Meb Byrne

Archive for the ‘festival’ Category

New Amsterdam Market

In event, festival, financial district, food, healthy, nyc, treasure trove on September 23, 2010 at 7:57 am

The New Amsterdam Market is lower Manhattan’s answer to the Union Square Greenmarket. With more space, fewer vendors and lower prices, the Market is a great spot to mill about, sample some rich foods, and pick up absurdly cheap groceries.

Trains and traffic rattle above the old Fulton Fish Market, now replete with rows of stalls, each backed by a chalkboard advertising its wares. A few fresh produce stands, manned by gentlemen with lined faces and cracked hands, stand at the edges of the market. Local restaurants, including Jimmy’s 43 and Porchetta, have also set up shop, offering $5 sandwiches and sliders. Make your way inward, though, and there are much richer treasures to uncover. You may find yourself tearing indelicately at pizza Bianca, an oily foccaccia caked with goat cheese, or indulging in the thick, smoky and intensely flavorful bacon from Brooklyn Cured. A few tables down, you might lick prize-winning ricotta or a fun, grainy duck confit from wooden ice cream spoons. (The duck is prepared three other ways: smoked breast meat, prosciutto, and a strong salami). You can cleanse your palate with delicious agua fresca, squeezed from fresh cantaloupe and watermelon and sprinkled with chopped mint, or a surprisingly hoppy probiotic tea called Kombucha.

The more obscure foods are worth a taste test as well. Nettle butter, a pea green paste, is lemony and fresh. A flat, doughnut-shaped Ruis bread, crumbly and nutty, pairs beautifully with thinly-sliced Cheddar and cucumbers at the Nordic Breads stand. Sweet hot mustards from School House Kitchen are zestfully kicky (and they’re launching in Whole Foods this week!) Last weekend, the Anthony Road Wine Company held a grape-stomping demonstration in wooden vats, and invited patrons to get their feet dirty. (This writer’s opinion? Feels like stepping in a lot of seaweed.)

The best part of the New Amsterdam Market (after the food, of course) is the people. Since the Market is a bit of a hike from the nearest subway, the crowds are enthusiastic but not oppressive. The merchants are eager to engage, unlike the Union Square Greenmarket, where cramped space and forced expediency can press you to pay for your nasturtiums and get the hell out. Through pick-up conversations with New Amsterdam vendors, I learned how to process and harvest cocoa beans, where to take classes on killing pigs, and a few neat descriptors for cheese (Cabo is sweet and nutty, Landaff is sour and rustic). I’ll be back for the conversations, and to try a bit more of that bacon.

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Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival

In chinatown, chinese, event, festival, food, jewish, lower east side, nyc, religion on June 9, 2010 at 5:16 pm

This is Eldridge Street, a tiny block tucked away in the nebulous intersection of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Two very different neighborhoods, housing two very different populations, came together to celebrate this shared space at the 10th Annual Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival, hosted by the Museum at Eldridge Street.

Certain parts of the festival were dedicated to either Chinese or Jewish cultural heritage. Music demonstrations, like this Chinese group and a Klezmer ensemble, played throughout the afternoon.

The Eldridge Street Synagogue (built in 1887 and recently restored) was open to the public, with cooking demonstrations in the basement and  tours given regularly.

But of course, everyone came for the food! (What better to bring people together?)

Egg creams, made while you waited, were  popular.

The best parts of the festival, though, were those in which the Chinese and Jewish worlds blended, making it difficult to tell where one ended and the other began. Children could decorate their own yarmulkes, and kids of all origins got in on the fun.

Chinese grandparents and great-grandparents tossed and stacked and rearranged clicking tiles in mah jongg with impressive dexterity…

…but still made time to show newcomers how it’s done.

This fair was tiny, only a block long, but the air was joyous, the turnout impressive and the day beautiful. Tiny celebrations like this give me hope for cultural relations the world over, and make me proud to call myself a New Yorker.

Feast of San Gennaro

In festival, italian, nyc, street food on September 16, 2009 at 12:11 am

Every September, my neighborhood goes crazy. One day, we are a relatively quiet shopping district, full of tiny cafes, historic tenement brownstones and cutesy boutiques. The next, we are ablaze with neon lights, metallic streamers, thousands of tourists and the smell of all things fried.

This is San Gennaro.

The Feast of San Gennaro has been celebrated in New York City’s Little Italy for the past eighty-two years, and remains New York’s oldest street festival. The Feast is an outdoor carnival and street fair, spanning Mulberry Street from Houston Street to Canal Street, cutting through the heart of ever-shrinking Little Italy. Featured in all three Godfather films, San Gennaro is a staple of Italian (and pseudo-Italian) culture in New York City.

San Gennaro has certainly changed over the decades, but the focus of the modern festival is the food. From zeppoles to calzones, pizza to antipasti, you can find all types of Italian fare here. Beyond the more authentic (albeit greasy) choices, classic street food is also dished up in metal vats: sausage and onion sandwiches, corn dogs, funnel cakes, and something called “jelly apples.” Daquiris are served in neon-striped plastic goblets. The dessert stalls are the most impressive: cupcakes are slathered with icing and crowned with toppings; tiramisu, sfogliatelle and biscotti crowd the shelves. Cannoli, of course, are abundant: you can have mini or jumbo, chocolate-dipped or pistachio-encrusted, pre-stuffed or stuffed upon request with chocolate cream or marscapone or peanut butter and jelly (really.) A study in San Gennaro’s cannoli would be an evening well spent.

Beyond food, San Gennaro offers entertainment as well. Gregarious hawkers shout to you from midway game stalls, heavy with low-hanging giant teddy bears. Mini carnival rides and a trailer housing the Snake Lady are tucked away on side streets, and don’t get that much attention. At the south end of Mulberry, the Church of the Most Precious Blood displays effigies of Mary and San Gennaro, with long red ribbons tied to their hands and feet. Dollars pinned to those ribbons come from both curious tourists and influential dons, in an unintentional tribute to New York’s continued status as a melting pot.

San Gennaro’s food may not challenge the palate and the shopping may not be anything novel, but that’s not the point. You go to San Gennaro to savor the soul-killing goodness of fried Oreos, to slurp heavy over-sauced pasta and one or two or five Italian pastries, to buy a shirt proclaiming how Italian you are and win a teddy bear for your girlfriend. You go to ogle the greased hair, the baseball caps, the low rise jeans and the low cut shirts, the tattoos, the old Italian grandmothers and the large Italian families.You go to San Gennaro, ultimately, to have a good time. Isn’t that what Italians are all about?

The Feast of San Gennaro runs until September 20th. It is open from around noon till approximately eleven pm. Go on a weekend: the crowds are larger, more raucous and more fun then.

Great New York State Fair: Poll

In festival, poll, syracuse on August 4, 2009 at 9:51 am

Following in the well-heeled footsteps of my longtime friend and fellow blogger Rochelle, I want to pose a question to anyone who’s been to the Great New York State Fair.

I’m bringing several friends from New York City up to Syracuse in early September for the Fair, and I want to show them the best time possible.

So my question for you is, what’s your favorite thing to do at the Great New York State Fair? The sausage sandwiches? The butter sculpture? The Footsie Wootsie? The live concerts? The multi-colored chickens? The quilting show? The midway?

Make sure we don’t miss anything!

Safeway’s National Capitol Barbecue Battle

In barbeque, dc, festival on June 30, 2009 at 9:26 pm

When the smell of delicious charred flesh hangs in the air around our nation’s capitol, you know it’s time for the National Capitol Barbecue Battle.

Sponsored by Safeway, the Barbecue Battle is DC’s shout-out to state fairs. Spanning at least five blocks, plus side streets, the Battle features bungee cords, carnival rides, basketball courts, and a rock climbing wall for the kids. Two stages feature live music. Various companies offer free samples of their products: Honey Bunches of Oats, Kettle Korn, and Dasani all tempted visitors with plastic cups of their wares. You can sample varieties of hot sauces, or have your photo taken in front of the Oscar Mayer Weiner Mobile. (You’ll also receive a free Oscar Mayer Weiner Whistle, which, let me tell you, is worth the price of admission.)

The focus and purpose of the Battle, however, is barbecue, and lots of it. Both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue are lined with stall after stall advertising ribs, wings, brisket, and pulled pork, each with their own catch phrase or special sauce. If you look hard enough, you can find rarer treats: crab cakes, or (my personal favorite) alligator bites, which taste like pork, or a juicier chicken. To balance your nutrition, traditional state fair foods are in abundance as well: funnel cakes, bloomin’ onions, and foot long corn dogs glisten with oily excess in the afternoon sun.

The Battle has a weird $10 entrance fee, which only appears to grant you the privilege of walking around the festival and eating its food. Most of the northeast quarter of Washington comes out for the Battle, so be prepared to wait in line for your meal. All the barbecue vendors, as generic as they may appear, are competing for top prizes and trophies for their grill skills. Come both days and sample twice the grub!