- On the first weekend of October 2019, The New York Times hosted its inaugural Food Festival focused exclusively on NYC’s iconic food scene.
- As a food and cooking junkie myself, I was absolutely stoked when I heard the news a few months ago, and I knew I had to check out the specially curated lineup of restaurants at The Park.
- There were 20 vendors inside a ticketed area of Bryant Park and a total of 50 foods and drinks on offer – I was there for two days and still couldn’t try them all.
- Instead of trying to taste everything there, I talked to other festivalgoers, festival producers, reporters, and Sam Sifton, one of the event curators and the food editor at The Times, to figure out which dishes I should definitely try and what they thought of some of the ones I couldn’t fit in my stomach.
- I pushed my culinary boundaries with chicken gizzards, lobster sausage, and Spam corn dogs, and indulged my inner carnivore with a mind-blowing dish of lamb.
- Here’s a look at some of the food featured at the very first New York Times Food Festival, and where you can find the New York City culinary teams behind each one.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Before I tried anything at The New York Times Food Festival, I talked to Sam Sifton, food editor and one of the curators of the two-day event. I wanted to learn more about the festival itself, and see what dishes he thought were stand-outs.
“The Beatrice Inn is doing a fried chicken, which you would expect, and fried chicken is awesome,” he said. “But they’re also doing fried gizzards. And for some people, particularly food people it seems to me, that’s a particular taste of childhood and it’s just an awesome thing to eat.”
So while I love a good fried chicken sandwich — this wasn’t a sandwich but I still would typically have gone for the fried chicken and made my own sandwich with the side of Hawaiian bun and smoked ranch …
… I went for the menu item called The Odd Bits — the fried chicken gizzards and liver.
I didn’t have a particular aversion to the dish, but the texture of the meat just didn’t jive with me. The liver was a little dry and pasty, and the gizzards were tough. The actual flavour was great, but I couldn’t get past the texture — I guess I’ve got some work to do on my palate.
The smoked ranch that came with it was really good and tasted like tzatziki — a Greek yogurt dressing.
The Beatrice Inn is a chophouse in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
Source: The Beatrice Inn
Sifton and I were chatting right next to another restaurant’s booth, Insa. “They have got a spam corn dog situation and it’s just fantastic,” he said. The Spam corn dog was a huge success with everyone I spoke to — but unfortunately, not with me.
You may be thinking: Wait … Spam? Like the canned meat from the 1940s? And you would be right — except that Insa came up with a house-made version instead of taking it out of a can. The pink multi-meat has evolved immensely in its usage since its conception. Today, you can find it on the menus of some of New York’s top restaurants.
The housemade Spam was pretty salty for me — I thought it tasted like a really salty hot dog — and the cornmeal batter felt very granular on my teeth. The sauces and garnishing on top were stellar, though, and I could see why people were raving about it.
Insa is a Korean BBQ and Karaoke restaurant in Brooklyn.
I tried the lobster sausage — called Lobster in a Blanket — from Estela on the second day of the festival. I had been hearing about it from everyone I talked to, and they all had their own opinions, so I wanted to check it out for myself.
One person I spoke with made a good point and said that if they’re paying for lobster, they want that classic lobster texture — chunks of tail, claw, and knuckle meat that’s just really fresh tasting. Which, yea, I agree.
But what Estela was able to do with this sausage was admirable. It really tasted like lobster and it also really felt like a sausage. I was impressed. The puff pastry “blanket” fell off pretty quickly which kind of tainted the eating experience, but it tasted good and I’ve never had anything like it before.
The potato chips, sweet pepper, onion, and pickle were a great touch. I actually enjoyed this more than others thought I would.
Estela is a modern bistro in Lower Manhattan.
Then there was the Griddled Chocolate Cake from Superiority Burger.
I didn’t get to try this one, but festivalgoers said it tasted “like you took a really decadent piece of chocolate cake and put it on the grill.” They thought the preserved cherry compote was a great addition to the rich chocolate and refreshing ice cream. For me, this dish was the one that got away.
Superiority Burger is a mostly vegetarian restaurant — with some “accidentally vegan” dishes — in Manhattan’s East Village.
Source: Superiority Burger
Something I thankfully didn’t miss out on was the focaccia from Leonelli.
The restaurant was serving up two different kinds: one was topped with potato, lardo — fat — truffle, and rosemary, and the other featured heirloom tomato and buffalo mozzarella.
I tried the mozzarella and tomato variety, and it really just tasted like pizza in the absolute best way. The focaccia was amazingly light and airy, the basil was bright, and the juice from the tomato soaked right through the top layer of the bread. The cheese was rich and fresh and the whole thing was delicious.
Although I would have liked to have tried the potato-topped focaccia — which looked incredible — I was definitely satisfied with my choice.
Leonelli has several restaurants, but the bakery and focaccia shop is in the Flatiron District.
Another popular item I missed was the sweet potato funnel cake from Simon & The Whale.
One festivalgoer said it was great, “but a lot more salty than expected.” It was a popular dish that I saw many times around the festival.
Simon & The Whale is an eclectic restaurant and bar in the Freehand hotel near the Flatiron District in Manhattan.
Source: Simon & The Whale
After speaking with a festival producer, I found out the Socca Niçois with lamb was the favourite dish of many festival runners, editors, and reporters.
Of course, that meant I had to try it. And I am so glad I did. The lamb was the perfect texture — soft and stringy in the perfect way — and the chickpea pancake was beautifully fluffy and flat at the same time.
The meat was ridiculously juicy, and the pancake held up as a sturdy utensil — through runny juices and all.
Frenchette is a modern French bistro in between the SoHo and Tribeca neighbourhoods of Manhattan.
There were a lot more of these delicious-looking dishes throughout The Park, and I can’t wait for next year’s festival so I can try even more.
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