Red Hook Ballfields Up and Running

Photo by Gabi Porter

As I'm sure you've heard from multiple sources, the Red Hook ballfields vendors returned this weekend, at least most of them. There were six families selling food out of their DOH-approved trucks; the four missing vendors are still in the process of getting their rigs approved.

It's great to have them back, especially after all the bureaucratic nonsense involved in getting the contract and the necessary permits—not to mention the tens of thousands of dollars the vendors have had to spend to meet DOH approval.

I know the trucks are a necessary evil, but I do miss the old set up—the immediacy of it and the way that the aromas coming off all the grills would mingle together.

The practical differences that the trucks make seem to be twofold. First, it seems like the vendors have less cooking surface on the grills inside the trucks, and less room for the cooks themselves. This means that while the crowds have increased, the vendors' cooking pace is slower, and the lines were very, very long. Second, most of the vendors now have someone standing outside the truck taking money, keeping money-handling and food-handling separate.

But the ballfields have always been about great food, and the food is still as good as ever. I went down to the Ecuadorian stall for some shrimp ceviche, which was exactly as I remember it: full of fat shrimp and red onion in a lime broth. The only difference is that the hot sauce and corn nuts aren't self-serve anymore, instead you get little plastic containers filled with them when you order.

The beloved pupusas from the stall on the corner were still extraordinary. But while I remember the only filling options being meat/cheese or cheese, the stuffings have now been expanded to deluxe versions like jalapeño and cheese and zucchini. We got the jalapeño version, which turned out to also have diced carrots along with the chiles and the cheese. The cabbage slaw and vinegary hot sauce remain the same.

The place was a media circus on Sunday, with television crews and hordes of food bloggers snapping pictures, not that I should talk. Chuck Schumer, Adrien Benepe and Marty Markowitz held a press conference there on Sunday afternoon, which I did not stay to hear. Anyone who did have any thoughts?

I'm glad the vendors are getting the attention they deserve, but I do hope the fever pitch dies down a bit so that the ballfields can get back to being the relaxed, neighborly place they were.

An interesting quote from the 1010 Wins report:

"It's completely changed and not for the better,'' said Jon Goch, a nearby resident who said he had been buying food from the vendors for four years before the city cracked down. ``It used to be very organic, more open, more social. Now it's just another city-controlled event. There was an awesome thing going on, and they came in and ripped the soul out of it.''

What do you think? If you went this weekend, did you find it less enjoyable than in past years? I'm curious to hear your feedback.

I think Goch has a point—I did find it a less enjoyable experience than in the past, but mostly because it was so overwhelmingly crowded. I think that the crowds will become more manageable as the summer goes on.

And the thing is, the vendors attracted the city's regulatory attention only when they became so popular with the wider community. Now that the vendors have spent $30,000 to get in compliance, I think they deserve our loyalty and our continued business.

That gorgeous picture above is by Gabi Porter, and there will be an entire slideshow of her images of the opening weekend up later today or tomorrow. I'll post the link here when it's up.


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