Beer! Sausages! Grilled cheese! This photo shows just a small sample of the great food and drink available this weekend at the 5 Boro PicNYC on Governors Island. Fortunately, the rainstorm held off yesterday until the event was over, so we were treated to bright sunshine and a relaxing and enjoyable day just a short trip away from the shores of Manhattan.
I met up with several fellow NYC food bloggers over on the island. The first photo is of our picnic table, where we gathered up the sample plates and noshed. The early group got there and staked out a spot so that we could have a space to eat, talk about the food, and, of course, take pictures of the different dishes. I’m not sure that we picked an all-out favorite of the day, but there were several that were really tasty.
What better way to start off the day’s festivities and tame some of the impending heat than with a Crisp Lager by the folks at Sixpoint Brewery. This beverage, along with their Sweet Action and Redd brews were being served on tap. Several other selections were available in cans, including Apollo, their version of a German wheat beer, another ideal summer drink. In addition to beer, attendees could also quench their thirst on a variety of teas from PlanTea and glasses of ruby red sangria from Madria Sangria.
What could be more perfect to go along with said beer than sausages. Fortunately, there were several stands where they’d taken this theme to heart. The Boudin Blanc by Vandaag was ethereal. Light in texture with subtle seasoning, the onions lent a slight sweetness to the combination. The mustard added a dash of heat and tanginess to the mix. They also grilled up some blood sausages, which were equally tasty, with a bit more spice and richness to them.
Many of the chefs had cooked up their dishes using locally-sourced meats and products, including the Berkshire pork from New Jersey that went into making this dense, hearty, garlic and poblano smoked kielbasa from Peels Restaurant. Paired with vinegary cabbage and a splash of hot-spicy mustard, each bite had a bit of zing and along with a peppery punch.
In addition to the Boudin Blanc from Vandaag, my other favorite dishes of the day were by the team at Alobar, who works with Fossil Farms as a source for its meats. Spicy merguez met a generous helping of a refreshing cucumber-yogurt sauce for a balance of heat and coolness, which was for me the perfect summertime pairing. A sweet-hot corn and jalapeno relish complemented the richness of their bison sausage without overwhelming the delicate flavor of the meat.
Several of the stations at the event were organized by Jimmy’s No. 43, whose Food Karma Projects was the organizer for the weekend’s activities. With the assistance of budding chefs from community programs like Teen Battle Chef and the Kingsborough Community College, they turned out several crowd-pleasing dishes including a spiced, porky sausage paired with savory yellow-style mustard and dressed with a sauerkraut-type slaw. They also had a bahn mi with crumbles of savory sausage or tofu dressed with slivers of carrot and slices of cucumber and drizzled with creamy, spicy aioli. Slabs of juicy brisket with just the right amount of char were garnished with a heaping dollop of tart, bright-tasting chimichurri. To go along with these small plates, they had also prepared a refreshing potato salad, ideal for a hot early summer’s day.
For those not in the mood for sausages, there were also several kinds of chili (7 bean, pork, and turkey) to choose from by Lucky 777 Chili Company. Slow Food NYC had whipped up a chicken taco that I thought needed a bit more juiciness to make it just right, although it had welcome additions of cheese, green sauce, and onions. Another taco from Left Bank, made with barbecued pulled pork, was a hit with the crowds. They were gone before I could even get on the line to try one.
Barbecued chicken was also on the menu at a few places, including at Jimmy’s No. 43 and at one of the hot sauce vendors, Heartbreaking Dawns. Their Jalapeno Pineapple sauce had a lot of spicy heat that just hung out on my tongue for a while before it finally faded. I didn’t try the samples from High River Sauces, as they looked a little bit out of my depth, spiciness-wise. Of the sauces that I tasted yesterday, NYC Hot Sauce had one that I think needs to find a place in my fridge. The hotter of their two sauces had a nice garden-like taste up front with a long, lingering heat, the kind that just makes you want to go back for another taste of whatever it is drizzled upon, dunked on, or otherwise slathered.
By way of full disclosure, I was one of the judges for the Grilled Cheese Cook-off on Saturday sponsored by Jarlsberg USA so I had a bit of an ulterior motive for sampling all the ooey-gooey melty goodness that was being prepared for the event’s participants.
Two of the entries in the competition seemed to be more meat-focused than cheese-oriented. The pork sandwich with corn chips and cheese from Big Food needed more umph for me. Everything seemed to get lost in a jumble without any major flavor notes working in harmony. Marky Ramone‘s meatball pâté with cheese and his own sauce seemed to be a riff on a classic meatball sub. While the meat was well-seasoned and tasted great, kind of liked a smushed version of a classic Sunday-style Italian meatball, I didn’t think it paired all that well with the Jarlsberg. The sauce was layered inside the sandwich, which meant it disappeared into the bread, making me wish I’d had just a side of the marinara in which to dip the sandwich.
This was the steadiest line all day long, and massive amounts of credit for keeping up with the demand goes to the team of organizers and students behind the OMG Grilled Cheese, which was the winner of the day. This isn’t just my tastebuds talking; it was the decision of the judging team, too. The students grew many of the ingredients for these sandwiches, including the side salad and the garlic scapes that went into the exterior coating of butter that you can see in the photo above. What sold it for me, was not just the terrific contrast of cheese, sautéed peppers and scallions, and the bright freshness of the soffrito dressing the sandwich, but that this dish focused on the cheese and not letting that get lost in all the other flavors going on at the same time while also having a great garnish of peppery salad that contrasted perfectly with the nutty, rich melted dairy. Unfortunately, I wolfed down my sample in a couple of bites flat, neglecting to take a photo. You can see a good shot of it here, taken by one of the other judges. Congratulations to this team for taking first prize at the Grilled Cheese Cook-off!
After all the sausages, cheese, and beer, it was now time to cool off a bit. Good thing some of my favorite dessert folks had made the trip to the island, too. Available for purchase were ice creams from Van Leeuwen and shaved ice concoctions from Wooly’s Ice. As much as I love ice cream, I was in the mood for something a bit lighter after having had all that food. Wooly’s fit the bill perfectly: light-as-snow flavored ice with slices of sweet strawberries and chunks of chocolatey brownie. It was the perfect way to wrap up the day’s eating adventures.
Thank you to Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43 for providing me with a press pass to attend this event. Thank you, too, to The Burrell Group Ltd, who represent Jarlsberg USA and who selected me to judge the Grilled Cheese Cook-off. For a complete list of the winners of the events taking place this weekend as part of the 5 Boro Picnyc, including the sausage cook-off, which I also judged, please see here. All opinions in this article (unless otherwise stated) are mine and my responsibility alone.