How to navigate Brooklyn’s only, and the world’s first, artisanal food court.
By Jesse Sisler, DePaul University
Over Christmas break, I asked my cousins what I could do in Brooklyn that was uniquely New York, because I was tired of doing tourist things that make New Yorkers laugh at you when you tell them you did them.
They recommended I try the Artisanal Food Court in Brooklyn, the latest trend from the New York borough that I’m sure at some point will make an appearance on Girls.
Officially called “Smorgasburg,” this flea market of food settles down in empty warehouses, stays there for the winter months, then leaves and eventually starts over again. More importantly, they offer quick, relatively inexpensive eats that you will not find shacked up between Taco Bell and Subway at local malls.
Smorgasburg offers Venezuelan street food vendor (more on this later), ramen burgers, and tons of other foods that enthusiastic college students could feasibly label “microaggressive” or “culturally misappropriated.”
Right now, Smorgasburg is located at Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, but it seems like these food havens would find a nice niche anywhere they go in New York. They attract massive crowds, mixing yuppies, hipsters and tourists alike in the melting pot of multi-ethnic trailer food.
I saw bad mustaches, watched douchebags admire each other’s Sperry’s and heard languages that would make your racist uncle wince. So for those of you looking to bring your food trucks to empty warehouses, or for those of you who just want to experience the latest NYC trend, here are some helpful Do’s and Don’ts.
For the owners
Do: Have a revolving door of options.
After spending just an hour at the food court, you can easily tell which vendors are in it for the long haul, and which are just way too niche for a place like this. (I’m a vegetarian, but a vegan deli? Come on.)
Don’t: Advertise falsely.
I had a veggie hot dog at a place that claimed to sell Venezuelan street food. I don’t claim to know what Venezuelan street food is. But the only two things on the menu that seemed even remotely Venezuelan were cilantro and chorizo. The veggie dog was good, and the burger topped with ham and eggs looked amazing.
Maybe that’s what they eat in Venezuela, but to serve hot dogs and burgers as Venezuelan food is a bit misleading. As far as I could tell, the most uniquely Venezuelan thing about Venezuelan street food was the chef. (For what it’s worth, the Aussie tourist in front of me ordered a hot dog with ketchup and mustard.)
Get attached to the so-called flea market, as it’s really just a collection of starving artists and hobbyists selling stuff they have hoarded over the years.
I was pretty excited to check out the “winter flea” attached to the Smorgasburg, but was disappointed to find stacks of chotchkies that were at best kind of cool in a very quirky, Williamsburgy kind of way, and at worst would not even tempt Lena Dunham or Shia LaBeouf. PSA: cutting up old vinyl and selling it as a wristband is not art. Maybe a hobby. Not art.
Do: Set up indoors.
Part of the brilliance of this idea is that it is a winter-time thing, which takes away the “I won’t eat food from a food truck because I am afraid it will spoil” excuse. Furthermore, food trucks are not a destination. You find one, grab something, and usually head back to the office.
Smorgasburg is a destination. It’s a place where you can spend a rainy or wintery day. If this model is successful and expands, I can absolutely see it becoming a rainy-day staple for foodie crowds.
Don’t: Settle in Williamsburg.
I like Williamsburg in small doses. But my God, that neighborhood is as self-loathing as they come. Initially praised as a bastion of cool shops and hip restaurants, Williamsburg has recently come under fire as gentrification increasingly becomes a four letter word.
By setting up shop in Williamsburg, you are basically guaranteeing that the only people to patronize your business will be self-loathing hipsters and out-of-towners. I talked to several native New Yorkers who would not be caught dead in Williamsburg, which is basically a black eye on gentrification in general. In other words, half of the customers are only in town for a short time and the other half suck, which is a business no-no.
For the customers
Don’t: Order the Greek food
Or any ordinary “exotic” cuisine, for that matter. Try something adventurous. Try something that you will remember because you can only get it at a place like Smorgasburg.
Seeing someone order a hot dog with ketchup and mustard made me question why humanity even exists. It would be like going to Disneyland and only riding the monorail. Or living in the year 2015 without pretending you’re Marty McFly. Get the ramen burger, or the chorizo con pan, or the breakfast tacos.
Do: Be prepared to stand.
Remember, these tend to be set up in warehouses, or otherwise previously empty, large areas. There is no built in seating. Shockingly few items were dropped by patrons looking for seating, but I chalk that up to millennials having strong hand muscles from gripping devices. If sitting with strangers irks you, just get your food to go. I guarantee there is a reclaimed steel factory within a quarter mile in every direction.
Do: Take a date there.
*Stefon voice* This place has everything: puffy waffles with ice cream, a Greek guy named Tony, middle-aged tourists in Bill Cosby sweaters, and a Venezuelan chef that makes hot dogs. (SNL should really just offer Bill Hader whatever he wants to come back once every few weeks.) In all seriousness, this is a great first date venue. You have to walk a lot, the seating is tight, there’s plenty of food, and most importantly, there are plenty of people to make