When Marissa and I were expecting, a father of two young children told me that he wished there was a blog that told parents where to dine with their kids. I told him that there probably were a number of blogs like that already. As a father, I’m not of the same mindset as that dad; I’ll take Harper to most restaurants that won’t give us the boot. But on Father’s Day, I found the perfect place for parents who don’t want to go fine-dining with their infant. (More on that next month.) Marissa surprised me with an itinerary that included a stroll over the Brooklyn Bridge, a walk through Brooklyn Bridge Park, and a food tour through Smorgasburg, a Sunday food market that begins at 11:00 am. Smorgasburg, I realized, was the dining experience that the father with the two young kids needed.
We entered the gates at 10:59. I expected Smorgasburg to be packed, as one of my wife’s colleagues suggested we bring our baby carrier instead of the stroller. But besides the vendors opening up shop, maybe six customers roamed the grounds anticipating their first bites.
Marissa was worried that the lines would form quickly and that the capacity of our stomachs would not cater to all the foodstuff.
“Here’s the plan,” she said. “We see something we like, we buy it right away. No wasting time. If we don’t like how it tastes, we throw it out.”
I had never seen her so committed to (or authoritarian about) an eating experience.
“I’m not throwing out food,” I assured her. “I bet everything is delicious anyway.”
I had my own rules: forgo the stands that served hotdogs, skip those that shunned meat, and avoid the ones that I had tried before at other festivals, like the incomparable barbecue at Mighty Quinn’s or the pupusas at Solber Pupusa.
One establishment that I have seen numerous times at Brooklyn events was Dough, Brooklyn’s gourmet doughnut shop. But each time I had come across the double tier of doughnuts caged behind a wall of plexiglass, with the glazed toppings gleaming in the sun or artificial light, I’m either too full or sans sweet-tooth. On this particular morning, Marissa and I figured it was time to dough out for this dessert. And in the world of doughnuts, I can say that Dough lived up to the hype.
The clock had struck eleven, signaling both Harper’s imminent feeding and the rush of hipster foodies on Smorgasburg. We raced over to Oaxaca’s tacos. Despite the taco being our first bite of something savory and regardless of the law of diminishing utils experienced from each consecutive piece of food ingested, their tender beef cheek taco drizzled with an avocado lime sauce was the best thing at Smorgasburg.
From Oaxaca we wheeled over to the Filipino stand, Lumpish Shack. The Shack, which was a tent, served their three standard spring rolls and a fourth roll that was special to the menu: pork belly spring rolls, drizzled with hoison sauce and creme fraiche, and served with crumbled bits of hardboiled egg and slices of sweet pickled cucumbers. With spring rolls there’s always the risk of the oils stealing from the flavor, but this crisp six-pack was stuffed with the most delicious slices of pork belly. As impressive as the food was my willpower.
“You can get a nine-piece sampler of our three original spring rolls for $10.00,” said the chef. “Or you can get six pieces of our special roll for $8.00.”
Not only am I a glutton, but I’m a calculating glutton. Nine rolls for $10.00, which included variety, sounded like a much better option than six of the same rolls for $8.00. But–and I’m not sure if it was a gut-thought or a brain-thought–I went with what felt like the less logical choice: the special. Besides purchasing the taco, it was the best decision I made all day
Smorgasburg had vendors that specialized in everything from vegan cuisine to cornbread to Bolivian food. And the only line that ever formed in the first hour of the event was the one that stretched in front of the Ramen Burger table. Some other best bites were Lone Star Empire’s slow-cooked brisket (though I’m not sure if it would win head-to-head with Mighty Quinn’s) and BFC’s fried chicken. (But the waffle–the complement that forever changed the way I approach fried chicken–was cold, flavorless, and disappointing, similar to the gentleman handing out the platter.)
Five Reasons Smorgasburg at Brooklyn Bridge Park is Perfect for Foodie Fathers
1. It’s easy for kids to conk out in a stroller, as opposed to sleeping while you’re eating at Zagat’s latest mention. Plus, if your child is having a temper tantrum, then the cacophony of sizzling meat on grills and eating noises will reduce the power of that wail.
2. More people were carrying kids than wearing fedoras or newsboy caps. In Brooklyn that means a lot of people had kids.
3. Smorgasburg is in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The park, which sits along the East River and below the Brooklyn Heights promenade, has wonderful playgrounds and sitting areas. Sunbathers and picnickers occupy patches of grass and strips of sand. Nature paths take visitors through Brooklyn’s newest forest (though these paths are not suitable for strollers) and there are open-air sporting complexes along the river with courts for handball and basketball, and greens for soccer and bocci ball. Even paddleboarders now venture out into a body of water once so putrid that it starred as a character in an episode of Seinfeld. In other words, one parent can easily entertain their child, while the other runs into Smorgasburg to load up on the next course. (While there are other Smorgasburg locations in Williamsburg and at Jones Beach, you won’t have all of these amenities.)
4. There’s a known law in the land of the hipster: No one with a beard and seersucker suit shall rise before noon. If you arrive to Smorgasburg at 11:00 am, you’ll beat the lines for at least an hour.
5. Reason five actually applies equally to foodie fathers and childless foodies: I’ve been to plenty of food festivals in Brooklyn, where even a moderately priced ticket runs about $50. Smorgasburg offered a similar level of creativity in cuisine, just as much diversity and as many options (if not more), and I was satiated after spending about $25. (You should, however, bring your partner along or else you won’t get as much variety. Also, it’s hard to push a stroller with a taco in one hand and a carton of spring rolls in the other.)
One Word of Warning on Smorgasburg in Brooklyn
The path to Smorgasburg is filled with distrustful people and parents should guard their children’s toys. Here’s a quick version of the story:
On my walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, I lost a little faith in humanity that day. Harper had apparently flung her Sophie–the 5-inch rubber giraffe that is now ubiquitous in the mouths of babes. On that crowded bridge, among persons who must have seen my infant jettison this tiny effigy of a long-necked and bumble-legged African creature, nobody stopped to say, “Hey, your Sophie toy.” In fact, one couple even pointed at Harper and started laughing. We looked into the stroller and figured that they found humor in her toe sucking. But they had probably seen the giraffe get tossed from the stroller.
My father, the wonderful Poppy he has become, unthinkingly spent the next day walking the bridge in search of Sophie.
So if you head to Smorgasburg and happen to take the bridge from Manhattan and find a small rubber giraffe or a strange old man shouting “Sophie,” please leave a comment below and tell us where we can find them. Thanks.