BY HEATHER J. CHIN, DENISE ROMANO AND HELEN KLEIN
Thousands ate their way through Industry City on Saturday, September 7 for the ninth annual NYC Vendy Awards—the Oscars of the food vendor world—which was held this year in Brooklyn.
The big winner of the day was Brooklyn/Red Hook’s El Olomega and its owners, Janet and Marcos Lainez, whose traditional, homemade pupusas took home the Vendy Cup—keeping it in the Red Hook Food Vendor family after Piaztlan Authentic Mexican Food won it last year.
“Winning the Vendy Cup is just the ultimate feeling, that people like our product. I feel great,” enthused Marcos Lainez. “Our food is special, but nothing special; it’s just the love and of course our secret recipe. It’s been something in the making for over 20 years. My parents started the business and we’re just taking over and continuing tradition.”
The People’s Taste Award went to Luke’s Lobster, whose classic Maine-style lobster rolls and lobster-and-cheese sandwiches won over the crowd, which formed the longest lines waiting for the Down East treats throughout the afternoon.
Best Dessert went to Elmhurst-based Itizy Ice Cream Truck and its delicious homemade concoctions in refreshingly creative, yet simple flavors such as Blueberry Mojito, Mint Stracciatella and Coffee Brownie—a portion of the profits from which goes to promote founders Kenneth Chen and Ann Yu’s social mission of feeding those in need through supporting Scoop For Meals.
Best Market Vendor went to Queens-based Khao Man Gai NY for its exhaustively researched and carefully prepared authentic Thai chicken-and-rice dish that owners Eric and Emorn Henshaw said is their way of sharing their favorite dish with New Yorkers.
Best of New Jersey went to local/organic-focused Home By The Range, which also won the Messy But Tasty Award.
Rookie of the Year went to Midtown-based Nuchas, whose Argentinian-style savory and sweet empanadas and homemade sauces impressed eaters and judges alike.
Judges included Clarkson Potter editor-at-large Francis Lam, Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver, Food Network Star Justin Warner, meat guru Pat LaFrieda, and Every Day with Rachael Ray editor-in-chief Lauren Purcell.
If you haven’t already hit up the kitchens of these Vendy Award winners, don’t worry: several winners—as well as many of the finalists—can be found year-round on streets and at markets throughout Brooklyn.
In addition to El Olomega, featured Brooklyn vendors included Bon Chovie – which specializes in deep-fried anchovies FedEx-ed over night from Turkey; Oddfellows Ice Cream Co. whose flavors included Peanut Butter and Jelly and Cornbread; Toum – which brings its traditional Lebanese eats to DUMBO on Thursdays; Mamak – whose Malaysian curries add a new flavor to New York’s ever-changing melting pot, and Carpe Donut NYC – whose sugar-coated apple cider donuts are served sweet and hot.
Xaverian graduate Scott Bridi was there with his Sunset Park-based company, Brooklyn Cured, offering up breakfast pork sausage links with maple syrup and blueberry silver-dollar pancakes. An “excited” Bridi said that he was working with local purveyors A.L. Coluccio and the newly opened Lock Yard beer garden.
It was Tracie Lee and Wayne Surber’s first time at the Vendy’s with their truck, Lonestar Taco, based in the New Amsterdam market but are expanding soon to Bushwick with its locally-sourced, fresh tacos, that are extremely savory with bright flavors.
“We are really excited, we didn’t expect it,” Lee said. “It’s great to see new people getting acquainted with our food.”
Beyond Brooklyn’s borders, other food trucks also stood out. Neapolitan Express offers super-thin crusted pizza which features locally-sourced ingredients. “Our mantra is fast food should be good food,” said founder Max Crespo, adding, “You are what you eat.”