Meb Byrne

Archive for the ‘street food’ Category

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

In american, event, nyc, smile-inducing, street food on June 23, 2010 at 9:40 am

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In the sweltering New York summer, there is one place on everybody’s mind: the beach. Just a hop, skip and an N-train ride away, one beach above all features the craziest cast of characters: tattooed and dread-locked vegans, Latina mamis and the boys who want them, babies screaming in the heat, all muddled in the sandy, boozy cocktail that is Coney Island.

Last weekend, the usual suspects were there. Bare torsoed men showed off beer guts and whittled waists, skin either bronzed or a pimply alabaster. Septuagenarians with rumpled faces and crooked smiles sported sun hats and looked dazed. Ladies drew stares with creatively exposed breasts and stomachs and rolls of fat. The plasticky smell of sunscreen permeated the air, wafting over bespectacled faces and questionable yet enthusiastic dye jobs.

On Saturday, though, the high-wire crackle of amusement park energy was cranked up a few notches. A new cast of characters appeared: a pink haired pirate, a glut of Viking hats with horns, the occasional kilt. A crush of humanity stood six deep all along Stillwell Avenue, from the subway to the Cyclone, holding their cameras aloft. Little girls perched on Daddy’s shoulders and strained their necks. Grown men clamored up lamp posts and fire hydrants. What were they climbing to see?

The Coney Island Mermaid Parade, of course.

From what this blogger could glimpse, the parade was a mish-mash of flatbed pickups and pedestrians- a low-budget, sticky-sweaty Greenwich Village Halloween parade, if you will. Both on and off the parade route, the outfits were fantastical: pinup girl hairdos and 50s rockabilly fashion, goth girls with paper Japanese parasols, Day-Glo wigs and neon sequin stretch bikinis, fishing nets, feathers, leather, cleavage and torsos smeared in glitz and grease paint. Everything was homemade, without the glossy finish of so many NYC parades. As more and more bystanders poured out of the subway station, the throng started scaling chain link fences to bypass the impossible-to-navigate parade route.

The parade, still cocooned in the impassable crowd, looped up onto the boardwalk that overlooks the coastline. Sensory overload set in: sweat, wood, water, sunsparks off the ocean dazzled. Hawkers hawked mango flowers on sticks and dried snacks in plastic bags. The beach was hopping too, with sunbathers packed to the shore, trying to sip summer in through their pores. Obese little boys, tummies protruding from oversized swim trunks, hopped about the sand, past stoic little girls dressed as Ariel in ratty red wigs, clutching Mom’s hand. All shades and shapes of people, all showing too much skin, welcomed in the first official day of summer with salt and sun and the oom-pa-pa of the Hungry Marching Band winding into the distance.

This article was picked up (in a very small way) by the NY Daily News. Thanks, guys!


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.


In dc, dessert, ice cream, street food on August 2, 2009 at 8:59 pm
If you live in any large city, you’ll know that frozen yogurt is now chic. A slough of competing franchises have popped up in recent years, all offering antiseptic, funky plastic interiors, a sparse menu of yogurt choices, and a wide array of mix-and-match toppings.

Tangysweet, located in DC’s Dupont Circle, opened just over a year ago, and is now a well-known destination spot on a hot summer day. Two days ago, Tangysweet introduced cupcakes by Red Velvet Cupcakery to its menu. I thought I’d go check it out.

As with any upscale fro-yo establishment, the best Tangysweet yogurt flavor is the original, or “classic”; other flavors are too syrupy sweet. Tangysweet’s classic is, well, tangy and sweet, with a crisp flavor to savor. The frozen dessert is so stiff that it peaks in a towering tip of classic soft-serve swirl. The yogurt melts slowly and stubbornly in your mouth, letting you savor the taste. More than a dozen possible toppings include smashed Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Gummi Bears, and mini chocolate chips. Chopped fruit and berries pair well with the tart of the yogurt, while sweet granola adds crunch. No matter what your choice of toppings, this is one good treat.

Photo courtesy of soon 2B sonju.

The new cupcakes are luscious. They fit nicely in the palm of your hand, the perfect size to satisfy your mouth while not overloading your stomach or your insulin levels. The cake is sinfully moist, and pairs exquisitely with the icing, smoothed elegantly in a rounded dome and dotted with a few well-placed sprinkles. The red velvet cupcake with whipped cream cheese frosting is as good as any I’ve had, with the light crunch of a crusty exterior shell giving way to rich, creamy icing. The Red Velvet Cupcakery has outdone itself.

Photo courtesy of Delleicious DC.

The one caveat to this new partnership of two delicious treats, is that the two products do not play well together. The light freshness of the yogurt is overpowered by the dense, full-flavored cupcake. The yogurt is positively disappointing if you eat it after the cupcake, the icing too heavy and mouth-filling if you eat it after the yogurt. Stick to one choice per visit. You’ll just have to come back another time.

The Legendary Half-Smoke

In dc, recommended, restaurant, street food on July 2, 2009 at 8:50 am

My dear friend and fellow blogger Rochelle recently posed the question of where to find the best hot dog on her website, Sexy Girls Eat. I tackle the issue, one which has baffled mankind through the ages, here.

Made famous by a recent visit from our current President, Ben’s Chili Bowl is located on U Street in Washington, DC. The area is historically run-down and dangerous at night, but U Street is slowly being gentrified. Ben’s Chili Bowl is a landmark there, having remained open since its debut in 1958. The tiny shack is always packed with customers who wait in a mob rather than a line; the staff is personable and takes orders rapid-fire. This past weekend, the cooks sang and danced with great gusto to Michael Jackson songs blaring on the PA.

Ben’s Chili Bowl offers many options, but their most famous dish is the half-smoke, a plump, smoky sausage that’s half beef and half pork. Order it “with everything” (chili, onions and mustard.) The half smoke packs a punch, with the mustard adding a flavorful zing. Served in red plastic baskets with tongfuls of Ruffles potato chips, this hot dog is not to be missed. (Obama thinks so, too.)

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Hawkins Online.