Saturday, August 9, 2008

Spicy snacks under the summer sun

I've been meaning to write about the food sold at the Red Hook, Brooklyn soccer fields for a long time now. Not only because what's available is so delicious and varied and cheap, but also because visiting the fields is a quintessential summer experience. The Mexican and South American vendors at the park attract a mix of families and hipsters, local Brooklynites and reverse bridge-and-tunnelers, the very old and the very young and everyone in between. The summer sun beats down upon those playing soccer, and either before or after your meal there's nothing better than a refreshing dip in Red Hook's large, cool and clean public pool, located right across the street from the ballfields. It's a good time all around.

I'm not the first person to write about the food at the ballfields: the New York Times hit upon the trend back in 2006, and the vendors at the park also attracted a lot of attention during 2007, when the city cracked down on the more or less ramshackle operation, demanding that the food purveyors update and standardize their facilities, a move that cost invidual vendors up to $35,000. The future of the vendors was uncertain, but, thankfully, they returned in full force this summer.

All the news surrounding the ballfields has brought in a massive wave of customers. When I arrived at a little past 3 P.M. today--far past peak lunch hour--the crowds were almost unbelievable. Lines ran about 20 or 30 people deep for the more popular trucks; other trucks had lines with a minimum of 10 people. Luckily, everything moves fast. Each truck has about 4-5 people assembling meals inside, which are then passed through little windows to the hungry--and eager--customer. Here's a picture of the general scene just to give you an idea of what it looks like:

I quickly got in line at the drinks/grilled corn truck. Freshly-squeezed/brewed watermelon, cantaloupe, jamaica (hibiscus flower), lime, lemon, tamarind, mango and cucumber juices and infusions were all for sale, as well as the Mexican rice-and-cinnamon drink horchata, as this happy little sign advertised:

I'm normally a tamarind kind of girl, but today I couldn't resist the watermelon juice, which I saw being blended up into a frothy, irresistable pink libation. Here's a shot of the action inside the truck, pouring juices and handing over grilled chile-dusted ears of corn:

Once hydrated, I surveyed the food options, which include standard, easily recognizable options like tacos and quesadillas as well as less well-known choices like huaraches and pupusas. I decided to get in line at one of the less popular trucks, which today was offering goat (barbacoa) tacos. Goat? Enough said. It happens to be one of my favorite meats, and one I don't get to eat very often; I don't know why more people weren't going for it. Here's the menu advertising the options:

And the meal I ended up with: one goat taco ($3) with onions, cilantro and pico de gallo (fresh tomato salsa), and one tostada (fried corn tortilla) ($3) layered with mashed black beans, crema (Mexican sour cream), queso fresco (mild, firm Mexican cheese), and shredded lettuce. The goat was superb: meaty, gamey and tender, and the sliced jalapeƱos hidden inside the tostada provided a piquant counterpoint to the meat's richness. I topped both with a pickled radish salsa/slaw that was available on the truck's little window counter. And lest I forget, I also got an order of chicharonnes (fried pork skins) ($1) to complement my meal. It's not really like me to eat deep-fried animal skin, but I figured for the sake of the blog I should:

Can't forget the drink ($2.25), either:

Can you really beat an authentic, flavorful meal eaten under the sun in Brooklyn for $9.25? I don't think so--and judging from the number of people at the park today, I'm not alone.

Red Hook Ballfields Vendors
Red Hook Soccer Field, corner of Clinton St. and Bay St.
(no phone)


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