Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Red Hook

the famed Red Hook Ballfields food vendors were back up and running (finally), after a lengthy battle with the city, and Priya and Ahmad and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to spend a day in Red Hook.

we took the G to Smith & 9th and walked to the ballfields around 3pm, stopping along the way to marvel at the ass-kickingly enormous public pool (which, mysteriously for 3pm on a hot Sunday in August, was closed and empty). arriving, we found a very different scene than last year's. Instead of tents set up under shady trees with big rusty metal grills, oil drums erupting flame, etc....there were food trucks parked on the street surrounding the ballfields, bumper to bumper, all loudly rumbling and emitting exhaust. and the lines! last year, we skipped the pupusas because the line was "long" (about 15 minutes long) and instead travelled around to all the other vendors, dropping in here and there and buying stuff with no lines...but this year (due to the reduction in volume capability from the required trucks, no doubt) the lines stretched around the block for most every truck. at one point some dudes came by with huge jugs of gasoline and refueled the trucks, causing a lovely chemical odor to suffuse the food area.

first we waited in one of the shorter ones, for elotes and drinks. I think it took about 15 minutes, during which I split off from Priya to wait in one of the huge pupusa lines (there seemed to be 2 Salvadorean trucks right next to each other, so I chose one based on a shorter line, which turned out to be not the same people from last year). Priya joined me once we had elotes (mine with butter, hers with mayonnaise) and agua frescas (watermelon and hibiscus) and we snacked while the pupusa line slowly crept forward.

I had skipped the elotes previously because I didn't know if they would prepare them without yucky mayonnaise, but Priya had eaten two last year and loved them. I was excited to get one this year--an ear of roasted corn on a stick, dipped in butter, then rolled in cotija cheese and chili powder (and possibly lime juice?). last year they'd fire-roasted the corn over a flaming oil drum, but this year it seemed to be done on a grill. it was pretty good--like a butter, spicy ear of roasted corn, sure. the cotija cheese was nice, but a bit of a distraction--I thought the chili powder/corn/butter flavor was more interesting. I also thought it could've used a little more salt. Priya also thought last years' were better, probably because of the open flame roasting.

The watermelon agua fresca was good, nothing special, clearly made out of watermelon pulp, cool and refreshing...the hibiscus was something I'd never had before, and I really enjoyed it. it was a beautiful purply-red color and had a taste almost like a more complex, less sickly-sweet version of good fruit punch (like the Minute Maid kind, not the bright red bug juice). it was also full of pulp, which turned Priya off a little, but I didn't mind. Ahmad arrived to meet us in line, tried my hibiscus, and went off and bought one of his own with an elote to snack on while we waited. Priya also went off and bought a plastic container of mango chunks with chili powder to continue our snacks. again, excellent--perfectly ripe/sweet, genuinely spicy from the chili powder. we continued to wait.

we were served almost exactly one hour after I first got in line (!!!). the whole time, I was drawing closer, watching the woman in the car hand-make pupusas in full view of the crowd, getting hungrier and hungrier (the edge dulled by Priya's periodic appearances with snacks). finally we got to order. for $5 you get a pupusa platter with 2 pupusas and some pink cabbage slaw. I got pork/cheese/beans (revuelta) and loroco flower & cheese (asking for pink pickled onions on top as well), plus a chicken tamale on the side (an hourlong line had removed my desire to wait in multiple lines for multiple food items), and an horchata to drink. Priya got cheese & bean and cheese, while Ahmad got cheese & bean and chicken. we also got a side of maduros. then we retired to the grass to sit and eat.

the pupusas were great--not very spiced, not very salty, but really simple and good ingredients. we agreed that the meat ones (pork and chicken) were the best, as they had the most flavorful sauces inside; Priya thought that the plainer ones were a little bland, but I kind of appreciated the simplicity--the cheese & bean ones were my next favorite. I'd never had loroco flower before and it was a very interesting dark green flavor, not at all what I would have thought from the name.

the chicken tamale was good--I got a few tendons/bones in it, so the chicken was definitely ripped apart whole, not some overly processed meat. they removed the leaf before serving us, which I thought was weird, but maybe that's how it's done nowadays. the horchata was also pretty tasty, but I think last year's surpassed it--the almondy cinnamony flavor seemed a little shallow, maybe waterier this year? finally, the maduros were excellent, pulpy like I like them, crispy on the outside like Priya does (except for one withered brown throwaway).

oh, also, during lunch I spilled cabbage slaw over myself. whoops.

afterward, we debated waiting in line for a huaracha (last year I had a giant pork one and it was GREAT, better than the pupusas, I think) but with a line as long as a pupusa truck's and with our stomachs pretty packed full, we decided against it.

instead, we took a long walk through Red Hook to see the neighbourhood. one of our stops was for dessert at Steve's Authentic, a tiny little Florida-themed shop around the back of a warehouse, off a parking lot. Steve makes and sells key lime pies, and apparently that's all he sells. the menu has bottles of water, mini key lime pies, regular size ones, key limeonade, and a "swingle," which is a frozen mini pie on a stick dipped in chocolate. Ahmad, a noted key lime pie fan, got the regular mini pie, as did Priya, while I (contrary to the last) got a swingle.

great stuff. I didn't think I could eat a whole dessert, but I got almost all of the swingle down. the very dark chocolate coating really cut the tartness of the key lime pie inside, and made the graham crust less dry. however, the frozen element was the best part--frozen key lime pie is better than simply chilled key lime pie, I think (and the cold probably also cut the tartness a bit). but Priya and Ahmad had only good things to say about the regular pies as well. we finished the pies up in a cute little tropical garden outside the shop, went back in for water (Ahmad got key limeonade, which was extremely tart, not sweet at all--not to his liking), and continued to wander Red Hook.

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