars a slight tang.
- Park Slope's Gather had a booth overflowing with goodies both savory and sweet, but we can tell you from experience that an Egg and Kale Sandwich followed by a slab of Bread Pudding is not a bad way to start your day.
- The seafood tostados at El Super, done up "L.A. style", were lively and generously stacked; get the Shrimp Ceviche rather than the Octopus.
- Fort Greene's Martha brought their buzzed-about Brooklyn/Caracas/Chinese creation, Tso Fried Chicken, along with boatloads of that fan favorite, Nuoc Cham Brussels Sprouts.
- And Jennifer En, aka Girl Meets Whisk, had a whole table of meringue-based goodies, with her S'mores Cupcake—melt-in-your-mouth marshmallow meringue up top, graham cracker crunch down below—the standout.
Smorgasburg will run Saturdays in East River State Park in Williamsburg and Sundays at Pier 5 in Brooklyn Heights, from now through well into the fall. The hours at both locations are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.