I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published June 3rd 2011
New York's food lovers are enjoying a bit of a Renaissance this year. In addition to our wonderful and expanding collection of greenmarkets that are located all over the city, we have wonderful street fairs that specialize in food, such as Hester Street Fair on the Lower East Side, and diverse indoor markets that offer gourmet selections like Essex Market, Chelsea Market, Eataly, and now, the open-air food court in Brooklyn known as Smorgasburg.
Open only on Saturdays, Smorgasburg offers a delightful array of freshly prepared hot foods like pulled-pork sandwiches, gourmet homemade sausage and hot dogs, fun takes on ethnic street food, sweets, desserts, pastries, homemade ice creams, and much, much more. Perhaps the most delightful part about Smorgasburg is going there hungry with someone who isn't fearful about taste-testing new and perhaps more unusual fare.
Among the most exciting aspects of Smorgasburg is that the roster of vendors—there are more than 100 every Saturday—changes each weekend, so it's always a new and exciting experience. But don't despair if your favorites miss a week. In addition to the fact that they'll likely take another slot later in the season, many of them are fledgling gourmet food trucks who you can follow (and learn their whereabouts) on Twitter, while others are established entrepreneurs whose restaurants you can visit if your hankering goes beyond a weekend desire.
Spending the morning or afternoon is easy, since Smorgasburg is located within and surrounding East River State Park. There is plenty of seating, lush green grass for lounging, and river breezes. While you're there, check out the impressive views of the Manhattan skyline. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes and a wide-brimmed hat (or pack some sunscreen) as there is absolutely no shade. Do not fear the heat however; there is no shortage of cold treats like freshly prepared sodas made with natural, homemade sweeteners, homemade frozen chocolate-covered banana treats from Nanas' Bananas, and shaved sweetened ice treats from The People's Pops that are created right before your eyes, a nod to the good old days and a source of fascination for kids.
Speaking of children, Smorgasburg is a family-friendly activity. Not only are there plenty of food items to keep the youngsters happy, such as French fries from The Frying Dutchman and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from Peanut Butter Jellified, almost every item is made to be eaten on the fly and is therefore perfect for tiny hands. Tribeca's Moomah is also on hand with low-cost creative projects that you and your youngsters can create together right in the park, such as this terrific image of the Brooklyn Bridge that is made from an easy-to-assemble colorful collage.
The best part about Smorgasburg is the surprise factor. Come hungry and try a bunch of different flavors. We loved the fried teriyaki balls from Mimi and Coco NY as well as the Thai-inspired street food munchies from Bite-Sized Kitchen. People of all ages were enjoying the lobster rolls from Red Hook Lobster Pound, and plenty more were on line for homemade granola, beef jerky, jams, breads, and cold sesame noodles from an old family recipe.
If you fill up too fast, plenty of vendors sell prepackaged items all ready for the taking. Pick up some homemade pickles from McClure's Pickles, strawberry jam from Anarchy in a Jar, and some great homemade cheese and Vermont maple syrup from Consider Bardwell Farm. Surprisingly enough, prices range from moderate to expensive, so there is really something at Smorgasburg for every budget. Better still, most of the foods are available for free taste testing, so you won't be carrying home something that you aren't sure if you'll enjoy (meanwhile, those of us short on cash can wander about, grazing on this and that).
The word is out: Smorgasburg is a huge hit with New Yorkers. Created by the same folks who brought us the ever-popular Brooklyn Flea, the new word in gourmet is definitely alfresco. Come with pocket change and leave with a full belly and a smile. You'll be glad you did.