It’s not spring until Smorgasburg comes out of hibernation, which happens this weekend at Williamsburg’s East River State Park on Saturday, April 1, and Prospect Park on Sunday.
This year, the market received about 300 applicants, with just 24 being accepted after passing a taste test for co-founders Eric Demby and Jonathan Butler. “We had what we think was our most competitive and highest quality round of applicants,” says Demby.
The market has matured since its founding, he noted, with several of its alumni going on to open brick-and-mortar shops like Jalapa Jar’s taco stand inside the Clark Street subway station, last year’s Italian sandwich hit Tramezziniopening a shop in May, and Instagram star Wowfulls set to sell its Hong Kong-style waffle cones and ice cream on the Lower East Side beginning this week. So if you want to eat the next big trend, this is still the place.
To compete in this new, more mature Smorgasburg, vendors had to cook for Demby and Butler, each bringing not just quality dishes but also a story. Chakriya Un’s Kreung, for example, is a one-woman mission to introduce more New Yorkers to Cambodian street food, with the proceeds going to fund a tractor for her hometown’s rice farm.
Smorgasburg is also striving to be “a zero-waste event,” with no bottles or cans sold. Guests will be able to refill (hopefully reusable) bottles at filtered water stations on site. The market has also banned high-fructose corn syrup drinks, encouraging vendors to make their own healthier refreshments.
Ready to start the season? We got to try 16 of the new vendors at a preview event, and picked our favorites.
We haven’t tasted a burger that comes close to the addictive simplicity of Shake Shack until now. Mark Andrew Gravel’s burger has been noticed by Mission Cantina and the Charleston Wine & Food Festival. A Fleischer’s beef patty gets a nice sear on a griddle, then a squirt of “onion pickle water” before the flip. “The steam pushes the flavor back up through the meat and bun,” he explains. Topped with a slice of white American cheese and mustard-based special sauce on a Martin’s potato roll, it’s just $10 with a side of Old Bay fries.Saturday only, burgersupreme.com
Hoi Nguyen spent 15 years in his family’s Boston catering business before bringing his Vietnamese rice paper-wrapped spring rolls to Brooklyn. They’re filled with your choice of meat surrounded by rice vermicelli noodles, pickled carrots, daikon, mint, basil and a fried wonton stick for texture. But it’s the sauces you’ll go crazy for, especially the red pepper ginger “sexy sauce.” Saturdays only, rollplaynyc.com
Everything is better when wrapped inside a dumpling, right? That’s the premise of this new global dumpling stall. “We just wanted to showcase our favorite foods going up in Queens,” say owner-chefs Tristan and Andrew, with results like crispy triangles of Peking duck drizzled with hoisin sauce and bite-size satchels of jerk chicken and pineapple salsa. Both days, destinationdumplings.com
Filippino desserts are colorful and delicious, but often full of sugar and other sweet additives. Turns out they’re not at all necessary, as Ube Kitchen’s light and creamy halo halo proves (and the Instagram-friendly dragon fruit bowl doesn’t hurt, either). Or grab some of the delicate chia pudding in a waffle bowl, all sweetened only with chunks of fruit and housemade ice creams. Both days, facebook.com/ubekitchen
Longtime friends Bill McGovern Matt Klein, who’s worked in the Mission Chinese kitchen, are already serving pretty standard pub food at The Johnsons bar in Bushwick. For their Smorgasburg debut, “we decided to serve more out-there food,” landing on a Sichuan-influenced burger with brisket braised in mapo tofu spices, with a cilantro-scallion mix, a tofu puff and housemade sesame bun. The flavor starts out complex but mild, building as you eat. “We use Sichuan peppercorn oil,” McGovern explains. “It changes your palate and it gives it a lemony freshness so you can taste everything, so because of that the brisket stays lighter.” Saturdays, strangeflavorbk.com
The next Instagram star of the market is surely this all-natural juice stand that uses the husks of oranges, grapefruits, watermelon, pineapples and dragonfruit as the vessel for their fresh juices. The fruit is cored and blended to order, then mixed with flavorings like ginger syrup for a gorgeous and all-natural refresher on hot days. Both days, facebook.com/pg/JohnsJuiceNyc