Sunday, September 25, 2011

The 7th Annual 2011 Vendy Awards

So, the annual Vendy Awards were held yesterday at Governor’s Island.  We happened to luck out with the weather, because it looked kind of ominous out there. It was hot, it was humid, but the rain stayed away and for that I am grateful.  If you are unaware of what the Vendy Awards are I will explain.  The Street Vendor Project is a member’s only, non-profit organization that regularly rallies for street vendor’s rights, provides information on things like permits, their legal rights, aids with dispute mediation and generally provides an organizational format for the street vendors to share in their battles against the city or help each other out when needed. The truth is that there are over 10,000 street vendors in New York City and these guys are the true small business owners. Vendors are regular guys with families that live and GIVE life to our city.  Do you have a memory of Christmas in New York without roasted chestnuts or peanuts? Would New York be the same if there weren’t “dirty water dogs” or perhaps you might recall several trips to SoHo or the Lower East Side, many drinks later and A MUCH needed stop for Halal meat at 3am.   Would Breakfast at Tiffany’s be BREAKFAST without Holly Golightly’s coffee cup?  As a lifelong New Yorker I can say that street vendors are a permanent fixture of our urban landscape.  I want these guys there & personally I will always support them.  I prefer coffee from my local coffee cart guy to Starbucks, I buy fruit from the Eastern European woman on 53rd who loves when I might accidentally give her foreign change (apparently she collects it) and a few days a week I’ll be on line for shawarma or Halal food.  Everyone goes above and beyond, they know how I take my coffee, they ask me how my day is going and they don’t care when I’m 25 cents short because they know I’ll overtip them a day later.  These guys work hard- up EARLY in the morning and are there rain, snow or shine, god bless them!!  So, for the Street Vendor Project, The Vendy Awards is the celebration of the best food that these sidewalk chefs and street vendors can offer.

This year 22 vendors competed in the categories of: The Vendy Cup, Rookie, Best of NJ & Dessert.  We got to Governor’s Island via the Atlantic Avenue ferry in Brooklyn which was a quick five minute ferry ride.  Entry to the Awards was fast and very organized- once they checked our ID’s and tickets and we got our “Over 21” wristbands we were ready to EAT.  We had a strategy that really worked to our advantage, while everyone was at the front, we headed towards the back where there were virtually NO lines! We headed straight to Tamales Guadalupe, a vendor serving up traditional Mexican tamales wrapped in corn husks. I chose a tamale verde with chicken and Jeff got a rojo (red).  Guadalupe Galicia is a single mom with two children and this is her primary source of income.  Watch her video here—

The tamales were great and she also served up some nice rice pudding which was delicious with lots of Mexican cinnamon and nutmeg.  While IN LINE for the tamales the guy ahead of me seemed to be eating some kind of delicious looking braised beef.  I had to ask where THAT came from and he pointed to the Sunrise Grill which was right across the way.  Sunrise Grill is a truck that usually hangs out on 168th Street, serving up traditional Jamaican food.

Man, was I excited! This food looked fantastic! I opted for a nice braised oxtail with greens and red beans and rice and Jeff got the curry goat. AMAZING. The oxtail was braised to perfection, soft and delicious made with a nice blend of spices. There were also pieces of fruit cake available, which I went back for seconds of- dark, moist, without the candied fruit which you typically associate with fruit cake and a nice spiced rum flavor- SO GOOD. We ate on!!!

Taim Mobile Falafel Truck, known for their fresh falafel and homemade blended sauces, served up decent portions of falafel pitas with yummy herbed sauces which we put down easily.  

Comme Ci Comme Ca, my usual Mediterranean/Moroccan food truck fave was there, dishing out their cous cous & merguez, Korilla BBQ (of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race) and many, MANY others that I won’t get into specifics about. 

They were all excellent.  After more than a few spicy dishes, for dessert we went straight to LaNewYorkina where owner Fany Gerson (seen below), known for her delicious frozen paletas (popsicles) was handing out a nice selection of her well-known pops- white sangria, pineapple jalapeno, horchata, café con leche, cajeta with pecans.  

I’m actually a huge fan of Fany’s and own her recipe book, Paletas.  The mini paletas did not disappoint! The cajeta (made with a goat’s milk caramel) was rich and creamy offset by the delicious crunchy, saltiness of the pecans.  Jeff had the white sangria that also kicked ass, albeit in a fruity, tangy & citrus-y way.  We also tried some of the shaved ice dessert from Woolys, which I had never tried or witnessed the making of! The Wooly’s guys had these huge blocks of flavored green tea infused ice which got shaved into light flaky bits by these interesting contraptions.  

In the Best of NJ category was a truck called the Cinnamon Snail. Operated by some guys in some silly ass uniforms (they know it too), they served up one of the most delicious donuts I have ever tried. This donut was light, puffed up to perfection, with a carmelized Maker’s Mark sauce on top and creamy filling inside.

The guys working there, while silly, were super friendly, more in on the joke, “service with a smile…and a laugh” and I definitely appreciated it. These guys are based in Hoboken and I would be up for trying out MORE of their food if the donut was any indication of the high quality ingredients they use.

What else? An open bar, with a sponsor by Brooklyn Brewery, some wines, water, & kombucha (of course). The voting booth, some merchandise, everything was not too crowded, with lots of seating room & live music.  Overall the Vendy Awards were a great experience, and one I’ll gladly, happily support again next year.  Congrats to the winners;  Solber Pupusas (Vendy Cup),  Korilla BBQ (Rookie Vendor of the Year), Woolys (Best Dessert),  Cinnamon Swirl (The Maker’s Mark Street Food Challenge- FOR THAT DONUT!) & The Taco Truck (Best of NJ).  Follow your faves on Twitter and see where they might be near you!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Shaolin Selects

So, I’ve been slacking on the blog lately.  My sincerest apologies. Maybe I got caught up savoring those last few days of summer, maybe it was because something else was all consuming, i.e. fashion week, and maybe there’s been some family drama as of late as well. But ALL excuses aside, it hasn’t stopped me from my routine of cooking, eating, drinking and enjoying things, so THAT has not changed!  Due to my recently insane schedule, Jeff and I have found ourselves looking for dining options, closer to home, here on Staten Island.  When you want good food, sometimes you don’t want to go very far! I have two worth noting new dining experiences that went down in my book as GREAT to EXCELLENT.

The first one I want to talk about is Lakruwana, located at 668 Bay Street.  I’ve passed Lakruwana MANY times. I’ve even said a few times “I’ve heard it’s good, we should go there!” but I hadn’t gone there!  One Thursday evening Jeff and I had New York harbor cruise tickets that our friend Scott Wegener had purchased. Unfortunately, the weather DID not cooperate for us, so we all opted for dinner at Lakruwana instead.  Nothing really prepared me for Lakruwana.  I knew it served Sri Lankan food, but beyond that I had no clue. We stepped into Lakruwana and it was like I suddenly was at the Epcot Center Sri Lankan pavilion! There were these great hand made high back rattan chairs, clay pots and pottery everywhere, masks on the walls, spears on the walls! Elaborate pendant lamps hanging from the ceiling, and carved statues- I didn’t know where to look! But nothing was cluttered; it all complimented each other and added to the overall atmosphere.  Excuse the grainy cell phone pics, it was dark in there! 

The server came to our table with giant totems and I thought, “what the hell are these?” but they were the menus!

So what is Sri Lankan food like? Apparently, it’s similar to Northern Indian food, similar cooking techniques and similar spices used.  I ordered a lovely beef lamprais, which was curried beef with basmati rice, vegetables and spices steamed inside a banana leaf - it was DELICIOUS. You can vary the level of spiciness and thinking I was tough and because I love spicy food, I asked for the medium. I was wiping my brow, as my mouth was seemingly ON FIRE. but I loved it and ate on in-between cooling gulps of a lovely sweet lassi to quell the fire.  Jeff opted for a Biriyani, a dish that he happily put down without saying a word.  His rice arrived with a FACE, not that that detracted him from eating it.

Lakruwana was an excellent dining experience, so much so that we went back even more recently for their Sunday all you can eat lunch buffet.  For $11.95 (!) we stuffed our faces with delicious Sri Lankan specialties like curries, stewed vegetables, vegetable fried rice, basmati rice, and dessert of fresh yogurt with honey and mango mousse. FANTASTIC.  While Lakruwana stands where I once went to see local music, it was once a venue called S.R.O., I’m totally okay with what it has progressed to, a unique Staten Island dining experience. Go there and support them, you won’t be disappointed!

The second place I want to mention is Bay Street Luncheonette and Soda Fountain. Long name, right? Small place, but great! This one is located a little further down Bay towards the Fort at 1189 Bay.  Another find of Scott Wegener’s! About Scott, he’s an artist and helps to create a great comic book (with Jeff) called Atomic Robo. Check the link above and read all about it, it’s an excellent comic book for both kids AND adults filled with amazing artwork that Scott sometimes complains about producing but does so with finesse! I’m a fan!  But I digress.  Step into the Bay Street Luncheonette and step in the 1950’s! 

Chrome dining sets with cherry leather seats, a full length soda counter serving up a complete menu of traditional egg creams, ice cream shakes and root beer floats and if you, like me are still mourning the loss of the A&W diner on Hylan, you can rejoice because this place does a fine job creating your previously lost favorites.  The menu is pretty straightforward breakfast- omelets, egg sandwiches, hash browns, pancakes and thick French toast.  The prices here are EXCELLENT, more than affordable and everything served by an overly attentive wait staff that are friendly and personable.  If you know me, all I want from a good dining experience is GOOD food and friendly faces, and you pretty much will have me as a patron for life.  So, go cure your hangover and go get your Sunday buffet on, these two places are worth going to so let’s help keep these small businesses alive.   Cheers shaolin! Keep up the good eats!