Tour of “Mad. Sq. Eats” Spring 2013 – Part 2

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As promised in part one of my tour of “Mad. Sq. Eats”, I made my return to Madison Square Park for a second round, hoping to scoop up whatever eateries I missed the first time and to return to a few new favorites. Happening twice a year across from the Flatiron building, this food fair brings together vendors from all across the five boroughs, and gives foodies and passerby’s a chance to taste some places they otherwise would not have the opportunity to. Being the opportunist that I am, my goal was to eat my way around the entire event, and if there is one thing that I don’t do, it’s give up without a fight.

Readers may recall that in my first guide, there were not as many photos as I wanted since I was busy filming this video at the event. On this visit, it was a different story, so prepare for a ton of photos from nine more spots at the event to get you salivating and wishing you were there!

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I had to go back to Charlito’s Cocina again, since on this day I came armed with an abundance of lactase enzyme pills. Last time I had the sad duty of passing on their delicious panini’s ($10), but not today! I went with a classic pairing of Chorizo and Manchego cheese, grilled to perfection on their lovely panini press (gotta’ love that checkerboard pattern). The Chorizo from Charlito’s tastes just like the real thing that I had when I was in Spain, a top-notch hunk of cured meat with the perfect amount of heat and that distinctive color and taste. Their manchego was equally wonderful, sharp and nutty with a nice amount of salt, and paired up to make a tasty panini.

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Of course, I could not pass up some more samples of their other salami’s, including their country style and the absolutely divine truffle, with actual chunks of truffle in it). The truffle oil slowly spreads into the whole salami, giving the whole thing a tremendous scent of luxury. Plus, they have the vegetarian friendly Dry Fig Salami, which has to be seen (and eaten) to be believed. Charlito’s has got me hooked for life now, and they should be your first and last stop at the event – first to get a panini, and last to take home a salami.

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On my first trip to “Mad. Sq. Eats”, I saw hordes of people piling around Roberta’s Pizza, who were pumping out freshly-baked pizza pies out of their portable wood-fire oven in the park. With a relatively small line, I jumped in and ordered a classic Margarita pizza ($8). I was told it would take about five minutes to make, but I got mine in two minutes flat.

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The personal pizza is a good snack if you are flying solo like I was, or with another person. When you are making this rustic style of pizza, it is all about the ingredients, and the aroma of the garden-fresh basil with the creamy mozzarella cheese and slightly-acidic and slightly-sweet sauce join together for one delicious little pie. The crust is pretty soft, not doughy but pliable as opposed to a thin-crust pizza. Overall, a balanced and yummy pizza, and 100% worth braving the line to get one.

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I am not a big fan of hot dogs, but I had to give Asia Dog a try. Taking the average Western-style hot dog and beefing it up (no pun intended… or is it?) with flavors from the East, there were plenty of daring combinations to top your beef, chicken, or vegetarian dog with. I tried the “Ito” with my beef dog ($4.50), which comes slathered in a vegetable curry with pickled apples on top. Frankly, I don’t think I could ever have another hot dog again without these toppings.

This is a very complex hot dog, with the mild veggie curry acting as the neutralizer of all things to balance the spicy and sweet flavor of the pickled apple with the prominent taste of the hot dog meat. The crunch and heat of the fruit married wonderfully with the curry, and makes me curious about some of the other daring toppings that Asia Dog has for their dogs.

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The lobster BLT ($10) from the Red Hook Lobster Pound was a more cost-effective way of trying this eatery without killing my budget. While I like lobster rolls in general, I find their price-point highly objectionable, so the BLT is a better way to try their take on this crustacean as well as seeing how they handle other ingredients. The lobster was as good as you would hope, the right texture with a very fresh taste. It would not be a BLT without the thick slice of crunchy hickory-smoked bacon, thick slices of tomato, and shredded lettuce, with a small glob of homemade mayo to bind it all together. Served inside a toasted bun with half of a butter pickle next to it, this is my personal recommendation from this particular eatery, although I must admit that Lobster Mac & Cheese on their menu is calling my name.

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Sicilian Rice balls from The Arancini Bros. were quite the tempting snack at this event, and I had to indulge in a big ball of fried carbs. The ragu rice ball ($4) was filled with their traditional meat sauce, peas, and mozzarella cheese, a real Italian treat and excellent version on this pizzeria staple. The sauce is the star of this, with big flavor bursting from the center, but the crunchy crust with soft innards is just as good. There was also a version stuffed with sausage and broccoli rabe as well as one with basil pesto and mozzarella that must be just as tasty as the ragu.

Aside from the food, mostly everyone at this event that is behind the counter has been super helpful and friendly. The guy who was handling this stand was pretty obtuse and indifferent. When I asked what he had left (since at the time I went, there were not too many rice balls out), his response was “Look at the paper,” gesturing to the menu. Instead of taking the time to explain what the eatery he worked for was or hyping up the rice balls, he could not be bothered. This was the same gentleman that was there when I shot the video, and he was equally terse then, so I can’t blame it on anything other than his personality just being that way.

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Making their worldwide debut, the Seoul Lee Korean Bar B Cue was serving Korean style tacos and bibimbap, among other delicacies. Their stall was one that constantly had a crowd around it, but I lucked out when I snuck over as they were cleaning the grill. Their tasty Pork Taco ($3 for one, $8 for three) came with a homemade spicy kimchi made with Napa Cabbage, arugula, and a smoky mayo sauce on top. When I saw them on my first visit, they had lovely blue corn tortilla shells, but sadly it was a one-time thing (although the chef did say he wanted to bring them back, so here is hoping they do).

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The Korean Style chicken wings ($8), freshly fried and covered in a sweet and sticky sesame-soy sauce combination, were another of the items from this stand. This trio of extremely large and meaty wings would go great with the beer on tap from these fellows, just make sure to grab some extra napkins – you will need it. As of now, this particularly eatery is homeless, with neither a storefront or truck. However, they have plans to return to the Mad. Sq. Eats event in Autumn, and hopefully by then they will be able to announce their longterm plans.

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I returned to Mayhem and Stout for another of their BBQ sandwiches, and ordered the Pulled chicken, slathered in their Dragon BBQ sauce and covered in pickled poblano peppers ($9). The concept with this place is that you choose your meat, sauce, and topping, so there is plenty of combinations and permutations going on with their menu (how often do I get to use that word?). More importantly, I learned that “Mayhem and Stout” will have their first brick-and-mortar store opening up towards the end of summer on 38th and 2nd Avenue, so keep your eyes peeled for their grand opening sooner than later!

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The Pork Belly Bun ($4) from Hong Kong Street Cart might have been my favorite new thing to eat on this trip. Take a nicely roasted piece of pork belly, toss in a few sliced cucumbers with a drizzle of soy sauce and a shot of mayo, and wrap it in a steamed rice bun, and there you have it! It was simple but pure flavor, with fresh ingredients and a dreamy piece of pork belly, the king of all parts of the pig. While it might seem like plain street food, it was a very luxurious sandwich with a lot going on.

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I got a nice cup of meat sauce from “Sunday Gravy” for nine dollars instead of gorging on one of their sandwiches or plates or pasta. Served with a small crostini, the ratio of meat to sauce may be two to one. If anything, the crushed tomatoes are the glue to hold this thick meat paste together, but what a meat paste it is! This sauce was loaded with sausage, osso buco, and ground beef, with a little bit of heat from pepperoncino, a very well-rounded and hearty stew of a sauce. Calling it an Italian meat stew is far more accurate, and I suggest getting yourself a jar of the goods to take home.

I wish “Mad. Sq. Eats” was longer than just one month, as I still have yet to try every single booth in the park. Perhaps I need to make one more trip there after all. If you have not checked it out yet, I highly recommend you do before it is over at the end of this month. There is something for everyone, whether you are a vegetarian or omnivorous. Plus, you can legally drink booze outdoors, so it’s win-win.

Just like my first trip, I have a few other treats that will be getting their own review, including some more goodies from Momofuku Milk Bar, NuNu Chocolates, and The Macaron Parlour, so keep your eyes open for those coming soon! And yes, I ate all of this in one day, and just so you know, I had a huge stomach ache after. I regret nothing.

Mad. Sq. Eats” is located in General Worth Square on Madison Avenue and 23rd Street, and is happening everyday from May 3 till May 31 from 11 AM till 9 PM.

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