Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming feature piece on Smorgasburg, where I speak to some fantastic foodies including Mighty Quinn’s, People’s Pops, Danny Macaroons and Baby Got Back Ribs. Check back later this week for a Q&A with Karen Seiger, market expert extraordinaire!
When T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, he did not have Smorgasburg in mind. April in Brooklyn shakes off the lingering bite of winter; even the under-watered plants for sale outside the bodegas spring to life. Young couples, pushing strollers and tugging on leashes, pour through the brick archways of the Tobacco Warehouse on the DUMBO waterfront, where the Smorgasburg food market is entering its third season.
The space is lined with canopied booths slinging eats for all palates: prepared foods like ramen noodles, grilled cheese, homemade soda, oysters, coffee and sweets, and packaged goods like jams, preserves and pickles. Tourists wander in from photographing the Manhattan skyline. A massive line winds from Mighty Quinn’s, serving slow-smoked ribs also available at their East Village restaurant. A pigtailed child in a sequined skirt tells her mother, “I want dessert first!”
Smorgasburg captures the magic of Brooklyn Flea in food market form. Founded by the minds behind the Flea, Jonathan Butler and Eric Demby, the market launched in 2011 and has been gaining traction ever since. Like Brooklyn Flea, Smorgasburg has two locations: Williamsburg’s East River State Park on Saturdays and DUMBO’s Tobacco Warehouse on Sundays. In a TV segment, Mario Batali called “the Smorg,” as it is affectionately known, “the single greatest thing I’ve ever seen gastronomically in New York.”
Whether or not you subscribe to Batali’s brand of hyperbole, Smorgasburg does sell itself as a distinctive market experience. Karen Seiger, the “market expert” behind the Markets of New York City guidebook and blog, compares the Smorg to European markets in its sensibility.
“In Paris, you can buy fantastic breakfasts and lunches, fresh bread and roasted chicken or whatever else, in the market. But in New York, the food and farmer’s markets are mostly ingredients, stuff you take home and make. There’s nothing like Smorgasburg.”
And the Smorg’s star is still rising. Beginning Memorial Day weekend, Butler and Demby are set to open a 40-table food court and beer garden made up of select Smorgasburg vendors at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, in the hopes of driving traffic to an area that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
Molly Winter, a young nursing student who sells for Danny Macaroons, is approached by two young couples, market regulars. They take in the display, golf ball-sized macaroons in flavors like peanut butter and jelly, salted caramel and banana pecan. “We’re here once a week,” one man tells me. “We go to Rice and Miso, and then we come here.”
Molly hands over their sweets with a smile. “I like the spirit that comes with the market,” she says. “I like that you can give somebody food and they’re happy.”
“The whole artisanal food movement is exploding,” she adds. “People want to know where their products come from, and just eat funky things. That’s why we have fun flavors like salted caramel and jalapeno jam and strawberry balsamic. People are into that.”
People’s Pops, makers of locally sourced fruit popsicles and shaved ice with flavors like red plum and sour cherry and pear and ginger, have more success with the Williamsburg set, a tweed-blazered seller named Bryan tells me. In fact, People’s Pops typically have one of the longest lines at the Williamsburg market.
The founders began their business at Smorgasburg, but have since expanded to four seasonal locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and their popsicles are available at grocers like Whole Foods and Union Market.
“It’s a weird, mixed bag kind of a business,” Bryan says. “Because you have a really great product, but obviously you can’t offer it at all times. Unless they get into booze. If they get into boozy popsicles, they’ll be richer than astronauts.”