This Saturday the Street Vendor Project held the eighth annual Vendy Awards at Governor’s Island, featuring two dozen vendors from New York City nominated in several different categories by their biggest fans. Fortunately it was a beautiful day out, and about 1,500 people gathered at the event to feast and vote for their favorites.
Every year that I go to the Vendy’s I make a silent pact with myself to try something from every vendor. This pledge is much easier said than done, and I think I sampled about eight vendors before I sprawled on the grass in the middle of a debilitating food coma. But I’m pleased to say I tried food from several of the big winners, including Piaztlan Authentic Mexican Food, a food truck from Brooklyn that took the top honors this year, winning the coveted Vendy Cup.
I started at Baby Got Back Ribs, a vendor nominated for the new Best in Market category and serving out of the Smorgasburg flea market in Brooklyn. These guys made two kinds of excellent ribs, a sweet and tangy flavor and a 21-seasoned dry rub variety. They served the ribs alongside a refreshing cole slaw and a hunk of corn bread. The meat was so tender that it just fell off the bone, and these ribs were an excellent way to kick off the day. They even served their own iced coffee with the meal, and kept us entertained with some light trivia.
I stopped by another Best in Market contender called Mayhem & Stout that operates out of DeKalb Market in Brooklyn. Mayhem & Stout specializes in pork sandwiches, and I tried their braised short rib and brisket, which was probably one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. The short rib was ridiculously tender, and was paired with Blueberry Sriracha and Pickled Vidalia Onions, combining to provide an out of this world flavor.
I passed by some of my favorite food trucks, but I was on a quest to eat from the ones I had never seen before. Okadaman’s Japanese pancakes are some of my favorites, and Uncle Gussy’s and Phil’s Steaks are regulars in Midtown, Manhattan that usually end up in my weekly lunch schedule. At last I found the sought after Lumpia Shack, serving Filipino inspired spring rolls. I tried their Peking duck roll and a mushroom and truffle roll. There’s a reason Lumpia won the best in Market category, these rolls were packed with flavor. The duck roll was rich, savory and fried to a perfect crisp and complemented by a tangy sauce on top. When it comes to truffles I don’t think there’s a way to wrong, and this roll was by far the best vegetarian dish I ate all day.
Rounding out the Best in Market vendors, I was drawn to Pestle & Mortar by their elaborate lobster shell display around their ceviche. For anyone who has never had ceviche, it’s a popular seafood dish from South America made from raw seafood marinated in citrus juice and spiced with a variety of seasonings. Pestle & Mortar’s ceviche was made from shrimp and lobster, marinated in citrus and served with fresh chunks of mango in a small cup with a crisp dipping chip. The ceviche was so good I actually came back for several more helpings; one man in front of me even took a pint home at the end. The ceviche was fresh and perfect for the weather. All of the Best in Market nominees I ate from were outstanding, and the Vendy Awards made a great decision in opening this category.
Among the other vendors I had a chance to eat from was Xin Jiang Prosperity Kebabs, a food cart from Chinatown nominated for the Vendy Cup. The lamb kebab was another winner, succulent and perfectly seasoned; a perfect match with Brooklyn Brewery’s India Pale Ale. People’s Choice winners Cinnamon Snail served huge portions of vegan sliders and a mushroom dish, as well as their signature donuts and a vegan Twinkie. Fun Buns served a delicious Asian pork bun that made me wonder why I hadn’t eaten at this cart yet. Finally I had my last full meal from Piaztlan Authentic Mexican Food, three tacos and a selection of four different salsas. The salsas are really what made Piaztlan stand out, the red tomatillo salsa had a perfect kick to it, and the green tomatillo avocado salsa was rich and savory. As someone else at the Vendy’s commented, each salsa made Piaztlan’s tacos taste different, so customers could make the perfect taco to suit their tastes.
Too full to try most of the desserts, I sampled Coolhaus Ice Cream Sandwich’s new Bushmills flavored ice cream they created. The candied bacon variety was really addicting; I didn’t think it tasted like bacon or whiskey, which was fine with me. The edible wrappers they provide always give an added incentive to eat their ice cream. Monsieur Singh Lassi was the only other dessert I managed to try; they created Indian style Lassi ice pops. Their mango ice pop was creamy and delicious; even though it was so cold it stuck to my tongue when I got it.
Although I couldn’t possibly eat from every vendor I wanted to, a big shout out goes to the winners of the awards, and a thank you as well for providing such amazing food and standing up for every vendor’s rights as well. I will definitely be back next year, with a whole new set of eating goals.
Winner, Vendy Cup: Piaztlan Authentic Mexican Food
Winner, People Choice: Cinnamon Snail
Winner, Most Heroic Vendor: Sammy Kassem
Winner, Best Rookie Vendor: Phil’s Steaks
Winner, Best Dessert: Melt Bakery
Winner, Best in Market: Lumpia Shack