Have you ever noticed that when you’re boiling water and the kettle starts to whistle, you rush to turn off the heat, like something bad is going to happen? It’s a kettle, so it’s not like the water is going to boil over onto the stove. It’s just going to keep whistling, perhaps a little louder, and continue shooting a jet of steam across your kitchen. Sure, eventually the kettle will run dry, causing some real problems. But we tend to react like the thing is about to explode. Crazy, ain’t it?
When I moved to New York City nearly 30 years ago, the West Village was my neighborhood of choice. Not only is it where my parents lived back when they briefly were New Yorkers, but Greenwich Village – as it is formally called – is arguably the city’s most storied neighborhood in terms of counterculture. And it still retains some of that flavor, even after all these years.
I’ve been enjoying a bit of a Greenwich Village renaissance as of late. I don’t necessarily go out that much, but I do occasionally take in films at the art house theaters around there. If I’m heading to the Angelika, I’ll likely gravitate towards Parm on Mulberry Street. But if I’m over at the IFC, I didn’t really have a go-to spot because Joe’s Pizza hasn’t quite been the same since they moved from their original corner location.
I had been hitting Turkiss on MacDougal Street until the Burger Joint opened up an outpost on West 8th & MacDougal, which is now my default dining destination in the area. But now I’ve discovered a place for, well, dessert.
CafeMarie opened earlier this summer at 120 MacDougal Street, just south of Minetta Lane. It’s a clean little hole in the wall serving coffee and beignets, the French doughnuts from New Orleans. And in keeping with that tradition, they offer coffee with chicory as well, including cafe au lait.
I stopped in the other afternoon to give the place a taste. Fortunately for me it was after 3:30 PM, because that’s when they start serving the beignets. The reason they are not available throughout the day is because they are all freshly made when you order them. These are not the kind of things that sit around on the counter or in a display case.
I grabbed a cup of coffee along with an order of beignets. I received three large beignets, carefully covered with the customary powdered sugar. Only these beignets had a twist, in that they actually did have holes in the middle – well, more like small slits – which I found helped cradle the powdered sugar better than a traditional, hole-less beignet. And, frankly, I’d have paid a lot more than five dollars for the order of three I received.
They were delicious. I couldn’t have been happier unless I was sitting down at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, stuffing beignets in my face before a night out on Frenchmen Street. And while I was carefully stuffing my face at CafeMarie, trying hard not to drop any powdered sugar on my shirt and pants, I witnessed two New Orleans natives stop by and testify to the authenticity of the beignets. Sure, there were grumbles about having holes in them, but I’m sure they too would eventually see the wisdom of it.
Now I have yet another culinary reason to head to MacDougal Street in the West Village. CafeMarie is a huge find. And all my friends, particularly those who have ventured to New Orleans with me on many an occasion, will surely be delighted to welcome it into the feeding fold.
Well, I’m sure you can find a rose as well, but I’m talking about La Marqueta here. And specifically Vendy Plaza, a delightfully swine-centric event.
La Marqueta is a market under the Metro-North elevated rail line along the median of Park Avenue between 111th and 116th Streets in Spanish Harlem. It originated in the 1930s, as an informal gathering place for pushcart vendors – sort of an early Smorgasburg. By the 50s and 60s, it had become a thriving market with five enclosed buildings housing a variety of vendors. But things have been tough in Spanish Harlem, and today only one of those buildings remains functional.
Hope is on the horizon, though. The New York City Economic Development Council is trying to resurrect the market and create a centerpiece for the community. And, in doing so, they may have even found a way to bring tourists to the area as well.
Building on the success of El Boarrio at the Urban Garden Center this past fall, this summer they’ve created Vendy Plaza, a Sunday food fest complete with live music. It’s run by the folks behind the Vendy Awards, which recognize the best in the city’s food truck scene.
Every Sunday from now through Sept. 6, visitors can enjoy a variety of artisanal edibles and a rotating selection of New York’s best microbrews (they even set up a wine kiosk last time I was there) to the sound of a local band. It runs from 12-6 PM, though it’s best to arrive early as the best food – and the band – don’t necessarily last until the end.
Unless you already live in Spanish Harlem, your best is to take the 6 train to 116th and Lex and walk over to Park. While El Boarrio was located under the tracks just north of 116th Street, in the Urban Garden Center (which, incidentally, might be a good place to find a rose in Spanish Harlem), Vendy Plaza is an open space under the tracks south of 116th, running down to 115th Street. You can’t miss it. Just follow the music.
I’ve been twice already and enjoyed pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon from Walking Dog BBQ as well as some incredible roast pig. I also sampled some jerk goat but the purveyor was very apologetic because he had run out of food, as it was late in the day and this was his first time participating. I’ve also had some incredible cookies from The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen and good beer, too.
There’s certainly nowhere near as many vendors as you’ll find at Smorgasburg or even Madison Square Eats, but Vendy Plaza has been growing each week. And while I’m delighted by the amount of pork options available, as one would expect in Spanish Harlem, there are also vendors serving up fare from Central America and Southeast Asia as well.
As for the band, they are exactly what you’d expect from Spanish Harlem: horns, percussion, questionable outfits, and plenty of chatter amid the chaos between songs. But it really adds to the experience, and is something the other food festivals around the city could learn from.
It’s located in the old Dough Loco spot, on the east side of Park Avenue, between 97th and 98th Streets. In fact, they haven’t even bothered to take the sign down, which has proven to be a shrewd business move as it still draws plenty of locals in the door.
Like its beloved predecessor, Sault Ste. Marie serves Blue Bottle Coffee. But instead of fist-sized doughnuts, there’s a selection of breads and pastries from Bien Cuit. And more seating. The walls showcase some lovely Great Lakes ships, as the cafe is named after a port city on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And the friendly staff, groovy tunes, and eclectic collection of customers all add to the ambiance, setting Sault Ste. Marie a cup ahead of the competition in all categories.
There’s a Key Food supermarket across the street from my building here in New York City. But I avoid buying perishables there because they tend to get things, well, let’s just say a little bit later than other supermarkets.
That goes for beer, too. For example, in the spring they’ll have an assortment of holiday ales on sale. And in the summer, you can find some nice Maibocks. Summer ales in the fall. Oktoberfests in the dead of winter. That sort of thing, always pushing the “sell by” date.
So I wasn’t too surprised to spot this Pabst Blue Ribbon World Cup promotion appearing nearly a full month after the tournament ended. In fact, I was more surprised to see PBR rocking a soccer promotion. It is, after all, a classic working man’s beer, the malted equivalent of slapping a teammate on the ass, a gesture that is disturbingly common in sports like baseball and American football but not in the more masculine world of soccer.
Which left me wondering, if this quintessential blue-collar brew is celebrating soccer, has the sport finally “arrived” here in America? Or has the brand simply caved to the hipster craze, which seems to celebrate everything from retro “crafts” to “foreign” sports?
Either way, it brought a smile to my face. And a 12-pack to my fridge for only $9.99. I chilled it estupidamente gelada, ridiculously cold, like they do down in Brazil – so cold that I could barely taste the stuff.
And looking at their in-store display, I’m not sure what I like better: the bicycle kick with beer in hand illustration or the texting GOOOOAL offer. And I wonder how long they spent deciding how many O’s to include in GOOOOAL? And how much the promo agency billed Pabst for the hours they spent debating that decision?
I enjoyed their pulled pork and fried chicken tacos at Madison Square Eats last summer, so I decided to try Delaney Barbecue’s operation on the High Line. Dubbed Smokeline, it’s basically a stall nestled among a few others that recently opened for the summer season on the section of the elevated park near Chelsea Market.
While they have a few options, including a variety of toppings, I ordered the Sir Oink, bare freakin naked. Someone might think that pulled pork sandwiched in between two slices of heated, buttered white bread would somehow be lacking. That someone would be dead wrong. It was amazingly delicious. The pork was moist enough, and the buttered bread offered the perfect compliment to the savory scraps of swine. Sir Oink, I salute you!
But why stop there? I grabbed a cup of freshly dripped coffee from one of the adjacent stalls, Blue Bottle Coffee. After years as a tea drinker, I’ve been enjoying a bit of a coffee renaissance. And I first encountered the glory of the drip at Blue Bottle’s Smorgasburg booth.
Of course, one mustn’t overlook dessert. That’s why I bellied-up for a scoop of valrhona chocolate gelato from L’Arte del Gelato, another of the of the stalls located on this culinary corner of the High Line.
Sir Oink has been retired from the menu. They wouldn’t give me details, other than to say it was an unfortunate incident involving a number of young piglets and that Sir Oink is now getting the help he clearly needs.
That said, they do still serve a delicious pulled pork sandwich. Here’s the one I got, bare freakin naked, the same way Sir Oink apparently liked his piglets.
Beer and pretzels. Few things work as well together. And by pretzels, I don’t mean those cardboard concoctions you purchase in the supermarket snack aisle. I’m talking about the soft, bread-like creations you typically get at a proper beer garden.
And, in a way, Sigmund’s is a beer garden without the garden. They have beer, of course, though a relatively modest selection. And they have pretzels – amazing pretzels. These come in all sorts of varieties, always cooked to perfection, and served fresh and warm. Naturally I opt for the classic, but you can get cheddar, cinnamon raisin, truffle, feta, olive, and more. They also serve burgers and brats, along with what amounts to a modest cafe menu.
Sigmund’s Pretzels popped up in all sorts of locations, including the High Line, while they renovated their East Village restaurant on Avenue B, between 2nd and 3rd Streets. But that has since reopened and looks lovely. My only gripe is that now they don’t open until 5:00 PM on weekdays. And while they are open for brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 AM to 3:30 PM, they shutdown again until 5:00 PM. I can only assume that this is part of a strategic move to become more of a bar/restaurant than a pretzel shop where parents used to be able to take their kids on the way home from school. And that kind of sucks.
That aside, it is a great place to stop for a pint and pretzel after 5:00 PM. And they often run a special where you get a free pretzel with every pint, which is pretty sweet.