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A Day at the 2007 Vendy Awards: A thorough report with photos

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Let me start by stating that I love street food, and have never met a street food vendor that I didn't like. They are, for the most part, friendly, hard-working, honest, enterprising individuals (usually immigrants) who work long hours to provide NYers with some of the most tasty and interesting chow around. So I am happy to support them any way that I can, and I am so glad that I shelled out $60 (!) in advance for a ticket to this event. The Street Vendor Project is a campaign conceived and organized by the Urban Justice Center, an advocacy group serving low-income and marginalized NYers. Their annual event, the Vendy awards, is worth every penny (and includes free wine, beer, soda, and bottled water!).
This year's 5 contestants (in no particular order):

1) Veronica Julien from Veronica's Kitchen: purveyor of Trinidadian/Jamaican jerk chicken, curried goat, and oxtail stew downtown at Front Street and Pine;

2) Thiru "Dosa Man" Kumar from NY Dosas: purveyor of Sri Lankan -style (vegan) dosas and samosas at Washington Square South;

3) Muhammed Rahman from Kwik Meal: purveyor of Bengali-style Middle Eastern specialities such as Felafel, Marinated Lamb and Chicken pitas, and shrimp with rice at 46th Street and Sixth Avenue;

4) The Super Taco Crew, aka "Sobre Ruedas": purveyor of tacos, tortas, tamales, quesadillas, and more at 96th St. and B'way;

5) Farez (Freddy) Zeideia, the King of Falafel and Shawarma: purveyor of Middle-eastern style street food (falafel, shawarma, and chicken) at 30th Street and Broadway, Astoria;

I started out with Thiru's dosa. I know Thiru, his cart is located two blocks from my home 5 days a week (lucky me!), and he is a sweetheart. His food is also damn good. I was treated to a cup of vegetable soup while I waited in line- deliciously spicy, with big chunks of pepper, squash, onion and potato. next came the steamed lentil (sponge) patty with savory coconut chutney. Very different from anything I ever had- I would like to try it again, possibly with his other sauces. I was also handed a monster-sized, beautifully-golden, flaky samosa with potato and pea filling. Oh, was it good, and suprisingly light- I really wish they had offered some tamarind sauce with it. Finally, my dosa: a large, thin, crisp lentil/rice crepe filled with tangy potato, pepper, lettuce, and tomato- aka the "pondicherry dosa". Accompanied by the best green sauce I have ever tasted in any restaurant/kiosk representing food of the sub-continental region. A great success, in my book, although my one criticism would be that my particular dosa was a bit thin.

Next up: Super Taco. I am a big fan of Tacos, and a frequent whiner when it comes to the dearth of Cali-style Mexican taco carts (until I discovered Roosevelt Ave., of course, but that's another story). So I was Super Excited to try Super Taco- and I was not let down. Past experience has taught me to skip carne asada when it comes to tacos, so I stuck with the kind of taco I know best: pork. I ordered a pastor and a carnitas. Both came with some diced tomato, onion, and cilantro, and there were red and green salsas and lime wedges available, as well. The carnitas had the perfect texture of juiciness with crispy edges, but were slightly lacking in flavor. The pastor, on the other hand, with its sweet addition of pineapple and tangy spice marinade, was one of the best tacos I have ever tasted anywhere. A show-stopper. The tortillas themselves were good and fresh, but nothing particularly special.

Third: My Man Muhammad's lamb pita. I enjoyed Muhammad's food on many late-night breaks from work, during my days at a nearby midtown law firm, and while his food can be inconsistent, he never disappoints. His lamb is tender, moist, and tasty, and his white sauce must have magic fairy dust in it, because no one else's comes close. I also happen to think that he has the best pita bread around- warm and chewy, with a rich yellow color and crispy grill marks. His falafel is particular, too- tiny, moist balls of subtly-spiced chickpea. I wasn't too thrilled with the chicken pita, but the lamb was yummy as always.

Fourth: Freddy Zedeia, Mr. Personality. I love Freddy, and even if his food sucked, I bet he'd be successful at anything he did, as long as he flashed his famous smile. Luckily for him, his food is top-notch. I was treated to a fresh, hot falafel ball while I waited in line. Freddy's famous falafel is famous for a reason- toasty-brown in color, and slighty elongated in shape, they stick out from your usual round, pale falafel fare. These are simultaneously crunchy and smooth, the dark, cumbly exterior enveloping the multi-textured moist interior, apparently made up of a ground chickpea combination of smooth and chunky. Very cool. And now for the main dish- chicken over rice with cabbage, tomato, pickles, tahine and hot sauce. Wow, did this one go "pop" in my mouth. The chicken was nicely coated with a tangy marinade, and perfectly cooked, without being dried out from over-griddling. And the rice in a slightly red sauce was delicious in its own right, not merely a background for the rest. I loved the thick tahine and (very) hot sauce combo, too- I even dipped my extra falafel in it, for a fun side dish.

Finally: Veronica from Trinidad. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the front of the line (on which I waited the longest, for about 30 minutes), they had run out of all meat, as well as their famous mac cheese...I was bummed (even though I was painfully stuffed by then), but got a plate of steamed vegetables and spiced rice with both "jerk chicken gravy" and "curry chicken gravy", in order to get an idea of how these meats would have tasted. The vegetables (cabbage, pepper, carrot) were soft, wet, and sweet. The zesty rice, which was mixed with a few black beans, was well-cooked and quite flavorful. But the gravies were very very good, and totally made the rice taste like a meal. In fact, I plan to mosey on down to Front St. one of these days just to try some of the curried goat (which I had seen others eating earlier, and was really looking forward to) and chicken, as I cannot stop thinking about how good that gravy was.

Judges included Sara Moulton of Gourmet Magazine, Mo Rocca of Iron Chef, Michael Musto of The Village Voice, Ed Levine of NY Eats, Ron Kuby ("the people's attorney" of the City of NY ), and Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer. Before I tell you who the winner was, I'll upload some photos from each cart, four at a time, as that is the limit per post:

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  1. Here are some photos from everyone's favorite Dosa Man:

     
     
     
     
    1. Super Tacos!:

       
       
       
       
      6 Replies
      1. re: vvvindaloo

        so did we just have bad luck in getting a duff batch of tacos? what we got was really kind of lousy.

        1. re: wleatherette

          I am sorry to hear that... mine tasted just like they look in the photos, if that helps you to judge.

          1. re: vvvindaloo

            they do look much, much better than what we were served. oh well.

            1. re: wleatherette

              It happens.... hey- I stood in line for 30 minutes at Veronica's Kitchen and all I got was rice! :) It wasn't even 6:30 yet!

              1. re: vvvindaloo

                i'm so glad that we ate early! if you ever find yourself way downtown, veronica's is worth a stop for that mac & cheese.

          2. re: wleatherette

            Probably not a fluke. Super Tacos is generally not that good. It's just good enough, but there are tons of better tacos in NYC. It makes me wonder how these vendors get nominated. Sammy's cart, the winner from last year, is the most inconsistent cart I've encountered. Good one time, really bad another, just OK another time, and every time I've been, it's always tasted different (spicing, sauce, etc.). That's a sign of poor or nonexistent management. Too bad.

        2. Fabulous joke-telling, belly-dancing Freddy:

           
           
           
           
          1. thanks for the post.

            1. Veronica of Trinidad:

               
               
               
               
              1. I work on 50th and 6th, right between Quik Meal and the 53rd Cart... I love it!!

                1. And Muhammad's Kwik Meal (chicken pictured, I seem to have lost my lamb photos):

                   
                   
                   
                   
                  1. And the judges say...
                    5th place: Super Taco
                    4th place: Veronica's Kitchen
                    3rd place: Freddy Zeideia, the King of Falafel and Shawarma
                    2nd place: Muhammad Rahman's Kwik Meal
                    and....
                    1st place goes to Thiru "the dosa man" Kumar of NY Dosa!

                    Photos of the announcements (with judges):

                     
                     
                     
                     
                    2 Replies
                    1. re: vvvindaloo

                      Go Dosa Man, go!

                      Awesome. Thanks for the report. Oh, and I think you mean Ed Levine of Serious Eats, right?

                      1. re: kathryn

                        Actually, I should have written that he is the author of the famous book, New York Eats. Yes, he's the same guy who now does the Serious Eats website.

                    2. Congrats Dosa Man!

                      1. we had such a good time, and almost everything we had was fantastic. vvvindaloo's comments are so exhaustive that i'll just second most of them - dosas, chicken rice, and lamb pita were all terrific. the white sauce from kwik meal is truly impressive, and i agree that his pita is a cut above. from veronica julien's truck, we had nicely spiced jerk chicken, oxtail, and fabulous baked mac and cheese. the jerk wasn't as good as mckenzie's, but then what is? it's great food, and i'd say it's worth the trip to the financial district to try it.
                        the only disappointment was the taco truck. we had one of each taco on offer, and none were very good. the meats were dry, tough, and lacking in flavor, and the tortillas were really rubbery.

                        1. What a great day. I'm proud to say that I got my law firm to sponsor the event. What a great cause. The mayors of NY should be ashamed the way these folks are hassled. VVVindaloo got it covered pretty much but I'll add my 2 cents. Like Anthony Bourdain, I am pretty anti-vegan but the Dosa Man made me wonder what I've been missing. His samosa was outta sight too. And as a previous bridesmaid every year, he finally got to be the bride. I spoke to Levine, Moulton and also the bloggers' own Andrea "Strong Buzz "Strong who also judged. Ate everything, also Brooklyn Lager and Gus' sodas provided the beverages. My personal vote went to Veronica-the mac and cheese, jerk chicken and oxtail were phenomenal. Maybe next year. Thanks for the photos triple V but how come no shots of the belly dancers?

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: guttergourmet

                            we loved the gus soda, by the way - especially their "real" cola. it's definitely going on the shopping list.

                            1. re: wleatherette

                              I second that. That was the best pop I ever had.

                            2. re: guttergourmet

                              i considered posting the photo I have, but decided it wasn't really food-related. loved that purple outfit!

                              1. re: guttergourmet

                                Darn it, I can't believe I missed out on that mac and cheese.... props to you for getting your firm to sponsor- we need more events like this in NY.

                                1. re: guttergourmet

                                  Also I met Saveur Food Editor Todd Coleman who offered up an eating tour in Queens as a raffle prize. Support those vendors!

                                2. Great post -- thanks for the pix and the descriptions. I want those tacos even tho they only took 5th.

                                  Drooling in Boston.

                                  1. Great report! Thanks for sharing. DH and I said last night that we think we have to do a vendy chow crawl before it gets too cold out!

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: SweetPea914

                                      I think a Vendy chow crawl sounds like a great idea, and if you do get around to it, I may have some suggestions for you to try.... or maybe you have some for me! Do you have any favorites that you'd like to share?

                                      1. re: vvvindaloo

                                        One of the reasons I want to do a crawl is that I rarely eat from the food carts, but always hear how good some are. My husband had Bratworst the other day that is supposed to be great in the east 50's on 5th I think?? He knows more about them than I do. I'll post an itinerary in a few days and you'll have to let me know what I'm missing!

                                        1. re: SweetPea914

                                          That's Rolf from Hallo Berlin, past winner, 54th and 5th

                                          1. re: guttergourmet

                                            Yes, that was the name of the vendor!

                                    2. I had a grand time. The weather was perfect, the lines werent that long, and folks were friendly in the lines..
                                      The food was really tasty. Vvvindaloo got that down pat.
                                      My favorite dish was the curried goat, it was not tough or gamey and fell off the bone. And it was flavorful without being filled with red pepper.
                                      I would not wanted to be a judge in this event, but to have my picture taken with. Sara Moulton really made my day.
                                      And it didnt hurt that the Mets finally left their losing streak!

                                       
                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: scharffenberger

                                        Wasn't it great how friendly people were? It was a true food love fest. So, Scharffenberger- you and I had a nice chat on the line for Freddy's shawarma... I mentioned that I thought I had seen you somewhere before. Looks like I was (sort of) right! Love the photo with Sara, by the way.

                                        1. re: vvvindaloo

                                          Hi, everyone, it was a beautiful afternoon at the Vendys! I ended up going with non-Chow friends from out of town, otherwise I would have hung with you.

                                          Here's my two cents:
                                          My personal ranking would have been The King of Falafel and Shwarma, Dosa Man, Mohammed, Veronica and Super Taco. I definitely don't disagree with the award to Dosa Man because what he offered was more unique that the usual street food. The presentation also was very professional and I loved the fact that it was vegetarian.

                                          I liked The King because I don't like falafel as a rule, and this was better than any falafel I've ever eaten. The King's stand was well organized, the King and his men (Princes of Falafel) were ace marketers, and passed out falafels to people waiting in line for Super Taco. Plus they brought belly dancers!

                                          Since Mohamed is in my office neighborhood, I was rooting for him sentimentally but I thought he could have stepped it up just a little. But he gets bonus points for generosity. There was plenty for seconds and thirds.

                                          Veronica was fine, but it wouldn't have been my first choice for cusine. I'm not a goat eater so I missed out on what you all enjoyed, and the chicken was more like what I've had elsewhere.

                                          I would take points off from Super Taco for being disorganized, plus they really didn't showcase the best of what they make. Everyone kept asking for tamales and they didn't bring any, plus they really surprised everybody by taking off early. We applauded them anyway.

                                          I would have loved to have seen a sweet table, not just right at the end, but during the main event. How lovely it would have been to have had some Italian ice or gelato to cool down the palate -- and coffee, too. (We went across the street for espresso and came back for the judging,)

                                          Let's do it again next year!

                                          1. re: brendastarlet

                                            I had a conversation with one person who basically felt the same way- she was very into the idea of having a couple of coffee/dessert carts (like the AM ones with the donuts). It might actually be a good idea to include them and encourage the morning vendors to kick their offerings up a notch! Or maybe I will open up my own espresso/cornetto cart... I bet I'd make more $ that way! Incidentally, seats at the tables were hard to come by towards the end of the event, and I had just landed myself one when they announced the "dessert table". There was no way I was giving up my spot to get in line again at that point, and I was so full anyway, so I never saw the dessert. Was it biscotti?

                                            1. re: vvvindaloo

                                              Dessert was a bag of biscotti (a choice of cranberry lemon or chocolate chip) and brownie squares. By then we'd already had espresso so we just took it home.

                                              Definitely think little cups of gelato or sorbet would be a nice ending, and the vendor could pack them in dry ice to keep them cold.

                                              1. re: brendastarlet

                                                thanks!

                                          2. re: vvvindaloo

                                            Yes you were correct in kind of knowing me. It was nice to meet you in person. Sorry I didnt get to sample the pastor pork for the tacos.

                                        2. I think Kwik Meal was the MVP. The bread was thicker than a pita but not as thick or as tough as a baguette. Unlike most street food which is messy and not really mobile, Kwik Meal was a tightly wrapped food sensation. Dosa was ok, but he does have alot of personality. Also he was due to win because he's been a finalist for a few years. See some pictures below:

                                          1. where/

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: kingfalafel

                                              The event was held at Tompkins Sq. Park.