Pupusas, Tacos, Souvlaki & Shaved Ice Shine at the 2011 Vendy Awards
Another New York City Vendy Awards has come and gone, and this year’s certainly didn’t disappoint. This yearly event provides the Street Vendor Project one of their largest sources of funding, year over year, and allows them to provide free legal advice and support for street vendors across the boroughs. They’re the reason why we can enjoy a dirty water hot dog or an upscale Mexican fusion truck, and they also throw a great party to boot.
This year’s event, held on Governers Island, featured an impressive line-up of street vendors, all of which were invited through a nomination process. In addition to the great line-up of food, there were fantastic live music performances as well as free drinks provided by Brooklyn Brewery, Volvic, Carpe Diem Kombucha, GuS Grown-up Soda, and Lapostolle wines.
But the Vendy’s aren’t just about good food, friends, music and booze – there’s a serious competition at hand. All attendees were allowed to vote for the best Rookie vendor, Best of New Jersey, best Dessert, and best use of Makers Mark bourbon in a dish. The vaunted Vendy cup was decided by an esteemed panel of judges, featuring notable food writers, city council people, and Chefs. And we were on-site to try the incredible spread of food from across New York and New Jersey.
Eddie’s Pizza Truck brought their A-game, serving their classic margherita bar pies. They also mixed things up a bit with a pesto driven pasta salad, sweet potato gnocchi, and a pulled BBQ pork bar pie for their Makers Mark challenge entry.
It seems like falafel was one of the themes of the day, and Taim Mobile didn’t disappoint with halfsies of their classic falafel sandwich as well as their ginger-mint lemonade. Crisp, fresh falafel, flavorful sauces and lovely fluffy pita – it was one of my favorite bites of food of the day.
The folks at Comme Ci Comme Ça win points for best dressed, as their lovely staff worked the crowd, jingled their wrist bangles, and served up tasty bowls of lamb merguez, chicken, or beef over cous cous and vegetables.
In addition to falafel, tacos were a dominant food group, and I enjoyed the pork tacos from Eat Here Now Now Eat Here. In addition to the pork tacos (which were wrapped in an ever-so-crisp single layer tortilla) they also had fish tacos and breakfast burritos on hand for the attendees.
Donny noted earlier this year that Sunrise Grill was worth standing in the rain for. Thankfully, the rain ultimately held off this year, but the jerk chicken and ox tails over rice and beans were winners, rain or shine.
Rookie Award Winner – Korilla BBQ
Since the Rookie award is voted in by the Vendy attendees, it’s no surprise that Korilla BBQ took home the gold in this category as these guys were clearly popular with the crowd. On the heels of their recent stint on Season 2 of the Great Food Truck Race, the line swelled with customers and the Korilla crew worked the crowd, played some pretty great house music (mixed by one of the cooks on staff who moonlights as a DJ) and posed for frequent photo ops with adoring fans. Even without the celebrity component, the food alone could have won the Rookie award for these guys – the galbi on our tacos was ridiculously tender, and the kimchi, tomatoes and sauces made the flavors pop.
Best of New Jersey Finalists
Two Pitas in a Pod served up an impressive sampler platter of crunchy falafel on top of hummus, juicy pulled pork, truffled french fries, and grilled chicken over cous cous.
New Jersey Award Winner – The Taco Truck
The Taco Truck beat out their New Jersey brethren with their sweet, plump elotes (Mexican grilled corn) and fantastic fried fish and pork tacos which they topped with fresh fruit and crunchy onions.
Miss Softee and the Rolling Cones were in fine form, handing out tastings of her signature creations, such as the fried ice cream, dusted with cinnamon.
La Bella Torte, a truck that specializes in “traditional Italian style baked goods with a twist”, handed out bites of their cannoli, olive oil cakes, and banana nutella cakes.
We were also huge fan of the paletas (Mexican ice pops) served with a smile by La Newyorkina. I was particularly wowed by the ever-so-sweet, faintly nutty and effervescent horchata paleta, as well as the white sangria paleta, studded with chunks of fruit. Brian H declared his love for the pineapple paletas which were spiked with a zing of jalapeno.
Desserts Award Winner – Woolys
My first taste of Woolys impossibly fluffy green tea snow ice with mango was one of those “holy sh*t where have you been all my life?” moments. Equally good was their original blend, featuring condensed milk, nibs of brownies, and fresh strawberries. It was so refreshing and tasty, that we ended up returning for seconds, and for thirds throughout the day. It’s a bummer these guys are all the way Downtown!
Vendy Cup Finalists
Longtime ML favorite, the Eggs Travaganza Cart was on hand, serving hot Mexican wraps and chorizo tortas.
Last year’s winners of the Rookie Award, Souvlaki GR, didn’t disappoint again this year. Their tasty pork and chicken souvlakis, as well as their veggie pitas, bags of Greek fries and horiatiki salad earned them the People’s Choice Award. I suspect the eye candy working the window of the truck probably earned them a few extra votes from the men in attendance.
Tamales Guadalupe may not have won the Vendy Cup, but they won our hearts! Guadalupe Galicia has been serving tamales for 14 years now, and the experience shows in her cooking. These were probably some of the best tamales we’ve ever tasted. This green tamal with super juicy pork nestled into an incredibly tender, sweet and fragrant bed of masa was served steaming hot and fresh.
Sam’s Falafel, a favorite of our Downtown site, slung huge platters of their super crispy and fresh falafel over crunchy cabbage with sides of tahini, hummus and spicy harissa. If I hadn’t been in such a falafel coma from Taim and Two Pitas in a Pod, we would have finished these in a heartbeat.
The Vendy Cup Winner – Solber Pupusas
Not only did Solber Pupusas and Korilla take home the gold for their respective categories, but they also competed for the longest lines of the day. However in Solber’s case, the line was a result of their dedication to cooking everything to order – and it showed in their hot and fresh Salvadoran corn patties.
With food this good and this fresh, it was really their competition to lose. (It also avenged their Vendy Award loss to Calexico back in 2008!) I loved the pork pupusa which was draped in a light layer of cheese and sandwiched between fresh corn masa. It was served with a crunchy salad of pickled onions, cabbage, and jalapenos which worked nicely to add texture and a good spike of acid through the dish. We would happily trek out to the Red Hook Ballfields for another taste of these pupusas, and perhaps to pay a visit to the 2009 Vendy Cup winners, the Country Boys/Martinez Taco Truck.
We would also be remiss not to mention Patty’s Taco Truck, the winner of this year’s award for Vendor Heroism. As the face of the growing food truck crackdown, Patty’s was the victim of a backlash against food trucks in the Upper East Side, a sentiment that unfortunately has spread throughout Midtown. However, it’s a wonder why these guys weren’t nominated for the Vendy Cup itself – their tasty and authentic tacos (which came in pork, beef tongue, and cactus flavors) could have easily put them in the running for the big prize.
Although the day was filled with smiles and full bellies, there was a point of sadness when we learned that the Trini Paki Boys cart hadn’t made it to the event. Fatima Khan, the awesome force behind the popular Midtown cart spent Friday night in the hospital with some health issues. We wish Fatima and her family a speedy recovery and a safe return.
And on that note, even though we focus on the food on this website, we should always remember and commend the real people that cook our food on the streets of New York every day, rain or shine. It’s a tough job that taxes one’s health and pays little. We should be thankful that an organization such as the Street Vendor Project is there to look out for these men and women, and any street food loving New Yorker should support such an organization. And there’s not an easier or more delicious way to support them, then by simply attending next year’s Vendy Awards.