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.

PBR FC

PBRstreefighterThere’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?

Sigmund’s: Beer & Pretzels With A Twist

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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.

Digital CameraSigmund’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.

NASCAR Going Green?

Apparently this new ad calling for reformation of America’s oppressive marijuana laws is scheduled to appear on the jumbotron at NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend. Or, as it is now officially called, the Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com. Uh, yeah.

I’m pro-marijuana, but I’m a little concerned that this ad is pitching it at beer’s expense. It’s like making an argument for anal sex by saying, “you let me put it in your mouth and that’s 10 times more disgusting than having it in your ass.” Such an approach has its merits, but you risk losing out on beers – and blow jobs.

Even more surprising than the fact that race officials have apparently given the green light to run the ad is that the Marijuana Policy Project, which produced the spot, chose such a beer (and blow job) friendly crowd as NASCAR to air it. Of course I was equally surprised to learn that the current sponsor of the race is Crown Royal, arguably the Miller of blended whiskeys. What’s next…track lighting for the trailer?

Anyway, I raise a glass to the good folks at the Marijuana Policy Project. And let’s hope that tires aren’t the only thing smoking at the Brickyard 400 this weekend.