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Park Here Exhibit and Food Stand Pop-up

Post the holiday rush, we’re entering one of the harder times of year for me.  When it gets this cold and grey and dismal outside, I start to hibernate.  The lack of sunshine and more hospitable temperatures really start to wear on me.  At some point in life, I’ll have to figure out how to take these next few months to move to Florida or some other warmer clime when winter really sets in in the Northeast.  This year, however, there seem to be some interesting alternatives to my usual hunkering down on the sofa with a mug of hot cocoa waiting for spring to come.

Yesterday, I explored Park Here being held during the month of January by Openhouse Gallery in Nolita.  It’s a cool concept featuring a pop-up art and retail space.  I’d read about it a few places, and as I’m always on the lookout for different food fairs, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to drag myself out of the apartment for a Saturday afternoon.  The raw industrial space (a glimpse of which you can see in the above link to the gallery’s site), has been transformed into a green, lush wonderland with a pond, benches, and even a see-saw for the kids (or that kid in all of us).

It had a certain peacefulness and calm, something that would draw me in to take a break during the daytime from the usual craziness of work and errands.  The lighting is of the type beneficial to those who suffer from SAD and blends in harmoniously with the grass flooring, trees, and painted background murals.  On the weekends, various food vendors will open pop-up stands.  That is what I went down there to check out yesterday.

I first ran into the Mexicue truck at the New York Magazine Grub Street/Hester Street Food Festival and have been a fan ever since.  I think that they have a great variety of tastes and textures for their sliders, tacos, and other offerings and particularly love when they create something that has a hearty feel to it with a fresh pop of flavor in every bite.  On Wednesday of last week, their truck and I managed to be in the same location, so I grabbed a BBQ Brisket Slider and a Pulled Pork Slider for my lunch.

My choice for Park Here was The Smokey Pinto Bean Taco.  Completely vegetarian, this meal offered it all, firm, hearty beans with a bit of spice from the purple cabbage slaw, a sprinkle of cool cojita cheese for balance, and then a clean flavor punch from the fresh salsa.  The other feature that made me a fan of this, and would make me go back for another round, was the soft tortilla outside contrasted with the handful of crunchy tortilla crisps within.  You get smokey, salty, spicy, citrusy, crunchy, chewy all together.  This is what I like in my tacos.

Julia Collins, their General Manager, was kind enough to spend a few minutes talking to me (and held the box for the photo above).  She mentioned that they are going to get a second truck, which is great news for those who, like me, are often grabbing our lunches on the go and would like to eat some thing other than the usual deli or sandwich shop fare.  I’m definitely going to keep this taco on my list of edibles to have again.

Luke’s Lobster has a shop in my neighborhood, so I’ve had their great Lobster Roll in the past.  When I was participating in the East Village Eats / Fourth Arts Block event in October, I was able to sample their delicious Shrimp Roll.  Yesterday, to round out my tasting of their seafood, I had the Crab Roll.  If you’ve read my posts for a while, you know I am a huge Maryland crab fan.  For this reason, I feel sort of spoiled.  Frankly, it is really, really difficult to compare anything to pulling out a big, warm, sweet, white chunk of blue crab meal, dunking it in drawn butter, and popping it into your mouth, fingers stained with Old Bay seasoning so you get a hint of that as well in every bite.

The Maine crab roll is a more delicate flavor and texture.  Encased in a warm, buttery roll that has a soft bite inside and a bit of a crunch outside, this was a great meal.  Luke’s rolls are perfect, to my mind, and do complete and utter justice to the amazingly fresh seafood inside.  The flavor balance between warm bread and cool, creamy meat with just a bit of seasoning is what makes them so popular every time I’ve been by one of their food stands.  This one was no exception, although I should confess here, as I did to the folks behind the counter yesterday, that the shrimp roll is probably still my favorite one that they do.

My most favorite of the great food finds that I was able to try yesterday has to be, no question in my mind at all, Robicelli’s Cupcakes.  It should have been no surprise to me that they were so fantastic, as they’ve been at the top of the sweet treats polls, including the People’s Choice one from Serious Eats.  I’ve been holding back, however, due to what I can only describe as overwhelming “Cupcake Fatigue.”  I’ve been promised great-tasting sweets in the past only to have the crushing disappointment of gross-tasting frosting, dry cake, and uninspired taste.  It is really enough to make one stop eating them altogether.

I need not have feared.  These were the cupcakes of my dreams: great balance, unique taste combinations, delicious buttercream frosting, moist flavorful cake.  Matt and Allison have restored my faith in the beauty of a perfectly crafted cupcake (and we also, as it turns out, share an enthusiasm for Bent Spoon’s amazing ice creams).  So, I dove in and actually Pre-sserted (see below), as theirs was the first food stand in the exhibit.

My first selection was the Chicken and Waffles: moist vanilla cupcake, great buttercream frosting, a delectable mini-piece of fried chicken on top served with a drizzle of maple syrup.  Oh, yes, this was the gateway cupcake to end all cupcakes.  My second one was the Elvis with peanut-butter frosting on top of a banana cupcake, garnished with a sprinkle of crispy bacon.  An interesting flavor combination of some of my favorite foods all brought together, and it worked oh so well.

I didn’t indulge in every type of cupcake they had on offer yesterday as I didn’t want to seem like a real pig, and I was pacing myself as my next stop was the Serious Eats gathering in Williamsburg.  Fortunately, a kind, fellow blogger who was at this MeetUp, brought samples of one of the ones that I hadn’t tried at Park Here.  I think I am in love.  My new crush is Robicelli’s Car Bomb cupcake.

To see what it looks like, it is the far left cupcake in the second photo of the collection of them on the display stands.  The list of flavors is on the sheet above.  This is moist, gooey, slightly boozy fun and so super delicious.  Ban the groom’s cake at whatever wedding I might ever end up having and put a pile of these on the table.  I can guarantee you that no one will care about the traditional wedding cake as they will be fighting over who gets the last scrap of these amazing beauties.  Really, I’m going to be tracking these down around town, and they can’t get space in an upper Manhattan location soon enough for me.

The food stands will be only on the weekends at Park Here.  There will be several vendors participating so not all of the ones I wrote about here will be there every day.  It is best to follow the Twitter feed or Facebook page for the exhibit, which will also give you information on some of the other activities that will be going on in this space including yoga and bocce.

Buon appetito!

To Pre-ssert = to start a meal by eating dessert first; not to be confused with a snack.  Courtesy my little brother.

Kitchen Witch Tip: For all of these great food finds, my recommendation for how to keep on top of where they are based any given day and to follow their schedules around town is to follow their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.  Their websites will also give information as to product updates, additional retail locations, and special events where they will be appearing.  It really is the best way to find out what your favorite food vendors are doing and is also a great way to show your support for all of their hard work.

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