We arrived at the Tobacco Warehouse around 1pm to help with set up. Putting the paper on tables, setting up the pretty flowers in the Brooklyn Beer Bottles, doing anything that needed doing as we awaited the hungry masses.
Inside the 2008 Vendys
The First Arrivals at the 2008 Vendys
Blondie and I were on the not-so glam, but VERY necessary garbage duty. Clearing trash from tables and the ground, emptying trash receptacles, recycling bottles. Someone's got to do it. After our first misfire--nearly overflowing trash can at the Pupusa truck(!)--we were vigilant. "You done with that?" "Can I take that for you?" In Blondie's own words, I owe her "something fancy." She managed to get stuck with all the disastrous bottle runs, leaky bags that left her Vendys apron, jeans, and shoes more than a bit of a mess. Sorry, dear! I'll think of something good.
Now, no more trash talk...on to the food...
Of course the first things we tasted were the desserts...
The Dessert Category Contenders:
Blondie and I have been following the Treats Truck since the beginning. We've tried nearly all of their treats, but even old friends can surprise you sometimes and we were delighted to see that Kim and her crew had a wide selection of treats in mini form. Awesome! Smaller treats equals more room to try more treats. And they just looked so darn adorable!
Baby Caramel Truckers
Some treats that are a bit too sweet in giant form were just right in the mini size, we're looking at you, Peanut Butter Brownie...
My baby, the Peanut Butter Jamwich, was especially good in mini form, not too dry, not too crumbly. Just right.
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Truck:
This was our second time sampling the ice cream from the Van Leeuwen Truck and they didn't disappoint. This time we tried their two sundae offerings...the banana split (banana, walnuts, vanilla ice cream, homemade caramel sauce, and whipped cream) and the espresso sundae (espresso ice cream, hot fudge, and cocoa nibs).
I had the espresso sundae and it was delicious. Loved the bittersweet, crunchy cocoa nibs. Blondie really enjoyed the banana split. Two serious contenders
Blondie and I have visited the Dessert Truck a few times now, and it's good, but it's never been our favorite. Their desserts tend to be a bit richer than what I want at regular lunch time unless it's a very special occasion. So while some may have been disappointed that they weren't serving full size desserts, in my mind it was great that they had the tiny samples. Seemed like the Dessert Truck was worried about running out of samples, while Treats Truck and Van Leeuwen had an 'anything goes, have what you want' philosophy, Dessert Truck was a bit more conservative. I only had a chance to try their Apples and Cinnamon--slow baked apples over a crisp puff pastry topped with cranberries, streusel and a dollop of whipped cream.
This was more delicious than any of the other desserts I've had from Dessert Truck. A winner in my book. The Dessert Truck may see me swing by for this autumn-y treat sometime soon.
Wafels and Dinges was supposed to round out the Dessert Category as the fourth truck but mechanical difficulties kept them from competing.
With all those dessert trucks in the same place, Blondie and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to do a Van Leeuwen/Treats Truck/Dessert Truck mash up/unholy alliance so here are our picks...
Brownie's Autumn Trio:
Vanilla Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce from the Van Leeuwen Truck, Slow-Baked Apples and Cinnamon from Dessert Truck finished with a mini Caramel Trucker from Treats Truck. Yum!
Blondie's Espresso Chocolate Chipperwich
Espresso ice cream, hot fudge, and cocoa nibs from the Van Leeuwen Truck and mini chocolate chippers from the Treats Truck. Totally delicious.
And now on to the real meat of the competition...
The 2008 Vendy Contenders:
Fauzia Abdur-Rahman from “Heavenly Delights”
161st Street and Sheridan Avenue, Bronx
This was our first time trying Fauzia's foods. She makes everything fresh on the cart and we were impressed with the variety. Fauzia's foods had a healthier slant--lentil stew, "vegetarian" chicken, herbed grilled fish, grilled chicken, jerk chicken. One of the great things about the Vendys was seeing the vendors with their families making their food and having their food appreciated by a huge crowd. The folks at Fauzia's were super friendly and especially good at working the crowd. After going off garbage duty, I hit the Purell and the Fauzia's line where, within moments of joining the queue, I was offered banana pudding while I waited. Sweet!
Fauzia's Banana Pudding
As for the food, the lentil stew was flavorful and not too salty. And the jerk chicken and grilled fish were tasty.
Fauzia Sample Plate
Healthier than many street meals I've had. Fauzia's menu changes daily, and I can see why she has a loyal following. She offers a lot of veggies and vegetarian options. I make a lot of healthy dishes at home using a variety of spices so for me the food definitely had a home cooked feel, but it wasn't out of this world. Since it wasn't as heavy as some of the food from the other carts, I wonder if I would have considered it more favorably if I had it towards the end of the night.
Meru Sikder from “Biryani Cart”
46th Street & Sixth Avenue, Manhattan
Blondie and I have much love for the Biryani Cart and their Kati Rolls of which we've sampled many, but of all the times we've visited the Biryani Cart, I've never actually had their biryani! So I was especially excited to check it out. Right before the event began I had a chance to run around and take photos and of course, I stopped by to wish Chef Meru good luck. He was excited and in great spirits, after all his family was there including his five-year old daughter who was seeing her dad cook for the first time. Too cute!
While I was in the Fauzia line, Blondie was in the Biryani line and I joined her as soon as I got our Heavenly Delights samples. Blondie was near the front of the line and I just planned on sharing her plate, but the guys at the Biryani cart recognized me and handed me a heaping plate as well.
Biryani Cart Sample Plate
Since I have a nut allergy, I was a little cautious (especially after having a few bad nut run-ins this week), but Chef Meru knows his customers and before I could even ask, he shouted from the truck, "Don't worry, I don't use nuts in anything!" Awesome. Simply awesome and so was the food. The Chicken Tikka was fiery and flavorful. The kati rolls were buttery perfection and the Biryani was delicious.
Mohammed Rahman from “Kwik Meal”
45th Street & Sixth Avenue, Manhattan
Kwik Meal is another midtown lunch favorite of ours. As vendy vets (last year, Mr. Rahman took home the People's Choice Award), Kwik Meal was ready for the crowds. They were offering chicken in a pita, lamb in a pita, and falafel in a pita with their signature sauce.
Lamb and Chicken Pita from Kwik Meal
Kwik Meal Falafel
To keep things moving the had a production line making the pitas and then slicing them in half so you could get a taste.
One of the things that we love about Kwik Meal is how they use lovely chunks of REAL lamb meat. No composite lamb here. Their pitas were tasty, but I almost think if they dished up little cups of their chicken and lamb over rice with the sauces that might have been a better way to showcase the quality of their meat. Though I do enjoy their pitas, the pita I had was a little soggy from the sauce and I didn't get to savor the meat quite as much as I wanted. Still it was darn good.
Rafael Soler from “Soler Dominican”
Clinton Street & Bay Street, Brooklyn (weekends only)
Lawman and I have been going to the Red Hook Ballfields for several years now and we never fail to get a pupusa revuelta (mixed meat and chees) from Soler Dominican.
They had one of the longest lines at the Vendys but kept it moving along. By the time that I hit the Soler truck the evening was drawing to a close and they had run out of the maduros (the fried sweet plantains) that I was salivating over while on trash duty. Still the revuelta combined with their pickled slaw hit the spot. I only planned on eating 1/2, but I ended up eating about 3/4s.
The Vendley Brothers (Jesse, Brian, Dave) from “Calexico Carne Asada”
Wooster & Prince Streets, Manhattan
I've heard about the Calexico truck (aka the hipster Taco Truck) that frequents SoHo, but this was my first time sampling their food. They had a massive crew and were offering quite the sample plate--their famous carne asada tacos, pork tamales, pork tacos, and quesadillas served with tortilla chips and a mix of salsas.
Calexico Sample Plate
The Calexico offerings were tasty--and maybe this was food fatigue--but, honestly, I wasn't blown away by them. I was impressed with the amount that they offered and the variety. But flavorwise, I wasn't knocked out.
And the winners were...
Dessert Category People's Choice:
Treats Truck takes home the prize! As soon as we saw that Kim had made the more labor intensive mini versions of everything on their regular menu we knew she was in it to win it.
Van Leeuwen churned out terrific sundaes and their ice cream was less icy that the last time we sampled it. Still I think they were handicapped by the weather that got chillier and chillier as the afternoon wore on. I could eat ice cream in 30 below weather, alas everyone isn't like me. Dessert Truck, fresh off their Bobby Flay throwdown, were poised to create a lot of buzz, but their lines got long and worried about running out of their desserts, I heard that they were only giving limited samples to each person. Since the Dessert Category is purely People's Choice and people love food, the Treats Truck had the advantage and took home the prize.
The Vendy Finalists
And now for the Vendy Winners!
Savory Category People Choice:
Biryani Cart! This was our choice hands down, not just for People's Choice, but for the win. Chef Meru brought his A-game and delivered. I could go for some more of the chicken tikka, right...NOW. Hopefully the People's Choice attention will help keep Chef Meru and his Biryani Cart (and expansion cart) busy.
2008 Vendys Runner Up:
Kwik Meal. So close and yet so far. Second time didn't prove to be a charm for Kwik Meal, but there's always next year! Apparently it took the Dosa Man from Washington Square Park three tries to take home the big prize.
2008 Vendy Winner:
Calexico Cart takes home the big prize!
The Passing of the Vendy Cup
Blondie and I totally think Chef Meru was robbed, but no one asked us to judge. What put Calexico over the edge? Don't know for sure, but I suspect, as return finalists they had an advantage in terms of knowing how to run things at their cart. They had an army cooking, plating and serving. They offered a plethora of items and--to my knowledge--didn't run out of anything. Also, tamales are one of the most labor intensive things that you can make. That they had enough for the crowd probably impressed the judges.
All in all a successful event that raised over $30,000 for the Street Vendor Project. Thanks so much to Amy, volunteer coordinator extraordinaire, who let us join the crew and made everything run smoothly. The Vendys wouldn't be the Vendys without Amy! We had a terrific time. Can't wait for next year!
For more info on the Street Vendor project check out their site.
For more photos of the event check out our Vendys flickr set.