This past Saturday, as part of a weekend of birthday festivities, Sean and I went to check out a cool event called Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In addition to being a play off of one of my favorite words of all-time, “smorgasbord,” Smorgasburg is made of yummy-ness and fun. The New York Times called it “the Woodstock of eating.” Needless to say, I was pretty pumped.
Smorgasburg takes place every Saturday afternoon, in rain or shine, in the summer months through mid-November along the East River, nestled up next to East River State Park. Basically, this is a collection of food tents–most of which typically operate as either food trucks or brick-and-mortar dining establishments. And you can walk around and eat all kinds of food! Most of it is street fare, from gourmet takes on American classics like the grilled cheese sandwich or pigs-in-a-blanket to the more refined, like artisanal soy milk and vegan kale chips.
I think it’s something that visitors to NYC would love because you get to sample all kinds of great food you can’t find in any ol’ town (or fancy-schmancy adult versions of the foods you grew up with), and you get to enjoy a lovely view of the Manhattan skyline across the river.
Here’s a few quick tips for any locals or out-of-towners heading to Smorgasburg for the first time:
- Bring cash! And an ample amount of it, too. Because it’s all the vendors will take. And you WILL eat more than you know you should.
- Bring a friend (or two! or three!)! This way you can try many different things. Order the smallest size of everything, and split it. This is definitely the sort of place where you’ll want to taste all the things and will be very sad if you fill up on just one — albeit very yummy — item.
- Bring a blanket to sit on. We didn’t do this, but I wish we did. There’s a grassy area next to the lot of tents, where people quickly took up all of the benches to enjoy their Smorgasburg purchases. A wise person would think ahead and bring a towel or picnic blanket. Go ahead and make it the most gourmet/artisanal/hipster picnic of your life. (Unless you’re one of those people I’ve seen in Central Park before, consuming “picnic lunches” consisting entirely of Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods purchases. P.S. If you’re one of those people, can we be friends? And can you invite me to one of your picnics, pretty please?)
- When you first arrive, stake out the “lay of the land” (“lay of the land” is one of Sean’s favorite phrases). Walk up and down all the rows so you’re not tempted to just spring for the first booth you see. And trust me, you will. Go where your nose, taste buds, and stomach lead you.
- Throw ideas about meal conventions out the window. When we arrived, we got a toasted coconut donut from the Dough stand, even though it was nearly noon. Then after eating our way through the lunch foods of the world, we finished off with gourmet s’mores from S’more Bakery. On second thought, throw your ideas about “nutrition” and “balanced meals” out the window, too. At least for this one special, magical time. It is a fair of sorts, OK?
Don’t be afraid to try things you think you wouldn’t like. I tried a free sample of those kale chips. They were OK. I also tried fried chicken with a cheddar waffle in maple-vinegar sauce and LOVED it. I never understood the “chicken & waffles” establishments in the South, but now I totally do. It’s two comfort foods together. Fortunately, we did not get a Southern-style portion of this fried goodness.
- Give into the pretentiousness. Be a foodie for a day! Yes, we paid as much for one panini-pressed grilled cheese as it would probably cost to buy a whole loaf of sandwich bread and pack of Kraft Singles (in any state other than NY, at least), but you know what? It was about 10x yummier than Wonderbread and a Kraft Single. And I also plan on repeating the experience zero more times. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not a habit.
- Take the East River Ferry back to Manhattan! For $4 a person, you get to go on a decently long boat ride while looking at the skyscrapers of Manhattan on one side and the hodgepodge of Brooklyn on the other. Plus, the subway ride under the river always makes my ears pop.
- Before you leave, absolutely get a donut from Dough. Best. Donuts. Ever. I heard the blood orange is a favorite, but Sean has something against citrus-y desserts. So YOU should totally get the blood orange donut, and tell me how it is!
It was a very enjoyable afternoon, sans a somewhat sticky situation involving my s’more (see what I did there? “Sticky situation?” I crack myself up). Smorgasburg is definitely a once-a-year or so venture because the cost of all that artisanal, gourmet food can make it add up a lot quicker than other casual lunches.
But it is a great idea for those of us who love to eat yet are indecisive about what we want to eat! You’re presented with so many appetizing options, you can’t help but want to try them all. Which brings me to my last and final Smorgasburg tip:
10. Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach! I’m still working on that one.