The 2012 Vendy Awards Celebrate Midtown Favorites Phil’s Steaks, Cinnamon Snail, and More

With the crispness of impending autumn and the spices of street meat hanging in the air, thousands upon thousands gathered — along with 24 very special food trucks, carts and vendors — to spend their Saturday on Governor’s Island stuffing their faces celebrating the crown affair of the season: The 2012 Vendy Awards. After yet another tumultuous and passionate year on the food streets, the folks at the Street Vendor Project take a day to gather and celebrate the cream of the crop. It is always a delicious affair, and one that ends with awards for the top dogs. To hell with the poetic lead-up, we’re talking about the Vendys. Let’s let the vendors and the food speak for themselves.

On the way over to the Vendys, all of a sudden, the front end of the the Governor’s Island ferry erupted into a wuxia movie soundtrack. It seems the Chinese Mirch Truck brought a traditional Chinese drum band for the special day. It was hard to get a picture with all the Chow Yun-fat wannabes slowmo sideways-diving across the ferry. They also performed two traditional lion dances during the afternoon. The performance art, coupled with staff handing out printed flyers and pens urging Vendy attendees to vote for them, made them the biggest single promoter there! But to reiterate, isn’t the point to let the food do the campaigning?

These stalwart volunteers only look chilly, because they’re a few yards from the water on a brisk, cool morning greeting Vendy ticket holders and helping them find their way. Over 200 volunteers were on the scene doing everything but the cooking, serving and lion dances!

The green looked like the academic quad photo in every college brochure, only eating > learning.

Did we mention that admission for the Vendy Awards included an open bar? Brooklyn Brewery and many other fine beverage sponsors — both alcoholic and non — brought drinks galore.

When I said “drinks galore,” I meant it.

This is unsolicited editorial comment that may not represent all of Midtown Lunch, but Xin Jiang Prosperity Kebabs’ offerings were the best item at the Vendys. Period. (Editor’s note: They were really, really good.) There is nothing as street as meat on a stick, and these guys brought their A game with several different varieties.

All of it was perfect, even the chicken kebabs (and it’s not easy to get me to say that white meat chicken is done perfectly). Seriously, this is a run-do-not-walk recommendation, here. Unfortunately for Midtown Lunchers, their regular location is the corner of Forsyth Street & Division Street, but if you find yourself downtown, their kebabs are worth a detour.

Billed as the 2012 Most Heroic Vendor, Middle Eastern Halal Food served up good halal cart fare. I was more impressed with their stubborn desire to make their living in their own way, against the oppression of the establishment, than I was with the food.

A ML big hitter of recent days, Okadaman, served up food to long lines all afternoon. They’ve done some wonderful things to their karaage and are worth your time and lunch attention. The yakisoba was also something totally wonderful. Even if you’ve had it at a Mitsuwa event or at Otafuku downtown, don’t pass up Okadaman’s version, if you feel noodly.

Perennial ML fave and inadvertent Vendys nominee leak Uncle Gussy’s spared nothing when it came time to their sampler plates. I’m about 95% certain that they had all of their normal items in one container.

The Vendys: where a young couple’s love of food trucks turn to actual romance. Look at these happy people!

All right, you’ve drooled over the photos. Now you wanna know the actual news of the day, right? Who won what, and which crew took the Vendy Cup home?

Most Heroic Vendor

Middle Eastern Halal, having dealt with brick & mortar resistance, including physically bolting obstacles into their spot, managed to shake off the burdens of the opposition and stay in business. Slinging halal fare sure as hell did ‘em well, as they took home a pretty darn distinguished honor this year. May next year’s hero vendors have far better environments in which to operate.

Rookie Vendor of the Year Finalists
The 2012 Rookie of the Year nominees have been on the streets for one year or less and include a pretty nifty array of cuisines and styles. The nominees were Okadaman, Torsu (I didn’t see them on the field, which is regrettable, because how often do you get a shot at Cambodian food trucks?), Phil’s Steaks, and Chinese Mirch.

The 2012 Rookies of the Year are Phil’s Steaks, whose victory cry of “Philadelphia needed to be in NYC!” kinda raised eyebrows. Nevertheless, they were definitely serving up some darn good cheesesteaks.

The Market Vendor Award Finalists
If you don’t want to be mobile, given the Five-O’s continuing zealous enforcement of parking regulations, there’s always the greenmarkets and other wonderful local occasions, like Smorgasburg, the Hester Street Fair, and the New Amsterdam Market. For this, the Vendys created the first ever Market Vendor Award. We have at market today Pestle & Mortar, Parantha Alley, Lumpia Shack, Mayhem & Stout, and Baby Got Back Ribs.

Lumpia Shack graciously accepted the Market Vendor Award! If the three kinds of lumpias (Philipino-inspired spring rolls) they offered at the Vendys are any reflection of their normal quality and variety, then it’s well-awarded. Usually they’re at Smorgasburg on Saturdays, but maybe one day we’ll see ‘em at the Union Square greenmarket?

Desserts Finalists
Too many options is never a bad thing, in terms of sweets. This year’s dessert nominees were Melt Bakery, Imperial Woodpecker Sno-balls, Monsieur Singh Lassi, La Bella Torte Dessert Truck, Coolhaus, and Andy’s Italian Ices.

Melt struck cold, out-sammie-ing the competition with their ice cream sandwiches.

People’s Taste Finalists
There are a good mix out there. “You guys gave us the largest portion,” said the judges’ notes about Uncle Gussy’s Greek fare, as the truck crew ascended the stage during the nominees announcement. Hamza and Medina Halal followed, and their falafel was described as “out of this world.” Tortas Nezas came up next, and I don’t mind breaking the journalistic isolation part to say I was rooting for them. The judges seemed to agree, describing them as “without a doubt, the king of Mexican sandwiches.” Still on the Mexican train was Piaztlan Authentic Mexican Food, whose four unique sauces “made each taco taste completely different, and even more delicious.” High praise! Next up, your humble reporter’s personal favorite: Xian Jiang Prosperity Kebabs. The judges’ evaluation of their food as “unique and different, like no other kabob we’ve ever tasted” was sublime praise for these humble Chinatown standard-bearers. Last but not least: the long-line, crowd-pleaser of the day, Cinnamon Snail, who offered up a full-course savory/sweet experience.

The choice was a tough one, but in the end Cinnamon Snail took home the People’s Taste Award. Their victory cry of “Oh my googity goo goo goo!” was a resounding rallying call for their delicious vegan fare. It was one hell of a tame victory cry for a bunch of seitan worshippers, and the people made a good call.

And now, on to the Vendy Cup, itself. Nominees in the People’s Taste Award category are also eligible for the coveted victory prize. During this year of tumultuous crackdowns, with new trucks coming and old trucks going, which truck or cart stands above all, as judged by members of government, industry, and the representatives of the people?

Piaztlan Authentic Mexican Food stepped forth from the Red Hook ball fields to claim their share of the American Dream. Accepting the prize with tears of joy and gratitude, Eleazar Perez and her family who run the truck were beside themselves at having been named the best of the best.

Congratulations to all those who were nominated and came out! Having sampled more or less everything from every truck, I can definitely say I don’t envy or begrudge the judges at having to make some tough calls. Sure, this is food and it may not move the earth, but for one Saturday on Governor’s Island we lucky few got to sample some of the best food out there. The Vendy Awards are a great way to make sure that we get a chance to recognize the best of ‘em. Now we get to go out, hit the pavement, and seek them out on our own.

It can only get better in 2013, so think about joining us next year! Take your tax deduction, board the ferry, swig a few beers or sodas, and go grab a plate!


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