Sunday, June 14, 2009

BBQ & Ice cream

It was a bbq & ice cream kind of Saturday. This was the year I finally made it to the Big Apple BBQ festival. The results were mixed. Thankfully the day would be saved by a surprise run-in with an ice cream truck I'd been wanting to try.
I headed down to Madison Square Park early, hoping to avoid some of the lines and the thickest of the crowds. Prior to going, I had read some advice from The Feedbag blog and I used this as a starting point.

After quickly surveying the situation I discovered that Raleigh’s Hog Pit BBQ and Pappy’s Smokehouse of St. Louis had little to no line, while Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ already had a line half a block long. Big Bob Gibson's stand was on the inner corner, the center of the whole festival, and I thought that might have contributed to the line. So, I decided to forgo the wait and went for the whole hog at the Hog Pit.

A hefty scoop of pork served on a potato roll and cole slaw on the side for $8. What a disappointment. The meat was dry like it had been overcooked and then doused in the vinegar sauce. The cole slaw was quite good - and normally I am not a big fan - so I tried to mix that in with the meat. Even when food is mediocre, I tend to eat it just to avoid wasting it. But I couldn't even muster up enough enthusiasm to finish much more than half. At this point, I thought, there might be wisdom in crowds after all.

Of course, this situation can be better tempered by attending with other people - when sharing each plate, you can more easily try more, increasing your chances for a successful meal. My dilemma now - should I risk trying another plate of food or just abandon the effort?

As I scoped out the other stands, I came across a small cart set up in front of Tabla restaurant - El Verano Taqueria. It was selling tacos by Tabla's chef, Floyd Cardoz. This is the same food he is also serving up at CitiField. I opted for Carnitas - two pork tacos in soft corn tortillas for $6. The pulled pork was tastier than what I'd previously had, though could have used a stronger dose of spices. The tacos came with a thick salsa on the side, which was probably meant to increase the flavor on the tacos, but that I didn't particularly care for.

As I strolled through the rest of the festival, I saw that many of the stands had their own bbq smokers out. It was interesting to see in New York. The only other bbq festival I have ever been to was the Memphis BBQ Festival, one of the largest competitions in the country. They were serious there - you could see the large oven on wheels at practically every stand and whole hogs being seasoned.

Feeling less than fulfilled, I couldn't help but swing by the Shake Shack to check out the custard flavor of the day. It was Mint Chip, which I love, but Thursday is Earl Gray, an underused flavor that I love even more, so I decided I would hold out. Good thing in any case because it meant I could indulge less guiltily a little while later.

The highlight of the day came while walking along 10th Ave. near Gansevoort St. on the approach to the entrance to the new High Line. This is where my world accidentally collided with the pastel yellow Van Leeuwen ice cream truck. It stopped me in my tracks with excitement. I'd wanted to try this ice cream for some time, but hadn't caught up with it at all last summer.

Their menu lists the provenance of the main ingredient in each of the flavors; the Pistachio is made with Bronte hand-picked nuts from Sicily, Italy. Though I enjoy it, I don't often order pistachio, but on this afternoon, I decided to let it supercede my usual favorite of Espresso (or any coffee flavor). I figured it would be a real test if I went with a flavor there was a chance I could possibly dislike. The intensity and texture of the flavor was just right- subtle and smooth with not too many nutty interruptions; the color was closer to that of vanilla. A creamy pistachio cone made for a blissful afternoon. I felt like a kid again - delighting in my treat and feeling like nothing else could bother me at that moment.

Before ordering, I'd tasted the Red Currants and Cream, but something about it just wasn't right for the moment. Maybe next time. And I am positive there will be one!

Oh and for visitors with a sweet tooth going up to the High Line, Birdbath bakery, an environmentally green bakery on 1st Ave owned by the same people as City Bakery near Union Square, also had bicycle carts selling a small assortment of baked goods at the entrance to and midway along the High Line.

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