Deep Fried Bacon

From left to right, local craft beer, roast pork drizzled with garlic, and deep-fried bacon at La Marqueta’s Vendy Plaza in Spanish Harlem on Sundays.

Yup, deep-fried bacon…just like Jesus intended. Lightly breaded bacon, slithered onto a stick, and gently nestled into a golden pool of boiling fat.

That’s just one of the many treats available at La Marqueta, the open-air market in Spanish Harlem. Every Sunday, starting at noon, an eclectic collection of food vendors gathers at Vendy Plaza, at Park Avenue and 116th Street, to offer up all sorts of tasty treats at affordable prices. It’s like Smorgasburg, or any of the New York City’s other weekly food events, but with three distinct differences: no lines, no ridiculous prices, and a live freakin band!

When Pigz Fly calls it chicken-fried bacon, and serves it with a side of gravy, but it’s basically deep-fried bacon on a stick.

I’ve written about this event already, but I’m writing again because I’ve discovered something truly delightful. One of the vendors, When Pigz Fly, has chicken-fried bacon. Those of you familiar with the Southern staple called chicken-fried steak will recognize this dish for what it really is: deep-fried bacon. And for $3, it’s a steal.

Lately I’ve been getting this as an appetizer and again as dessert, while my primary focus has been on the delicious roast pork…drizzled with garlic oil. That’s cheap, too. Something like $5, I think. The same price you’ll pay for a local craft beer, if you can believe it.

The roast pork is prepared Puerto Rican style by Angel Jimenez of La Pirana Lechonera, a South Bronx food truck (checkout the video on him below, from Liza Mosquito de Guia of Food. Curated.). Whatever tender loving care he gives this pig during the slow roasting in the wee hours ends with skilled but sudden slices of the machete, as he serves up perfect portions to salivating swine fiends like me.

And this isn’t some stale knockoff of the now ubiquitous Smorg machine, with the same vendors, long lines, and bleeding hipsters. These are real people, serving up stuff with appliances often on loan from their own personal kitchens. All to the accompaniment of a live band. It’s real. It’s local. And it’s delicious.

There is a Swine in Spanish Harlem

Vendy Plaza at La Marqueta is a weekly food festival in Spanish Harlem.

Vendy Plaza at La Marqueta is a weekly food festival in Spanish Harlem.

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.

Vendy Plaza is located beneath the elevated tracks along Park Avenue between 115th and 116th Streets.

Vendy Plaza is located beneath the elevated tracks along the Park Avenue median between 115th and 116th Streets.

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.

Pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon from Walking Dog BBQ along with a local microbrew.

Pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon from Walking Dog BBQ along with a local microbrew.

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.

Pretty amazing cookies from The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen.

Pretty amazing cookies from The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen.

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.

Pig is the local flavor in Spanish Harlem, and the offerings at Vendy Plaza are delicious.

Pig is prevalent in Spanish Harlem, and the vendors at Vendy Plaza offer up some fine swine.

BarBacon: Bacon Bacon Fakin

Barbac3Bar + Bacon = BarBacon. Given the glory of bacon, why has it taken so long for someone to dedicate a dining establishment to it?

It didn’t take me long after hearing about BarBacon to head over to Ninth Avenue between 55th & 54th Streets to investigate. And, to be honest, I was a bit disappointed. Yes, there was an NFL playoff game going on, but this isn’t a sports bar…it’s a bacon bar, right? Wrong. It’s a sports bar, just like any other sports bar, except they offer bacon flights.

OK, that’s a pretty awesome exception. They also have a respectable bourbon selection and some good beers, but who doesn’t these days?

The NFL crowd sucked much of the fun out of my first visit. It’s hard to enjoy food when people are standing around your table screaming at televisions. It made me want to put a baseball cap on backwards and high-five everyone, like your exceedingly average white American male lemming.

But I wanted to give this place a fair shake, given that it is supposed to be baconcentric. So I gave it some time and decided to meet a friend there for lunch one day. Which would have been great, except they don’t open until 3:00 PM. Which would have been fine, if they had a Web site that listed their hours instead of a static placeholder that says little more than “Coming Soon” (in fairness, they have since launched an actual Web site, though it still doesn’t include their hours…idiots).

Barbac5I tried again, one last time, heading over after a visit to MoMA. The place was deserted because, well, who eats at 3:00 PM? Which got me thinking, why not just wait until 5:00 PM like Sigmund’s? Anyway, I ordered the same thing I had on my initial visit, minus the screaming men-children.

The flight of bacon was great. You get two slices of four different varieties, and they rotate them regularly. My only suggestion would be to serve them in stages. That might be a pain from the restaurant’s perspective, but eating cold bacon is even more of a pain. And to enjoy each variety, you really need to pace yourself and savor the individual flavors. Frankly, at $12 for the tasting, which amounts to $1.50 per slice, I expected a better experience.

But this is indicative of the fundamental problem with BarBacon. Had this place truly been dedicated to the art of bacon, they would have given things like how to properly serve a flight of bacon far more thought than they have. But, alas, it’s really more of a bacon gimmick than a bacon celebration.

On both visits, the best thing I had was the tater tots. They were cooked to perfection and not burdened with the off-flavors of a shared fryer. And they were served in a paper-lined cup so they don’t get cold like the bacon.

Because I love bacon, and because I really want this place to be bactastic, I’ll probably give it one last shot. But when am going to be all the way over there after 3:00 PM? And what kind of idiots are in Midtown and not opened for lunch? The same kind of idiots that take a fantastic idea and crush it into mediocrity: BarBacon.

Pork Belly on a Stick

PorkBellStickI never thought I’d utter the phrase “I guess I’ll have to settle for the pork belly,” and with a tone of disappointment in my voice. But I did just that a few weeks back at Smorgasburg (the final DUMBO day, before it abandoned the Tobacco Warehouse for an empty lot down by Pier 5), when I was told by the grillmasters at Inglorivs Yakitorivs that they were out of giant lamb chops.

I don’t know who these Inglorivs Yakitorivs cats are, as it was the first time I spotted them at the Smorg (though I did run into them last weekend at Pier 5). And they lack the fundamental decency of a Web site, thinking Facebook and Twitter will do (my dead pony has a Facebook page…that shit tells me nothing). Empirical evidence tells me that they do grilled meats, preferably on skewers – except for those lamb chops (which, sadly, they didn’t have at Pier 5 either). And the name suggests a mix of Asian and/or Eastern European influences, perhaps with an appreciation for Tarantino’s later work.

But what I do know, for a fact, is that their pork belly on a stick is literally divine: godlike; characteristic of or befitting a deity. I wanted to go back for another, but I foolishly decided to play it cool, not wanting to expose my gluttony (which reminded me of that line from Hey Jude: “For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little less full of pork belly on a stick”).

Feeling a vast emptiness, I decided to Smorg again the following weekend, for the debut of the Pier 5 location, and try another pork belly skewer as well as one of those lamb chops. But Inglorivs Yakitorivs (a midfielder for the Hungarian national team in the early 50s?) was a no-show, so I had to settle for Maple Bacon on a stick from Landhaus, which was indeed delicious but like listening to a soloist when you were hoping for a symphony.

Inglorivs Yakitorivs also grills chicken innards, and appears to be fond of serving various chicken cartilages as well. But if you get a chance to sample the pork belly, I recommend it so highly that I’ll likely pass out due to a lack of oxygen. And if you get a chance to grab one of those lamb chops, please drop me a line to let me know how they are.