Decisions Decisions at Smorgasburg
Bowl of veggie and tofu goodness (& one piece of pork) from Lumpia Shack.
I have never learned the art of sensible grazing. Whether it's a barbecue, a picnic, or a holiday party with really killer food, any kind of free-for-all spread is just a table of pain. I do best when I plan what I am going to eat and stick to it, like a gymnast landing her trick. Even more so because I am a diabetic and have to determine how many carbs I am going to eat, and thus how much insulin I am going to take. The ability to go back for seconds and thirds is almost guaranteed doomsday for us D's: diabetics and dieters.
This winter Smorgasburg, joining forces with the Brooklyn Flea, took over one floor of a giant warehouse at North 5th and Wythe Street. It was the perfect place to hide out from the rain and the snow, which happened this season on more than one occasion. I went knowing I didn't need to buy anything. No vintage Grandma-style cardigans, no mismatched China plates, and no twee canvas totes. I went to look around, to wander, and to hang out.
When it came time to eat the four of us fanned out to review our options. How to decide? I was stressed. I wanted to try as many things as possible, without overeating and overspending. I considered the options that jumped out: Mighty Quinn Barbecue, but I could easily go to their East Village location, so I passed that one up; Asia Dog, which I had already tried at their Manhattan location. I briefly considered just having a donut at Dough, and then shook my head at the thought. The ramen burger guys were there, but up close it didn't grab me, the yellow plastic-y looking noodles around the burger seemed too oily and stiff. Red Hook Lobster tempted me on each passing, but it was too much of a known quantity.
Spring rolls with smoked brisket
Okay, so here's another thing. As much as I can eat the same thing for lunch everyday of the week, when I am out I want to push myself into a new experience. I wanted different.
Rice and Miso Everyday called out to me with their wedges of rice, flecked with savory bits then grilled and wrapped in a sheet of crispy seaweed. But, was it too much rice? I kept wandering. There was a vegan shop serving a flatbread and interesting dips. I passed them by. The Porchetta guy was pulling and cutting from a big pork loin and piling the meat on tiny rolls. I considered a tiny roll, and then thought: too tiny.
I eventually settled on two things: roasted brisket spring rolls from Bep and a steamed red snapper with grated turnip in a dashi broth from The Inglorious Project. The spring rolls were passable, which is too bad, considering the amount of time I spent deciding. The dipping sauce was better then the actual roll, thick and peanutty and spicy because I had added in Sriracha, but the rolls had too many rice noodles and not enough crunchy raw vegetables.
The snapper, a very last minute decision, was a surprising bite for such a casual spot. The three boys who stood at the table, two dressed up in vintage suits, and a Japanese chef, were operating at an entirely different level then the other vendors. They were serious. I paid my $8 for the bowl and they told me it would take five minutes. "No problem," I said, and pointed them to where we were sitting. Ten minutes later they arrived. The fish, a thick white meat, was unadulterated by any overpowering sauces. The dashi tasted like kombu and soy, and it clung to the fish and the grated turnip gave the dish a third element of texture and coolness. I savored it, eating it with my chopsticks and getting a portion of everything into each bite.
Red snapper in dashi from Inglorious Project.
The next time I was at Smorgasburg I had an admittedly easier time deciding. While I walked around I asked a few Flea vendors what their favorite place to eat was and many told me Lumpia Shack. The offerings, giant bowls of your choice: pork, brisket or tofu, piled on top of all sorts of pickles and veggies with an option for sauce and level of spiciness. What I loved about this dish was that I could make each bite different depending on what I gathered with my fork. And, I don't do it enough in my own cooking, but including raw herbs like cilantro and basil is such an easy way to include a fresh taste to a meal. Along with lunch I had a glass of seltzer from Brooklyn Soda Works that was flavored with apples and ginger, and no sugar. It was delicious.
The nice girl at Fine & Raw who sold me my bars, and gave me lots of samples.
Before I left I bought a few bars from Fine & Raw chocolate, whose mission is to save the world through silliness and chocolate. (I know.) Anyways, their chocolate is insanely creamy and has a really nice mouthfeel. It's not too sweet, which is my ideal form of chocolate. I think the only way it could be an eensy bit better is if there were lines grooved into it so I could easily break off a piece. (I know.) And the last thing I did was sample a gluten free pumpkin pie with a nut and chocolate crust, from a cute place from upstate. In the end it was a lot of food, and I didn't eat again for another six hours.
I have a laundry list of places at Smorgasburg that I may try to make it to before the winter departs us. There's The Bruffin, which reports to be a savory breakfast in a muffin; S'more Bakery, who have their own personal blow torch, and several other folks that lean more to the sweet side of the pie chart. Attempting to have lunch at Smorgasburg is almost like eating at a picnic, minus the fact that you have to pay for it. Which now that I think about it, might be a good way to limit yourself. I'll be right back, I'm just gonna tell Mom to put out a cash register at Thanksgiving.