There is no better way to kick off the Fall than spending a day in Brooklyn eating a variety of treats from some of New York and New Jersey's best food trucks. That is what I did on Saturday at the 2013 NYC Vendy Awards and I am now going to sign up for a Nutrisystem package and juice cleanse at Liquiteria.
For those of you who aren't aware of the Vendy Awards, they are a series of events and "street food showcases" organized by the Street Vendor Project. Each year, some of the best sidewalk chefs in participating cities gather round to debut their star dishes and participate in an "intense cook-off" to win the Vendy Cup. Considering I had never been to a Vendy Awards event before, I was extremely excited to embark on this new street food adventure.
When I first stepped onto the gravel grounds of Industry City, I was immediately floored by the scene in front of me. Food trucks and tents lined the arena serving everything from slow roasted pork loin sandwiches to butterscotch pudding with bourbon-bacon caramel corn. A sign with the words "APPLE CIDER DONUT" stared me in the face. And encompassed in a golden halo from my imagination was an open bar straight ahead. With so many options in front of me, it was nearly impossible to commit. How could choose a starting point when I was literally surrounded by smiling people offering me magical food truck treats? All I could do was stand in awe as the intro to Bohemian Rapsody began playing in my head. Soon enough I realized that this was in fact real life and not a fantasy, and that I needed to start eating my way through Industrial City before trucks stopped serving at 6:00 p.m.
Me walking into the Vendy Awards
Although the event was held in a rundown industrial facility, everything about it was seemingly perfect. The vibe was relaxed, the people were friendly, and there was enough space for tables, chairs, and the lines of people that surrounded each food station.
Vendy Cup: El Olomega
The winning dish that I didn't try was the pupusa from El Olomega. A pupusa is a traditional Salvadoran dish consisting of a corn tortilla stuffed with different types of meat, cheese, loroco flower, and beans. For the past 25 years, El Olomega has been serving pupusas (products of a secret family recipe) on the streets of Brooklyn. Now, siblings and co-owners, Janet and Marcos Lainez have taken over the spotlight and given Salvadoran cuisine a great name with their winning dish. I will forever hate myself for not having the chance to try this Salvadoran wonder and I will embark on a Brooklyn pupusa adventure as soon as possible
People's Taste: Luke's Lobster
I was one of those crazy New Yorkers who had never tried a lobster roll from Luke's Lobster until Saturday when my mind was blown. The concept of a lobster roll truck always made me a bit wary because I wasn't sure if the freshness of the lobster would be compromised in a mobile setting. However, I was very surprised when I was handed a perfectly crisp, buttery roll topped with an abundance of fresh lobster meat. The bread was toasted golden brown and the tender, juicy lobster was smothered in melted butter. This lobster roll definitely lived up to the hype but it doesn't quite meet the standard of the local Maine lobster roll.
NJ & Tide to Go's "Messy Yet Tasty" Award: Home By the Range
Home by the Range's "Jersey Cow" ended up taking NJ & Tide to Go's "messy yet tasty" award. The Jersey Cow is an intensely flavorful sandwich with braised beef, rich cheddar cheese and house giardinera stuffed between two slices of a soft white baguette. This combination was extremely flavorful as the hearty meat mixed with the soft, sharp white cheddar cheese and the tingle of the giardinera. Home by the Range was definitely my favorite out of the NJ vendors and I am happy they received an award. However, the whole "messy yet tasty" thing seemed pretty dramatic because this sandwich was a particularly easy bite. I had more stains on my shirt from the greasy pork sandwich I snagged from Porchetta before.
Market Vendor: Khao Man Gai NY
The market vendor award was a new prize created to recognize vendors from street fairs and outdoor markets. The first market vendor award was given to Kao Man Gai -- the Smorgasburg vendor that prides itself on selling "authentic Thai street food." I personally wasn't a fan of their ever so simple poached chicken with garlic, ginger and white rice. The chicken was a bit dry and the garlic/ginger topping had an overpowering intensity that caused some bites to be too aromatic. If you decide to try the poached chicken, make sure to mix the sauce in with the chicken and rice for an even distribution of flavor.
Rookie of the Year: Nuchas
Nuchas, a Latin American "artisan hand-held foods" truck, snagged this year's rookie of the year award. While they offered four different empanadas for Vendy Awards attendees, I ended up picking the Argentine: a white dough pastry filled with Pat LaFrieda's ground beef, onions, peppers, scallions, potatoes & olives. The Argentine had a powerful flavor that was strongly influenced by the beef and olives. The olives gave a bitter tang to the savory ground beef while the presence of the onions, peppers, scallions and potatoes was much more mild.
Dessert: Itizy Ice Cream
Stealing this year's best dessert award was Itizy ice cream, the mobile home of handcrafted gourmet ice cream. While I was rooting for Carpe Donut's apple cider donut to take the prize, I must say that Itizy did not disappoint. I was particularly taken aback by the extremely refreshing mint chocolate chip ice cream. It was creamy, light, and not overwhelmingly chocolatey or chunky (a common problem I find with mint chocolate chip ice cream). The coffee brownie was more on the rich side and served as a great mocha treat.
While these were the main winners, I am not going to neglect the other dishes that became a central part of my binge eating extravaganza and the core cause of my deadly food coma. Here is a photo recap of the rest of my gluttonous Vendy's experience.
The Cinnamon Snail
These doughnuts knocked my socks off. I couldn't believe they were vegan.
The Chipper Truck
The French Quarter
Molly's Milk Truck
And there you have it.
Needless to say, this year's Vendy Awards stole my heart and my metabolism. And that's totally fine. Advice for next year's guests: get there at the start time so you can pace your meals and make your rounds to each truck. Binge eating is only fun for about an hour.
Until next year Vendy's!