Tour of “Mad. Sq. Eats” Spring 2013 – Part 1

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Every Spring in General Worth Square on Madison Avenue and 23rd street, “Mad. Sq. Eats” pops up, offering locals and lucky tourists a little taste of some great restaurants from all around the five boroughs. The selection is mind-boggling, with Mexican empanadas next to Korean taco joints, Asian fusion cuisine sitting across from traditional Italian specialties. “Mad. Sq. Eats” is definitely an event not to miss, and I attacked the park on it’s second day of business, shoving through the throngs of foodies to get my fill of this edible haven in the middle of a busy city.

There will not be as many photos in this review as I would have liked since I was there shooting a video (which you can see after the jump), but here is the rundown of some of what I ate (keyword is some as there will be a few supplemental reviews of items that I brought home).

As soon as you walk in the front entrance, “Charlito’s Cocina” is the third booth on the right, and always has someone slicing fresh samples of their cured sausage and fresh hard and soft cheeses. Try a panini or cheese and meat plate, but make sure you do not walk away without trying some of their spicy Chorizo, delicious Country-style sausage, or the luxurious Truffle sausage. The massive sausages, made in Long Island City and cost between $10-20 for one, were actually one of Oprah Winfrey’s “Favorite Things” in 2012 and were featured in her magazine. I promise you will walk away with one of these sausages to take home, which will last you a long time and make for excellent pairings with wine, cheese, or just about whatever excuse you want to make in order to eat these amazing sausages.

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There were a few eateries offering barbeque items, ranging from the Midwest and Southern US to Korean, but the one that grabbed my interest was “Mayhem and Stout”. Their braised short rib and brisket sandwich ($10) was served with a heap of their crunchy homemade coleslaw on their fresh-baked artisan bread, and I suggest washing it down with a beer (there are an abundance of places to get a drink outdoors as well, so remember to drink responsibly… and have lots of fun). The meat was tender with a rosy color, paired great with the texture of the slaw, a classic combination and an excellent BBQ sandwich.

La Sonrisa” offered a variety of empanadas. I had the traditional beef and the coconut curry chicken ($3.50 each). The chicken one was a complex mix of eclectic flavors merged into the empanada, well-balanced with flavors that play off each other nicely, slightly sweet and slightly spicy. The beef one, loaded with soft diced carrots and green peas, was wonderfully seasoned and the prime example of how to elevate this Mexican street food without fluffing it up into some pretentious thing. The crust on both was crunchy and chewy, just as good warm as it is cold.

Heating up the place at the “Mehtaphor” booth, the Pork Dumpling Chaat ($9) is Jehangir Mehta’s take on a traditional Indian chaat, but replacing the samosa with a Chinese pork dumpling. Crunchy, sweet, salty, this generous portion of dumplings, served in a Chinese takeout container, was smothered with the usual Chaat fixings and is as fun to taste as it is to eat. Mehta challenges your tastebuds with his menu, served with a side of his smiling personality that will make you want to visit again for more.

One of the Mediterranean eateries in attendance was “ilili“, who served hot sandwiches, fries, and cool dips. Their Pressed chicken sandwich ($9) and Phoenician Fries ($4), which are made with sumac, fresh parsley, and their orange-colored “garlic whip” were a great combo. The chicken sandwich is made with a Lebanese flatbread, stuffed with grilled chicken and topped with yogurt sauce and tangy Lebanese pickles, a simple snack with a lot of flavor going on. This was definitely one of my favorites, light in appearance but filling for the stomach. I also recommend their hummus, but catch it quick as it runs out fast.

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Tucked away towards the back-end of the park, “Mighty Balls” served up some hearty savory spheres accompanied with their homemade sauces. You start with your choice of sandwich, be it slider for a single ball, or hero for a trio, or go Atkins and eat it in a bowl without any bread. After that, diners can mix and match from beef, pork, or turkey meatballs, or a veggie ball akin to falafel. Once you have your sandwich ready (which can also be topped with some cheeses), it’s time to choose from one of their signature sauces, including the mighty hot jalapeƱo jelly, african onion, tomato sauce, cranberry horseradish or what I got, the “not your average brown sauce”. “Mighty Balls” also offers cake balls for dessert if you could not get enough of their round foods.

For dessert, I could not avoid the “Artisan Cannoli” booth, which offered a wide variety of the stuffed Italian pastry in mini-sizes. I opted for the Birthday Cake and Pistachio cannolis (a pair will cost you $5), but you can also try their coffee, chocolate, limoncello, or some of their seasonal offerings which rotate through the year, including Pumpkin Pie, Ginger Bread, Candy Corn, and Egg Nog. The pistachio cannoli, with its slight green hue in the filling and the ends dipped in crushed pistachios, had the nutty flavor you hoped it would and will remind you of a firm ice cream. The birthday cake, dipped in rainbow sprinkles, surprisingly tastes like a birthday cake, and will bring nostalgic joy to your mouth with the sweet cheese filling getting a new life from this modern version of one of my favorite desserts of all-time.

There is plenty more to eat and try at “Mad. Sq. Eats”, with some more reviews coming up soon including “Momofuku Milk Bar” and “Mason Jar”. Expect a sequel to this post soon as I will be heading back soon for round two to scoop up whatever I missed on my first strike!

Mad. Sq. Eats” is open from May 3 to May 31 from 11 AM to 9 PM every day, including weekends.

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