Madison Square Eats
On a tiny sliver of pavement and park between Fifth Avenue and Broadway near 24th Street, about a dozen and half food vendors and a few craft stalls have been making their home and feeding the hungry local hoards for about the past month. I stopped by Madison Square Eats yesterday to check out some of the delicious treats being sold there. It wraps up this coming Friday, June 3rd, in time for Madison Square Park to turn itself over to the masses for the 9th annual Big Apple BBQ Block Party next weekend.
This was definitely an excursion where I didn’t stray from the foods that I’ve really enjoyed during the past year. After taking a few photos, I treated myself to a Sigmund Pretzel Shop Cheddar Cheese and Truffle Pretzel and a hearty helping of their robust housemade mustard. A soft, chewy pretzel with baked, crusty cheese and a dusty of earthy truffles dipped into the sea of spicy, golden mustard was the perfect snack. They also have several other types available, including another of my picks, the Feta and Black Olive Pretzel. I spotted a lunch special with something served in a pretzel bun but decided to hold out until I evaluated my other options.
Calexico was serving up gourmet Mexican street food from a truck at the entrance to the market. They had a pretty long line, so I decided to see what else was on offer. I could have gone the Italian route as Piccolo Cafe had several pasta dishes and gelato (ideal on a hot, sunny day). There were also several choices of places to get sandwiches like Resto, Ilili (whose delicious, savory fries dusted with garlic and sumac I tried at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market), and Meunier Gourmet Specialties.
My next stop, instead, was the line at People’s Pops for one of their cool delicacies. The midday sun had started to make me wither a bit, like the frailest of Southern blossoms. I needed some refreshment before I continued taking more pictures of food vendors. Most of the folks in front of me were interested in their shaved ice, which is done by hand from a solid block of frozen water. From having talked to them at the Brooklyn Flea, I’d found out that they actually have this delivered to them by one of the few ice block makers still left in the area.
My heart, however, was set on having one of their renowned pops. Blackberry and Mint was my choice for the day. Cool berries blended perfectly with peppery mint so that each bite was filled with sweet-not-too-tart juicy fruit flavor. The challenge was to finish it all before it melted completely and to keep all the purple goodness from dripping on my clothes. Thank goodness I just managed to make it on both counts.
Then, I looped around to the other half of the market, hoping to be able to make a decision about what to eat for my main meal. On the way, I saw lots of great things, like pizzas coming out of the oven set up by Roberta’s and burgers on the grill at Bar Suzette (where they were also serving crepes). Eataly had delicious-sounding heritage pork ribs on their menu, but I wasn’t up for more messy eating after having had that pop.
On the sweeter side of things, there were plenty of choices. Milk Bar had cookies, their famous crack pie, and other goodies for sale. The folks sitting beside me at the picnic table where I finally grabbed a seat were sharing and enjoying one of the Stuffed Artisan Cannolis. A new vendor that I haven’t seen at any previous fairs was Cookie Panache. Some of the items in the case looked really interesting, but I was once again starting to feel the need for some liquids.
Beverage choices also cover the gamut at this food fair. The folks at Breezy Hill Orchard have juices for sale (as well as some of their cookies). Spices and Tease not only had dried herbs and mixes for sale but also brewed teas in several flavors. More typically known for their chocolates (and for having a nice spot to take a respite while shopping on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn), NuNu is selling beer in growlers as well as by the glass.
None of these were really what I had in mind. I’d tweet-promised Anton of P&H Soda Co. that I’d stop by for a drink at his stand. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to catch each other, but I had a chance to sample a flavor that I hadn’t tried before. The Hibiscus Lime Rickey was all that a summertime refresher should be. Lightly sweet, mildly tart, bright-tasting, with citrus-herbal fruit tones, and a slight fizz are all reminiscent of a great Rosé or a fresh Bellini, just without the alcohol. I might have to track this down at every one of the markets at which I run into him this summer.
At this point, I also knew that it was time to make a decision about what to eat for lunch. After much soul-searching and staring at other people’s food, I went again with something I’d had once before but was eager to try again. Those of you who know me well have probably never seen me eat a hot dog. There’s one simple reason for that: I don’t really like them all that much. In fact, my father once had to threaten me with not giving me a ride home from a soccer picnic to get me to finish one. This all changed when I had my first Asia Dog at the Brooklyn Flea this winter.
Loaded with great combos of fresh ingredients that lay atop your choice of beef, chicken, vegetarian or organic beef dog. These are not the same limp meals in a bun that you’ll find on any street cart. Once you chomp through the cool and spicy seasonings and relishes, you hit the snap of the exterior of the meat and your mouth is filled with a whirlwind of flavors that hit all of your taste points. Each bite is better than the last with heat, crunchy, salt, sweet, savory, sour until you realize there is nothing left but a few specks of condiments that you greedily lick off of your fingers sighing in contentment. Or maybe that is just me, after I’ve chowed down on one of their Vietnamese-inspired Vinh dogs (near one in the last photo).
Whichever meal that you chose at Madison Square Eats, I don’t think you can go wrong. The only issue is that you’ll need to get there in the next week before this installment of the fair closes forever. Just a slight warning, though. It gets very crowded during peak lunchtime hours so it’s best to plan to arrive outside those times. There are picnic tables and seating in the market area as well as in the street’s median. As I walked by the park on my way back uptown, still feeling the slight sting of the peppers on my lips from my hot dog, I didn’t feel any envy at all as I saw the long line at Shack Shack snaking around the back of the park.