I’ve been wanting to visit Smorgasburg – the weekend street fair of local hipster food vendors that takes place in Williamsburg – since the first time I heard of it more than a year ago. I can give you excuses why it took me this long to get there: the relatively remote location, some blistering heat last summer that discouraged me from standing out in the sun (even to enjoy some good food), Hurricane Sandy making it hard to figure out where Smorgasburg was (if anywhere). But finally I heard that Smorgasburg was back in business, and I thought, no better time to go there than Labor Day weekend.
The most fun way to get to Smorgasburg, and to me the easiest, is by ferry. NY Waterway runs the East River Ferry that leaves from Slip C of Pier 11 in Manhattan (near the easternmost tip of Wall Street) and drops you off just a block from East River State Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Smorgasburg takes place on Saturdays. The ferry makes a couple of other stops along the way, including Brooklyn Bridge Park near Dumbo, where Smorgasburg happens on Sundays. After the East River Park/North Williamsburg stop, the ferry continues further north, eventually docking at 34th Street on the eastside of Manhattan – and it makes the same route (Wall Street to Brooklyn to 34th Street) in reverse. The ride from Wall Street costs $4.00 each way, and there are some great vistas along the way.
We picked a good day to visit Smorgasburg – it was hot, but not oppressively so. Nevertheless, with a decided lack of shade (a handful of umbrellas over picnic tables, and that is it), the heat there was took its toll, and all the vendors who sold drinks were very popular, with long lines.
But let me just back up here a minute. My main objective was to scout out the dairy free options at Smorgasburg. After all, at your run-of-the-mill street fair, it can be hard to find anything for us dairy free folk, unless you want to munch on a hot dog or Italian sausage, and that is not everyone’s cup of tea (my vegan friends, I have your back). So what kind of options does Smorgasburg offer?
I’m happy to report that there are many good options – so many, in fact, that I didn’t get to try them all! Let me start with the ones I – regretfully – had to pass on. Bombay Sandwich Company, which I encountered before at the New Amsterdam Market, is there. Saucy by Nature, offering the intriguing Quinoa Falafel, was another one that caught my eye (I will definitely visit them next time).
So what did I eat? First, I sampled a beet slider – yes, that’s beet, not beef – from Chickpea & Olive.
How was it? Interesting, and I say that as a compliment. The “burger” part of it was full of flavor – with lentils as well as grated beets and other ingredients as well – but texture-wise, it didn’t hold together so well, and was more like hash or a sloppy joe. Nevertheless, I applaud them for their inventiveness, and I found the sight of their grill blazing away cooking up vegetable-based products only to be quite liberating.
After eating a beet slider and chasing it with a nice iced tea, I was ready to go for some more cold wet food product. So I went to Alchemy Creamery for a nice cup of vegan ice cream. The chocolate chai flavor was intriguing, but I went with the pie filling, with some peach puree drizzled over the top. The texture of the ice cream was nice – creamy smooth – and the flavor was good too – fairly mild, and the puree took it over the top.
The heat was already getting to us, so we chose our remaining stops carefully. Therese got some pickle relish and potato chips from McClures Pickles, and I got an Asia Dog to g0 – yeah, the Wangding with its barbecued pork belly called to me.
We checked our watch to see if we were in synch with the ferry boat schedule – it only operates once every 40 minutes or so on the weekends – and headed back to the ferry slip to get in line for a good seat.
The ride home was, if anything, more exciting than the way to Smorgasburg. Maybe it was the fact that I had a been-there, done-that feeling coursing through my veins. What do I think of the food fair over all? I am glad we did it, since it has become the thing to do over the summer in New York City. However, I think it could be improved in a number of ways. The portion of East River State Park that hosts the event is a lot paved with cracked, crumbling concrete that looks like it hasn’t been repaired in decades. As previously noted, there is still practically no shade, and there is not that much seating either.
The one time we sat down, we had to make do with a crumbling, not very comfortable concrete block.
The food, which covers a variety of local, hip, edgy food vendors, is good quality, but also expensive, the drinks even more so. I was glad to see the several vegan booths that I mentioned above – and am happy to pay whatever they need to charge for their fare – but wish they were working in a better maintained, more accessible setting.
What can I say – I guess my hipster days are behind me.