Smorgasburg's opening day in Williamsburg (Scott Lynch)
Apr 3, 2023
Scenes from Smorgasburg’s big opening weekend In Williamsburg and Prospect Park
Plus: 10 great things to eat from this year's new vendors at both locations
This past weekend, for the first time since 2019, both of Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg locations opened on time, in April, as had been the tradition in the pre-pandemic era. And with 25 new vendors joining an already-stacked lineup, both open-air food markets — at Marsha P. Johnson State Park Williamsburg, and at Breeze Hill in Prospect Park – were operating at full capacity.
“It feels great,” Eric Demby, Smorgasburg’s co-founder along with Jonathan Butler, told Brooklyn Magazine on Saturday, right around the time the clouds parted and the place got packed. “It always feels good to be back. We have markets now in lots of other cities, including Los Angeles and Miami, but this is still our home base, and there’s always this feeling of rebirth here in Brooklyn in the spring.”
Even the most enthusiastic eater (that would be me) found it impossible to try something from all 25 new vendors over the weekend — much less gorge on many returning favorites — but here’s a look at 10 excellent dishes from the Smorgasburg rookies.
The best thing I ate all weekend were probably the tacos from Karina Garcia and Lalo Rodriguez’s Cocina Consuelo, which the couple started after losing their restaurant jobs when the pandemic hit. Many of the items here are based on recipes from Rodriguez’s abuelita in Puebla, Mexico. The terrific Mamá Chelo’s jalapenos, which Garcia says take four days to make, are stuffed with tuna confit and laid out on a blue corn tortilla from Sobre Masa. The “flower tacos” are braised hibiscus blossoms, and they pack a wallop too.
Another excellent newbie is the Madras Tiffin Co., a passion project of sorts from Vinodh Anchaliya (he has another full-time job that doesn’t involve cooking). Anchaliya grew up in the small town of Tindivanam in Tamil Nadu. After moving here in 1997, he missed the South Indian food of his youth so much he took up cooking as a hobby, feeding an ever-growing circle of family, friends, and neighbors in Central New Jersey. On Saturday he gave me a lovely cauliflower masala dosa, plus some vada, which are lentil fritters, and plenty of sambar, coconut chutney, and red chutney for dipping. Everything’s made from scratch. While you’re there, try a cup of the aam pani, a traditional Indian summer beverage made from unripe mangoes.
Also very good were the Trinidadian oxtail nachos from chef Osei Blackett, who last fed me at his Flatbush restaurant Ariapita. Here at Everything Oxtail, “Chef Picky” as he’s known, switches out the usual tortilla chips with crisp plantains, and piles on the fava beans, cheese sauce, salsa, and, especially the oxtail, which is impossibly tender and wonderfully fatty. It’s an entire meal’s worth of food, and it’s delicious.
Antony Nassif (Tony Bacon to his friends) has worked at places like Mile End Deli and, most recently, The York in Alphabet City. He has a new project here at Smorgasburg called Hen House. The signature dish is a delicious, jaw-stretching chicken sandwich, starring some juicy bird, garlic pickles, slaw, and plenty of Nassif’s famous homemade piri piri sauce.
Jase Franklyn is a coach at Poly Prep by day, and pitmaster of some of the best barbecue in Brooklyn the rest of the time. He learned all about seasoning, smoking, and firing meat from his mom while growing up in Tobago. Although he’s done plenty of popups over the years, especially on his Rockaway home turf, Prospect Park on Sunday gave him one of his biggest crowds to date Jase’s BBQ was sold out of his prize-winning pigtails by the time we got there, unfortunately, but his jerk wings were among the best I’ve ever had. Awesome mac-n-cheese too. Someone should give this guy a proper restaurant so we can eat this all the time.
Steasy and Graciela Osores, the mother-daughter team who opened up the terrific little Peruvian restaurant Mikhuy in South Slope less than a year ago, are setting up shop in Prospect Park on Sundays this summer because, as Steasy tells me, “we want to be out here meeting people in the community.” With a turnout in the thousands this weekend, there was certainly ample opportunity to do just that. When you stop by next week to say hello, get the Osores’s superb causa acevichada, a Peruvian classic that starts with potato terrine layered with creamy tuna salad, then topped with ceviche, corn nuts, and pickled onions.
Prospect Park also gets a raucous Valencian paella party this season, thanks to Larissa Hrabec and Alberto Salas’s, well, Paella Party. The duo came from Redding, Connecticut, on Sunday with a huge stack of giant paella pans ready to be fired up, including one with chicken, rabbit, and garrafon beans, which was lively and wholly satisfying. Also on offer is a vegan offering and a seafood “de mariscos” dish with shrimp, calamari, mussels, and chorizo.
More of a sweet tooth? At Bibi Bakery, Lena Derisavifard pays homage to Iranian women everywhere and specializes in Persian baklava, cookies, and ice cream creations. Her saffron ice cream sandwich, rolled in rose petals, was a delight.
Janice de Castro’s Keyks World stars an eye-catching array of sponge cakes filled with buttercream, infused with the flavors of her native Philippines, like pandan, ube, and jackfruit, then topped with colorful cereal for crunch and Instagram appeal. They’re like pretty Twinkies, but also really good.
The super-cute, custard-filled Frenchie taiyakis at Andy Tojo’s Ume NYC — which come in the shape of his French bulldog Cream’s face — are head-turners for sure. Don’t miss the wagyu ube burger at his adjacent Tojo’s Kitchen tent.
And finally, another social-media winner that also tastes great are the crackling, sticky rock-sugar-coated fruit skewers at Ivy Chen’s neon pink tent, Tang Hulu NYC. In addition to the expected strawberries and blueberries, Chen also offers pink pineapple, starfruit, the largest green grapes I’ve ever seen, and, incredibly, whole guavas, which are lusciously creamy underneath that sweet, chewy shell.
There were enormous crowds at both locations over the weekend, though Saturday morning in Williamsburg proved once again that the best strategy to avoid lines at Smorgasburg is to go when the weather is iffy. Especially if it’s off-and-on lightly raining. Because if you stroll up to either spot mid-afternoon on a sunny day? Plan on at least a 30-minute wait at the most popular vendors. That said, several of the above rookies had very short waits even on Sunday, so hit them up before the words gets out.
“It’s really scary to open a restaurant right now,” says Demby. “You need all this investment, and who knows what’s up ahead and around the corner with the economy and the world in general. In a way, Smorgasburg is attractive again in the same way it was in 2011 when we started.”
The Brooklyn Smorgasburgs are located at Marsha P. Johnson State Park, at 90 Kent Avenue, in Williamsburg on Saturdays, and at Breeze Hill in Prospect Park on Sundays. The hours for both markets are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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