As a follow-up to their wildly successful event last year, the folks at New York Magazine partnered with the Hester Street Fair to entice hundreds of food fans to head down to the Lower East Side on a beautiful autumn day for yesterday’s Grub Street Food Festival 2011. This year, I did not drag my friends out of their warm, comfy beds to show up at the 10:00 a.m. at the start of the activities, that pleasure I reserved just for myself. Getting there at the beginning meant I got to check out the entire scene before it got really busy and bustling. Last year, one of the criticisms from the event attendees was that at a certain point, the market got too crowded and folks couldn’t move. Vendors also ran out of food early in the afternoon, underestimating the influx of hungry patrons and level of demand.
Setting up – the calm before the storm
This year, it seems like the organizers took all of that feedback to heart, and from my perspective, moving the majority of the food stands to the neighboring lot while keeping just a handful of them plus a new Biergarten in the main Hester Street Fair area helped quite a bit to keep traffic flowing smoothly and without everyone being all crammed together, allowing for strollers, kids, dogs, and everyone to treat the day as a nice, leisurely fall festival-style activity. My early start time gave me a chance to hang out and chat with some of my favorite food artisan folks before the crowds started to arrive. I also discovered some new items that brightened up my day and crossed a few things off of my long-standing need-to-try list.
Lush Candy‘s delicious English-style toffee and brittles
My first stop, as they were located near the entrance, was to say hello to Laurie Pauker of Lush Candy. She had her range of English-style toffees and her new selection of brittles out for folks to sample as well as to pick up to take home, if any of these terrific tasting products made it that far. Her husband and nephew were helping out at the table yesterday.
Macaron Parlour‘s gorgeous display
If you aren’t drawn into the colorful display by Macaron Parlour, you should definitely be lured by their delectable flavor combinations. Nutella, Passionfruit & Milk Chocolate, and Candied Bacon and Maple Cream Cheese are only a tiny few of the ones from which to choose. All of them bring together perfectly constructed soft cookie with a little bit of give to the exterior with the rich taste of filling on the interior. After a quick chat with Simon, one of the owners/bakers, I started off my day with one of their Strawberry Buttercream ones, which was just the right mix of fruit and creamy vanilla tastes.
Robicelli’s Butternut Spice Cupcake and Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pie
The flavors of fall were evident on Robicelli’s table, with squash and pumpkin treats. That said, I went right for their Chicken & Waffle cupcake, which I hadn’t had in ages, as it is only one of their 100s of flavors that they rotate in and out of the daily selection. I chatted with Matt, one half of this culinary duo, about the festival and about where everyone else was who they knew who was there yesterday while savoring the delicious harmony of the cake, frosting, and small, fried piece of chicken on top of it all. Allison, the other half, and I exchanged hellos, too, while it was still quiet enough to drop by to visit with folks. They wrapped up their stand at Mad Square Eats on Friday, but they are still at the Dekalb Market.
Danny Macaroons‘ selection
Just about diagonally across the way from the Robicelli’s was Danny Macaroons. I was first introduced to these bite-sized marvels via Twitter when I saw his name pop up time and again as folks got their hands on his sweet treats and raved about them. Hands down, I think his Sea Salt Caramel one rules the roost, but all of them are really tasty. While it is still around, check out the Pumpkin Spice one that he has out now. It is like biting into a delicious and fragrant coconut-topped pumpkin pie.
Anton (l) of P&H Soda Co. and his brother (r)
P&H Soda Co.‘s Chocolate Soda
After all these sugary delights, I needed to think about eating some real food for lunch/brunch/second breakfast. I had passed by P&H Soda Co.‘s table shortly after I arrived to say hello to owner Anton and his brother, who was helping out for the day. Anton had given me a preview of the sodas he would be serving yesterday. I’m a huge fan of their extremely seasonal Concord Grape soda, now available; however, last week at New Amsterdam Market, he’d told me he had developed a Chocolate soda that he would be serving only at the Grub Street event. Seriously? Wow. That’s exactly what my brain and tongue said, too, when they had their first sip of it. Sweet carbonation at the front and then a punch of cocoa flavor to follow. This could become my new favorite of theirs.
La Sonrisa‘s Pulled Pork Empanadas
On the recommendation of Anton’s brother, I headed over to La Sonrisa to try out their Pulled Pork Empanada. Super juicy, tender meat in a crisp, soft crust, this made the perfect street fair/food festival bite. One of the guys on line behind me ordered at least one of every kind that they had. I wish I had picked up a few more of these to snack on throughout the week.
Bark hotdog plain (l) and dressed with their condiments and Bark Sauce (r) Chocolate Soda from P&H Soda Co.
One of the things that has been on my to-try list for a while has been one of Bark‘s hotdogs. The dog itself is really tasty and meaty. What I liked about it is that it was not overly spiced or smoked like some of the ones that I’ve tried lately. I’m not a big hotdog fan in general, so it takes quite a bit to convince me that one is good. What was also incredible was their selection of toppings. I piled on their cucumber relish, red pepper relish, sweet-n-sour onions, and Bark sauce which made a glorious meal with the soft roll and hearty hotdog.
Filled with Sweets‘ Honey Jasmine cupcakes
After a few savory items, I was ready to head back to trying some sweet things. During the summer, I had swung by the Elizabeth Street Night Market in Nolita where there had been some great Asian-inspired bites to try. One of these was Filled With Sweets, who makes cupcakes and other treats with flavors inspired by her cultural background. Cupcakes and frosting perfumed with Honey and Jasmine and filled with Tart Raspberry Jam or how about her Black Sesame Seed-variety that mimics the tastes of Asian desserts. It was really a pleasure to see these unique items at the market. Terry also has a Kickstarter project going on right now to help grow her business.
Melt Bakery‘s Ice Cream Sandwiches
If you’ve been following this site for the last year, you know that I completely fell in love with Melt Bakery‘s ice cream sandwiches from the first bite of the Jack, which I had at this event last year. How can one resist cool, creamy pumpkin ice cream sandwiched between two crisp, spiced molasses cookies? Now that these are back in season, it was hard for me to pass one up, but I you’ll see why I went the way I did from the photos that follow.
Melt Bakery‘s Fried Apple Pie
Fried Apple Pie. What could be more seasonal? Julian brought out the big guns (and his wonderful artistry) to yesterday’s event with this treat. Perfectly cooked and dressed cinnamon-sugar crust balanced impeccably with sweet-tart apple filling, each bite was an explosion of the most amazing fragrance, flavor, and slight crisp from the crust. I tried to eat it slowly to take in every delicious bite. When it was done, I looked at the empty wrapper with a contented sigh, would it be too much to get another one right after consuming the first? Fortunately, as he told me, they will be serving these on the High Line as well (where they’ve been selling their ice cream sandwiches this year). I foresee lots of field trips to that part of town in the coming months.
Heat Sweets‘ Spicy-Sweet Fruit Leathers, Jellies, and Preserves
Before we leave this culinary adventure, however, I want to let you know about something that I discovered there that wiped away the cobwebs from my sometimes-jaded palate. When I was running around looking for folks to say hello to them before the festivities really got underway, the colorful display above caught my eye. I stopped, walked over to the table, and took a look. There, the very nice people behind Heat Sweets explained their products to me. Mango and Jalapeno fruit leather? Or how about Strawberry and Habanero? This is not your ordinary 1980s lunchbox staple, which was evident from the samples they were handing out. Full-on fruit flavor at the beginning leads to powerful, but not overwhelming, spice and heat, with the taste if it all wrapping around your tongue hitting every taste point there is. They also do jellies and preserves with spice and fruit and handed out some recipes to go along with their creations. I might have to clear off some more room in my fridge for these.
As the sun cleared the earlier clouds away, it was evident that the weather was going to be perfect to stick around and enjoy some more eats and drinks at the Grub Street Food Festival. Unfortunately, I had to pull myself away to go to another appointment further downtown, but I could have hung around all afternoon taking in the atmosphere and checking out some more wonderful dishes. Next year, I think I will get my foodie wing people out of bed early on a weekend morning so that we can all take part in this feast.
For additional photos and a longer recap, check out Grub Street’s post about the day.