BY ANNA SPIVAK & HELEN KLEIN
Sunset Park-based Tacos el Rancho is the new champ of New York City Street Food.
Taking home the coveted Vendy Cup, the top prize at the 2016 Vendy Awards– an annual street food competition – the family of Brooklyn vendors, headed by Felix Soriano, a Sunset Park resident for the past 22 years, along with his sons Dennis and Nelson, served up their authentic Mexican cuisine for the competition and took home the top spot.
And for good reason! We tried the Quesadillas with Green Sauce, stuffed with melty fresh cheese – just one of several delectable dishes the cart, which bases its offerings on the cuisine of Oaxaca, Mexico, had up for tasting. The tortillas were handmade, and the brilliant emerald salsa made a lively statement on the palate.
Brooklyn was definitely in the house at the event, held on Saturday, September 17, with another borough vendor, Big Mozz – which sells its mozzarella sticks at Smorgasburg – snagging the top prize in this year’s ‘Best of Market’ category. Undoubtedly the best mozzarella sticks we’ve ever had (bold statement we know), the crispy, cheesy, handmade goodness are the brainchild of Matt Gallira and family.
“We do handmade mozzarella sticks, so right here in the breading you’ve got fresh garlic, parsley and pecorino Romano, so it’s just a ton of flavor built in,” said Gallira. “We’ve got homemade bread sauce and we’ve got the family here, so we’re a small company but we’re in it together.”
Another Brooklyn winner was the Good Batch, which has made its mark elevating the classic ice cream sandwich. Founder Anna Gordon served up some seriously sweet treats at this year’s competition, specifically two varieties of the snack, both filled with a generous heaping of vanilla ice cream but packed in between two different types of cookies – one more like a classic chocolate chip and the other like a thin, caramel soaked Rice-Krispie treat.
“We started doing markets like this as a vendor at the Brooklyn Flea six years ago,” Gordon said. “And while we’ve maintained that outdoor market presence, we’ve also been able to build up a wholesale business and a retail space that’s in Clinton Hill, which we’re really excited about because now we can do cakes and pies and things beyond just ice cream sandwiches.” The Vendy first-timer took home the prize for Best Dessert.
Cachapas on Wheels, which sells Venezuelan specialties on Saturdays in Williamsburg, at Bedford Avenue and North Sixth Street, offered up Latino morsels including the yoyo sandwich, savory tender pork topped with fried sweet plaintains, that helped win it the People’s Choice award, voted by attendees at the event, held as it has been for the past several years on Governor’s Island, just a short boat ride from the Brooklyn shore from Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, at the foot of Atlantic Avenue.
With three savory sliders on its menu for the day, vegan joint Monk’s Meats – with outposts at Smorgasburg and Vegan Shop Up in Brooklyn – slayed the competition with its “Flight of Sliders,” earning itself the title of People’s Choice Vegan Vendor. Offering up a BBQ seitan slider, a bulgogi seitan slider and a jerk seitan slider, these vegan bites are reminiscent of some of the best meat burgers we’ve had, each boasting its own flavor profile complemented by fresh lettuce, slaw and zesty sauces.
Other notable vendors with Brooklyn connections included Puran Dhaka, which serves up vegetarian Bengali street food on weekends in Kensington, at Church Avenue and McDonald Avenue. “Our food is flour-based, it’s fried and inside we pop it in with chick peas, potatoes, onions, eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes and cilantro topped with tamarind sauce on top,” one of the vendor reps said.
Also making stops in Brooklyn is Sisig City, a Staten Island-based vendor of Filipino food, which, said Chef/Owner Manny Imperial, “is trying to mainstream Filipino food.” Sisig City serves up its specialties at Williamsburg’s Hangry Garden on Thursdays and Sundays, and Imperial himself will be a contestant on “Chopped” in October, he said. Imperial’s offerings included a crispy spring roll, a Filipino sausage and a powdered sugar topped roll-up for a full meal in one little cardboard tray.
While Imperial’s food was distinctly different from anything else at this year’s Vendys, he had much in common with the other participants, who,” said Sean Basinski, director, Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center, “are expanding the food landscape and making New York City a more exciting and flavorful place. We look forward to next year’s Vendy Awards, and continuing to create a space to celebrate the hard work of these vendors. Here’s to taco trucks on every corner!”