The 11th annual Vendy Awards were hosted on Governor’s Island this weekend. With 25 vendors competing over 5 categories, there was enough to eat and drink to last a week, let alone a day.
The event raises funds for The Street Vendor Project, a non-profit organisation consisting of 1900 members, supporting street vendors across the city. There are a myriad of ridiculous laws and pressures that the city put onto the 20,000+ vendors out on the streets, and one topic that certainly needs highlighting is the issuing of permits and vending licences, which has created a black market where original permits costing $200 sell for upwards $20,000. It is a situation that caused arguably the city’s best truck, Cinnamon Snail (it would get my vote as #1), to essentially quit this year, although there may be some good news on that front as Gothamist suggest that they will be opening a restaurant soon. Read more about the issues with permits and licences at Lift the Caps.
My personal favourite vendor of the day was Queens-based Burmese Bites, who were competing in the Best of Market category. They offered a wonderful trio of items; keema palata, chicken curry palata and “gold mountain noodles”. The spices in the keema palata had an incredibly robust flavour that jumped out immediately from the moist mince meat, it was my favourite item of the whole day, while the thick noodles had just the right amount of kick as roasted chili flakes and bean powder combined to leave a smokey finish. Burmese Bites’ schedule can be found on their facebook page, but mostly frequent the Queens Night Market out in Jamaica.
While Burmese Bites got my vote for best of market, it was the hardest category as Your Panadas ran them fairly close (confession, I had been thinking they were called Your Pandas all day), particularly with their ice-cream empanada drizzled with dulce de leche. Your Panadas can be found in the Vendy Plaza up in Harlem. The winner of the category was Home Frite – I enjoyed their truffle fries and coupled them with a lemon garlic aioli and would happily order them any time, but was somewhat surprised for french fries to win over something a little more exotic.
It was a humid day and while it was nice to imbibe on many a glass of wine (beer was available but there was too much food to eat as it was, no use getting bloated on hops!), best street drink was also a category, and with no lines at any of them due to the speed at which they can distribute, I certainly had my fill. I enjoyed them all, particularly the roasted oolong bubble tea from Tea and Milk, but my vote went to the winner, Renegade Lemonade (bonus points from this writer for best name of the day), who offered 4 different lemonades – all were excellent, but the strawberry basil was the best of the best, not too sweet and definitely a thirst quencher.
As you can imagine, sweets are on the agenda here too, and the Best of Dessert category offered up marshmallows, smores, donuts and ice cream, but my vote belonged to Booqoo Beignets, whose fluffy and buttery namesake wasn’t too heavy on this gastronomic workout, similar but lighter than a donut.
Picture of the day was undoubtedly the neapolitan squishkabob from squish marshmallows, and I particularly enjoyed the peanut butter jelly time marshmallow from them.
The Best of Dessert was won by Doughnuttery. I plumped for the lavender/pistachio/vanilla variety and while they are very nice, eating tiny doughnuts doesn’t seem to sit well with me, I’d rather have one normal-sized doughnut than three small ones.
I was familiar with most of the vendors competing in Rookie of the Year, my only ignorance being Lil Zeus Lunch Box, who ended up being the only place I didn’t get to try on the day (they had to close up while I was still on line), so apologies to them! They had a long line most of the day, as did Kaya and winners Coney Shack, who I like a lot and while it wasn’t an option on the day, would recommend their hot dogs, I have had the Holy Phuc before, which features fried fish on top of the dog. I voted for Old Traditional Polish as I felt a little sorry for them being tucked away in the corner, it seemed like people didn’t know they were there and I get pierogies and kielbasa from them with some regularity, but Coney Shack were deserved winners.
The Vendy cup is decided by a panel of 8 judges (though the public vote in this category under the Peoples Choice), and is saved for last. Competing for the big prize were Biryani House (I don’t know why the only half decent Indian food you can get in NYC is biryani), Hard Times Sundaes, Guandong Chong Fun, Snowday and Soulvaki Lady.
All of the competitors offered good, solid options, with Hard Times Sundaes burger teasing you into proceedings at the entrance of the event. Soulvaki Lady dished up a tasty pita and in particular I enjoyed Guandong Chong Fun’s steamed rice noodle roll with sweetcorn and chicken, it felt like the kind of street snack for which the vendys is all about.
However, the winners of the day (both peoples choice and the cup) were Snow Day (featured image), who I also voted for. They seemed to really go to town for the whole day, having won rookie of the year in 2014. Serving up a sticky maple grilled cheese, with fried-smoked spare riblets and maple chimichurri, it was certainly not first-date-food, but the maple was a nice twist to an item which is becoming increasingly common on the food truck scene, and the riblets had a snap to them and paired well with the chimichurri. It’s worth giving some extra context to Snow Day as they hire formerly incarcerated youth (New York is one of two states that prosecute 16 and 17 year olds as adults), you can found out more about their cause at Drive Change.
The Vendy Awards is a fun day and the chance to sample much of the city’s best street food, as well as contributing to a good cause. Support street vendors by petitioning to lift the caps on permits HERE!