Mad Square Eats – Bring Your Stretchy Pants

After many years of letting this semi-annual event pass me by, I finally dragged myself to Madison Square Eats

And then I had to roll myself home.

This foodie haven consists of various restaurants, carts, and food purveyors who gather near Madison Square Park for a month each season to stuff you with all the goodies your blood pressure can handle. We went on a Tuesday night and it was relatively crowded, so leave the Saturday nights to chumps and go there early in the morning if you must make this trip a weekend one. However, that night, the crowds were manageable. We even managed to score a small table (by watching its dawdling inhabitants like hawks).

And the food. Was. Great!

Roberta’s

IMG_20131001_200837_109 First and foremost, we visited this station because, really…how could we not? Roberta’s is known for its pizza, and it really delivers. Thin, supple crust with an earthy, deep char that makes even a  vegetarian pie taste meaty and satisfying.  IMG_20131001_200827_219 I must be the only person on the planet who does not love the Bee sting – the sauce is sensational – really spicy – but the honey is just too prevalent for my tastes. I’m not a fan. The special Supe Lace pizza, above, however, is dynamite. I can’t get over the crust – its’ just masterful. The sauce is bright and so vibrant that it’s practically alive, (in a good way, not a creepy way) and the cheese is both plentiful and tasty, but really…it’s the crust that takes the cake. It’s so delicious that I am literally dreaming of it. No matter how long this line is stand on it.

And get two pies at least.

I mean, we’re not fooling around here.

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Delaney BBQ taco stand.

So delicious that I ACTUALLY almost cried. That freakin awesome.

IMG_20131001_194820_056 Their brisket is just so good. Tender, juicy, and really well seasoned – salt and pepper in every bite. It has a satisfying steak-like chew and it’s expertly  hand chopped. But the best part here are the accouterments. The soft, pliant tortilla, the acidic onions, the sharp cheese melting int he warmth and that chile sauce.

Be still, my heart.

That. Chile. SAUCE. Seriously wonderful. It isn’t hot at all, just heartily spiced with roasted chiles, cumin, and garlic. It reminds me of Taco Bell in the best way possible (is there a bad way to remind one of Tco Bell?)

I wolfed it down.

Trust me, you will, too.

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Vinh Dog at AsiaDog

IMG_20131001_194154_190 This banh mi style dog is da BOMB mi.

Yes, I went there. It’s my blog, so I can do stuff like that.

Anyway, AsiaDog is really great! The hot dogs are juicy and not too salty, with an audible “snap” as you bite into them. The buns are well buttered ant toasted, adding to the taste and texture of the dish instead of just being a supporting player. At first, the cold, crisp vegetables are a little odd, temperature wise, next to the dog, but by the third bite, you will be hooked. They could have a heavier hadn with the pate but a little squirt of sriracha and mustard helps bring the umami flavor home. I would totally go back to Asia Dog and highly recommend it!They were also extremely fast in delivering your food.

I didn’t’ even get to half  of the eats that I tasted or half of the food that was offered! Brig some cash and bring some stretchy pants – and don’t wait as long as I did to get to Mad Square Eats!



 

Hot Dog, Hot Dog, Hot Diggity Dog

I love weiners.

That’s SO what she said.

Therefore, when I had a chance to go to Hot Diggity, I knew I had to take it.

more pix 092 I mostly knew this place from its cool artwork on Serious Eats. It’s known for its all natural hot dogs with outlandish toppings that include everything from Cincinnati chili to guava mustard to a deep fried fishcake.

more pix 093 It also includes specials that incovle local produce, cheeses, and other products. This shop is all about supporting the community in delicious ways.

more pix 094 Just order at the front then sit at one of the long tables and wait for your dog.

more pix 096 There are even handy little holes in the counter if you get fries served in a paper cone.

more pix 097 Saigon Fusion with cucumbers, cilantro, and shredded vegetables in a sweet chili vinaigrette

This is good. But that’s it. It’s not as good as it could be. The dog is juicy and pleasantly savory, but it lacks the crispy char of a really well grilled dog. The pickles aren’t quite sour enough and the bun is a little cottony for my tastes. The vinaigrette is excellent – sweet,. sticky, and a little spicy. The fresh jalapeno slices add another layer of flavor. However, the whole dog is just short of…wow. A smear of funky pate or a crustier roll or something could have brought it to the next level.

more pix 100 Seasonal pickle plate

The best plate of the day, no question. Salsify, carrots, asparagus, tomatoes, and more are all pickled in a lightly garlicky brine that lets the sweet, grassy or creamy, savory notes of the vegetables shine through. They are snappy and fresh without too much salt or sugar – it’s really about showing off the vegetables. These are awesome and as the selection changes according to fresh vegetables, you can get a different selection almost every time you go.

more pix 103 The Windy City with tomatoes, relish, onions, mustard, and a crispy pickle spear.

Once again, underwhelming. Not enough celery salt, no sport peppers, that bun that I’m not crazy about. It’s fine but not worth seeking out.

Unfortunately, that’s how I felt about this place in general. Fine. Not great. Not really worth the money or time. It’s too bad because I love the setting, the waitstaff, and the way that the menu sounds. But they need to up their game before they get me back their again.

That’s also what she said.

Ninth Avenue International Food Festival

The Ninth Avenue Food International Festival is, in many ways, the same as any old NYC street fair.

The throngs of people, the dollar socks, the flabby and tasteless mozzarepas. But, there are hidden gems in this street fair, where the best of ninth Avenue’s eateries set up booths and offer some really delicious food.

Empanada Mama

This 24 hour restaurant on Ninth Avenue is always packed and now I know why! The beef empanada was one of the best things that I ate all day.

A thick and flaky dough encases shredded beef, tender and so juicy that it drips down your chin in fluorescent orange. Smoky cumin, sharp garlic, and sweet onions all mingle with that unmistakably hearty flavor of beef brisket and makes this filling but far less greasy than you might think. I can’t wait to go back here and do a full review on this place!

Dalton’s

This nondescript bar that I have only frequented once (and then, only for the cheap vodka tonics) had the best pork offering of the day. This roast pig sandwich was delicious.

Crispy shards of skin surrounding succulent, sweet pork meat, all served on a squishy potato bun. Topped with sweet and spicy BBQ sauce (thankfully, no overpowering liquid smoke here), this is everything that you could want in a BBQ sandwich, except coleslaw. When you see this stand at the festival, run there, dont’ walk. And get two.

Red’s Hot Dogs

Get the specialty pork and beef sausage and watch it get grilled until it is charred and snappy outside, juicy and hearty inside. Choose from one of their many choices, like the banh mi or the baked potato dog, or top it yourself. The toppings here are free, even the premium ones, like a spicy, meaty chili and sweet sauteed onions.

This is one of the best hot dogs I have had in a while, and will gladly seek them out year after year. They frequent other street fairs during th year, so be sure not to miss them!

Millie’s Pierogies

What good polish girl can resist a pierogi? These are best when stuffed with sauerkraut, which is shockingly complex.

Not just sour, the kraut is also a little sweet and floral with juniper berry. Enased in rich, chewy dough and dipped in cool sour cream, it reminds me of dinners of my youth. Next time, I would absolutely try a steamed kilbasa topped with more of that sauerkraut.

Pure Thai Cookhouse

This is why this fair is so important to restaurants. I have been to Pure Thai before, and liked but didn’t love it. Now, I am determined to go back.

The BBQ Beef Buns were juicy and complex, with star anise, coriander, and ginger in the soft meat. Served in a sticky, fluffy bun and topped with tangy carrots and fragrant cilantro, this was a totally satisfying bite. I could have eaten 6 of these. Even better were the Thai Sausages and Sticky Rice.

The sausages, grilled and served with sweetly caramelized onions, were sweet, spicy, and pleasantly sticky. The rice was the perfect antitode to the incendiary sauce, pungent with fish sauce and hot with chiles. The umami punches never stopped coming with this dish, and my sister and I fought over the last of it. This was an unbelievable duo of dishes – though they aren’t on their regular menu, they convinced me to give Pure another try.

And if none of these looked good, you can always go for one of these:

After all, a corncake stuffed with fake cheese and cheap chorizo never hurt anyone.

Walking in a (Hyde Park) Winter Wonderland

Is it just me, or do you also love an international fair? Something about screaming children, stands selling “genuine Austrian crystal earrings”, and all sorts of food on a stick just makes me sing with glee 🙂 So I was thrilled to see the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland just outside our hotel!  Of course, we went over to sample the food and get a taste for how Londoners like to spend their weekends.
We were greeted with this huge grill with giant bratwursts and currywursts (sausages cut up, sprinkled with curry powder, and served with sauerkraut).

These bratwursts were the best I have had since I was last in Salzburg! There was this amazingly crunchy “snap” when you bit into them, and the sweet, spicy, and juicy taste of pork invaded your mouth. The taste was so TOTALLY pork-y and the texture was like a delicate meatball. Mixed with hot mustard and poiquant sauerkraut, it was totally delish.

A singing reindeer who spoke English in a hearty Germanic accent. Sort of cute, sort of odd…considering how much reindeer was on sale to eat there.
I mean, you don’t watch Kermit the Frog while eating frog legs, do you?

Something we need more of at American fairs. Booze makes children seem so much cuter.

JACKPOT!

The scent of this stand was all slow cooked garlic, onion, caraway seeds and pork. And, of course, sweet, salty, vinaigry, crunchy, soft, wonderful cabbage in so many forms.
The goulash was sadly dissapointing. Watery, with flaccid spaetzle and tough beef. Major fail.
The Szekely cabbage, on the other hand, was PERFECTION!  Steaming hot, soft cabbage, spiked with vinegar and carressed with rich tomato paste and melting hunks of juicy pork. Served with a spicy pickled pepper on the side, it was just what you want on a winter day. The person amking this should have taken over goulash duties.

Chocolate and Hazelnut marzipan is a nutty, rich, almost overly sweet confecction. Notice I said “almost”.

“Health Cake”, consisting of dates, nuts, and honey. That is a diet I could get used to.

Please note the “stovies and oatcakes”, the “tartan breakfast bap” and the “spicy haggis burger”.
Just like the chicken nuggets we eat at our fairs, right?
We got a Venison burger with Haggis because…well, that’s how we roll, yo.
Sorry, you know I try to sound like a cool kid sometimes.
The venison was tough and the haggis was mushy, which stinks because I actually LOVE the meaty and slightly gamey taste of venison and the offal-y, tender taste of haggis.  But this was not the most high quality stuff.
Don’t worry…there was better stuff to come…

Like this.

Look at that lovely, milky cheese, stretching to infinity.
Baked onsite, and loaded with small wild mushrooms, topped with sour cream that was richer than Donald Trump…this was a revelation. Crunchy on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside, with mild, sweet cheese, umami filled mushrooms, and that freakin AWESOME sour cream…this basically kicked grilled cheese’s ass.
And these potatoes had onions, leeks, cabbage, tomatoes, and green beans in them. Fried in butter. Till crisp. But still fluffy and creamy on the inside.

And topped with my favorite concoction of curry ketchup and hot mustard. Only a fried egg could have improved this.
Next up…a really GREAT example of haggis…

Crif Dogs Review

When you have a free afternoon in the middle of the week, it TOTALLY feels like playing hooky.  I’m talkin no work, no laundry, no world problems to solve, just…you and your desires.  And occasionally, your desires can include things like wieners

 

 

THOSE kind of wieners.  You pervert 😉

 

 

Crif Dogs is a well known hot dog restaurant in NYC.  They are touted as some of the best in this city that is literally teeming with frankfurters, and are known for both the quality of the dogs and the variety of toppings.  They are also supposed to have this super swanky bar called PDT (for please don’t tell) that you enter through a phone booth. Ooh la la!  But I didn’t feel like getting schwasted at 2 pm (for once!), so I settled on the far more casual hot dog restaurant itself

 

 

After you go down a few steps, you enter into a small, dark restaurant, with a counter at which to order, a few tables, and a few counters to stand and eat.  I hear this place gets CRAZY busy on weekend nights, so that is probably where the stand up counters figure in.

 

 

There was also an arcade game, if you are into that sort of thing.  If it was crowded and I had to wait in line, I could easily be into that sort of thing.

 

 

The phone booth entrance to the secret bar.  Very James Bond!  I absolutely want to go back there!

 

 

 

The first dog was the Chihuaha, which was a bacon wrapped dog with avocado and sour cream.

 

Sound weird?  Well it was KILLER!

 

 

 

OMG this was great!  The natural beef and pork hot dog was salty, vaguely spicy, and meaty, and the bacon added a crispy and smokey flavor and texture.  the avocado was buttery and the slick of sour cream cooled the heat the hot dog brought.  The bun was standard, but when everything else is so awesome…who the heck cares about the bun?!!? This was my favorite dog!

 

 

 

We also got the Spicy Redneck-a house dog, bacon wrapped, with chili, cole slaw & jalapeños.  That same spicy, smokey dog with mayonnaise tempered, cooling,  slightly crisp coleslaw and vinegary, biting jalapenos.  And the chili…YEAH DOGGIE!!! This was as close as I have come to finding my beloved Der Wienerschnitzel chili (GAWD I miss California sometimes!!!).  All beef, no beans, tomatoey, thin, cumin filled, savory and spicy goodness.  This chili would be SO KICK ASS on some fries…or…

 

 

some TOTS

 

 

These tator tots kicked Ore Ida’s ASS.  Freshly fried, crispy, greasy, creamy, salty…omg, I have no words for how amazing these were.  These were the KING of the day. Swiped through some ketchup and mustard…next time I will only improve these by ordering some chili on the side and making an amazing little dish all my own.

 

 

 

Yeah we didn’t like these too much

Well, all I can say is-get yourself over here!  We actually ordered another hot dog too, a customizable one, but our flavor combo was nowhere near as great as the dogs this place dreamed up.   Bacon, chili, avocado, TOTS?!  AND you can get beer here.  AND there is a secret bar next door.  AND it is cheap. So yeah…a-MAY-zing.  Get yourself there fast.  And if you see someone eating tator tots with a gigantic ladle and smears of chili all over his/her face…that’s probably me or Bruce Vilanch.  Aww who am I kidding…it’s probably me!