8th Annual Vendys, NYC: And the Winners are…
The Eighth Annual Vendys brought a star-studded roster of the most delicious sidewalk eats of 2012 to Governors Island. The line-up of uber talented chefs fired up their grills and chilled down their slushie-machines to prepare for the massive cook-off royale for the 1,500+ hungry event-goers. Five awards were in contention this year: the Vendy Cup, the People’s Taste Award, the Dessert Category Winner, Rookie Vendor of the Year, and for the very first time, The Market Vendor Award - created to celebrate the best food vendors of street fairs and outdoor markets. A total of 23 finalists (Torsu was absent) battled it out serving plate after plate of yum, hoping for vote after vote in return – until the very last minute, when polls began closing @ 4PM. The band stopped playing, people grabbed their seats, and vendors stepped out of their stations (and comfort zones), awaiting, impatiently for the results. Moments later, Eat St.’s James Cunningham hopped on stage and began gracing our palettes with a delicious round of comic relief. As the first envelope appeared, the six finalists for Dessert Category Winner were called up to stage.
Winning the Dessert Category was Melt Bakery, a LES ice cream sandwich store started by Julian Plyter and Kareem Hamady in 2010. From classic combos like Chocolate Chip Walnut cookies with Vanilla, to more colorful flavors like the Lovelet (Cream Cheese ice cream sandwiched between Red Velvet meltcakes), it’s easy to see why Melt Bakery brought home the win. (Honorable mentions were Andy’s Italian Ices, Coolhaus, Imperial Woodpecker Sno-balls, La Bella Torte, and Monsieur Singh Lassi.) Next up was Rookie Vendor of the Year, with six of the toughest, most talented new kids on the block. Reining in the best Rookie was the truck we simply know as the “jawn”, Phil’s Steaks. Owners Jim, J.J., Kevin and Mia brought the business from mere idea to fruition in less than a year – and with a customer following as immense as their cheese steaks are delicious, there’s no where to go for these guys but up. (Honorable mentions were Chinese Mirch, Fun Buns, Morocho, Okadaman, and Torsu.)
Lumpia Shack nudged the win for this year’s newest addition, The Market Vendor Award. Chef and owner Neil Syham brings the lumpia, aka Filipino-inspired fried spring rolls to Smorgasburg every Saturday. Their best seller? The Original – meat hook ground pork, kale, sweet potato leaves, carrots, shallots, spring onions, & rocambole garlic, served with homemade sweet chili sauce. I sampled three, and immediately went back for more. The flavors were bold, and the ingredients incredibly fresh, with the sweet chilli sauce cutting through the robust garlic and pork – leaving a clean, lingering savoriness that I can only describe as umami. Having my 3 S’s of good grub – Sweet, Savory, & Spicy – it was definitely one of my favorites of the day. (Honorable mentions were Mayhem & Stout, Baby Got Back Ribs, Parantha Alley, and Pestle & Mortar.)
The People’s Taste Award went to the only vegan food truck in NYC, Cinnamon Snail. Chef Adam Sobel went with a sampling of the uber complex, and super flavorful Gochujang burger deluxe – seitan patty with Korean chili paste, sautéed kimchi, pickled daikon and leeks, black sesame gomasio, sriracha mayo and arugula on grilled focaccia. Paired with a trio of dessert – pancake, doughtnut, and the OMG-delicious-on-a-whole-other-level White Chocolate filled Macadamia Twinkie. Although in truth, calling it a Twinkie was more of a disservice, since in no known planet can a Twinkie ever aspire to taste as great.
The 2012 Most Heroic Award went to Sammy Kassem, a 21-year-old halal food vendor in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. In the face of anti-vendor harassment from local brick and mortars, Sammy stood his ground and returned day in and out to continuing working, not only for his family, but more importantly, for his many loyal customers. As the ceremony wound down, the star of the show, the highly coveted Vendy Cup was up for grabs from six of the top dogs, the most creamiest de la crème food trucks you’ll find this year – Cinnamon Snail, Piaztlan Authentic Mexican Food, Hamza and Madina Halal Food, Uncle Gussy’s, Xin Jiang Prosperity Kebabs, and last but most certainly not least, one of my favorite food trucks in Queens, Tortas Nezas.
The venerable OG of the bunch, having been in business in the Red Hook Ballfields for 23 years, Chef/Owner Eleazar Perez of Piaztlan Authentic Mexican Food reined in the Vendy Cup this year, winning the title of Vendy Award winner for 2012. The epitome of the street food scene, Eleazar tells us that street vending runs in the family, and is something she’d grown into at a very young age, following in her mother’s steps. Piaztlan specializes in authentic Mexican tacos with Goat, Al Pastor and Carne Asada, selling over 1,000 per day. Eleazar’s love and passion for cooking shows through her use of fresh ingredients, slow-marinated and braised meats, extra-bold spices, and old school technique – producing a delicious melding of textures and flavors. Her son Fabian tells us how grateful he is to see the fruits of his labor, and hopes the win will help the family business expand.