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.

Porchetta: When In Rome (or New York), Eat Pork

Pigchetta

Porchetta is a traditional style of seasoning and roasting pork that is popular in Rome. It’s also the name of a little shop selling the best sandwich on the planet.

Tucked on the south side of 7th Street, between First and Avenue A, the Porchetta shop offers a porchetta sandwich that’s nothing short of a transformative experience. Admittedly I was a little uneasy paying $12 for a sandwich, no matter how good it might be. But after the first bite, I knew it was worth every penny – and more. And halfway through my first porchetta sandwich, I was struck by the sudden sensation that eating it somehow made me a better person. It’s that good.

These sandwiches even travel well. I’ve picked up one and hoofed over to Astor Place before taking the 6 train all the way up to 96th Street and it still was delicious. Though I should caution you to wrap it in a plastic bag so the juices don’t leak out.

There are plenty of other options on the menu, but with something as good as the shop’s namesake, I’ve found it difficult to justify exploring. I have, however, dipped into the crispy potatoes and burnt ends, which were quite phenomenal. And I’ve been eyeing up the Lebanese chicken sandwich but have yet to give it a shot. On a recent visit I noticed they were doing a taco special as well.

Porchetta is well worth the trip. It’s a shame that the owner is an AS Roma fan. But given the glorious sandwiches, all is forgiven.

El Boarrio in El Barrio

October afternoons don’t get much better than this. It started with a brisk walk into East Harlem, which is also known as Spanish Harlem, or El Barrio. Winding along a trail of De La Vega sidewalk art, I arrived at La Marqueta, an outdoor market at 116th Street and Park Avenue. I came for pig.

The owners of the Urban Garden Center are behind what has evolved into Flea Marqueta, following in the foodsteps of Brooklyn Flea’s Smorgasburg. It’s got a long way to go, but, like everything else in Harlem, they are following their own path. In addition to the food, there are plenty of plants and such along with a few tables selling odds and ends.

The swine-a-thon started back on Sept. 15th. And every second Sunday since then, they have been roasting a pig to celebrate El Boar-rio. Festivities began at noon, but I wander in around 1:30 PM. My timing proved perfect, as I had a chance to grab a cup of coffee from a food truck and snack on some fried chicken from the Southern Comfort caterers.

Boarrio4Shortly after 2:00 PM, the pig was ready. And being El Barrio, the pork came at me in flour tortillas. For a mere $10, I got a pulled pork taco, a chorizo taco, corn on the cob, and coleslaw. For an additional $4, I enjoyed a delicious Sugar Hill Golden Ale from the Harlem Brewing Company.

For dessert, I snagged a bunch of Mr. Cory’s Cookies, made with all natural ingredients by a cool little kid. If you do nothing else today, donate a little something to this micro entrepreneur so he can get his cookies closer to your mouth.

All of this was accompanied by a blues duet, Blue Maky, from Bogata, Colombia. The two dudes, one on guitar and the other on bass, added that magical touch. I didn’t feel like I was at a public event. No, it seemed more like a gathering in a neighbor’s backyard. If there’s one thing they know how to do in El Barrio, it is creating a sense of community.

The final El Boarrio will be held on Sunday, Oct. 27th. That’s also the day of the annual East Harlem Festival, which runs from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM.