Ever since the New York Times began its love affair with Smorgasburg, I have been wanting to visit the new food extension of the Brooklyn Flea. It’s a farmer’s market that has more prepared-food vendors than growers and bakers, and it sets up every Saturday on the Williamsburg waterfront. I finally made it there with Empanda Boy in tow (one hour trip, thanks to the MTA) on Saturday afternoon. We wended our way from the Bedford Ave. L train stop towards the waterfront through throngs of hipsters embarked on their weekend plans. The waterfront area, officially known as East River State Park, was redone in 2007 and has the spare, geometrical feel of new parks like Brooklyn Bridge Park and Chicago’s Millennium Park. The grass is bright green and is trimmed tightly within its angular, concrete boundaries. The only trees are short and provide no shade, and there are clusters of pseudo-architectural benches atop lots and lots of concrete. The lack of shade was immediately evident as we passed through a crowd of people scrunched together in the 90-degree heat, eating in the shadow of one of the new high rises.
There is no shade whatsoever within the confines of the market itself, which is set up on one side of the park inside a chain-link pen in a gravel area that is used for concerts. My friend Crawdad was supposed to meet us later, but it was already 2 pm, so EB and I got down to the business of deciding what to eat, meandering our way among the booths as the sun beat down. We started with a sandwich from a stand called Bocata that was too beautiful to be ignored: spicy Spanish chorizo, infused with smokey pimentón de la Vera and topped with a flame-roasted red pepper. The flavors immediately transported me back to my beloved Spain! We ordered it with salted, blistered padron peppers, which were mostly sweet with just a hint of heat and were totally addictive. The sandwich with side came to $10, a bit steep for a relatively small plate, but undeniably unique and delicious. Avoiding the sun-baked picnic tables, we sat down to eat in the meager shade of a concrete ledge and planned our next move. Now stuck in Spanish nostalgia mode, I decided to try the boquerones en vinagre (vinegar-cured anchovies) from Bon Chovie (punny names abound at Smorgasburg). These are apparently new to the menu, which otherwise focuses on fried anchovies. The fried ones looked delicious, but I wanted something clean and refreshing on such a hot day. The tangy boquerones atop toast with bright red tomato cubes fit the bill. They tasted like they had just been pulled from the sea, helping to justify their $6 price tag.
Still hungry, EB went to wait in line for a BLT from Landhaus. We had seen people carrying these throughout the market, and with their incredibly thick-cut bacon slabs, they looked like a cartoon version of a BLT, something Fred Flintstone might snack on. Landhaus also sells the maple bacon by itself, served on a skewer, which I was tempted to try. But if you’re getting the bacon, then why not get the whole sandwich, right? As it turned out, the sandwich was a tad bit disappointing, and not because there was anything wrong with the flavor. The bread was fresh and crusty, the tomato ripe, the mayonnaise lightly seasoned and the lettuce properly fresh and undoubtedly local. The problem was in the texture: Usually the thin, crispy bacon gives the BLT the crunch it needs, but here the thick-cut bacon was too chewy and fatty to deliver that effect. Next time, I would order the bacon on a stick and be done with it. Still, at only $5, it’s not like this BLT was breaking the bank.
Crawdad arrived while we were waiting in the Landhaus line. Without pondering for too long she ordered just what I had hoped she might: a lobster roll from Red Hook Lobster Pound. I had been wanting to try one of these but feared that getting one for $16 would have maxed out my food budget in one fell swoop. Crawdad took the plunge, and came back from the stand with a toasted white bread roll overflowing with big chunks of glistening lobster. She must have seen the longing in my eyes because she kindly offered me a bite. The flavors were pretty straightforward, just sweet, tender pieces of lobster lightly slicked with mayonnaise and topped with a dusting of paprika and chopped scallions. Crawdad thought the sandwich a bit too simple to merit the price, and I can certainly see that point of view. But in this case, I suppose you are paying for the ingredients. And sometimes it takes the most practiced hand to know when to leave naturally occurring perfection alone.
Finally, it was time for dessert. After hours of scoping the scene, I knew I wanted a chocolate-dipped frozen banana from the Nana’s Bananas stand. (Fans of the show “Arrested Development” will immediately think of the Bluth family’s banana stand.) I opted to have mine rolled in candied nuts and sea salt. It was a magnificent dessert, offering all the satisfaction of an ice cream bar made with the best chocolate around. The sea salt enhanced the other ingredients, giving it a heightened flavor profile. EB got a tasty, but unremarkable “You’re Berry Nice” smoothie (told you there were lots of puns) from Salud, and Crawdad got a rhubarb shaved ice from People’s Pops (too much ice, too little rhubarb).
The food at Smorgasburg was very good, though slightly monotonous in its artisanal, organic, hyper-local, gentrified-ethnic way. It was also little pricier than I would have liked. But, hey, this is Williamsburg, not Queens. Most of all, though, I think everything would have tasted better if I had had a shady place to sit and eat it.
Between North 6th and 7th Streets on the East River (close to Kent Avenue)
For a complete list of vendors go here.