Upon first glance of the Clinton and Bay Streets intersection you'll notice the differences and wonder how the experience will change. No longer are the vendors within the perimeters of the park, but now line the streets with their Dept. of Health approved ice cream truck kitchens. I admit, it was a little disheartening since I rather be in the park on the grass and dirt, and see the food being prepared in the open tents. But I'll take what I can get so you won't hear any complaints.
I'm no pro at this, but being that I came several times in the summer of 2007, I had an idea of which vendors to hit. The huarache truck was tops on the list, and apparently the same for everyone else. This was the stand directly to the right of the entrance last year, with several grills laid out and a cavalry of help. Let me note that most stands are in the exact location as last year, just on the other side of the fence. The line was long very long. It stretched across the entire corner and passed 2 vendors on Bay Street. And it didn't move. I lied, here's a complaint. Due to the decreased kitchen space in the trucks, less customers can be tended to at a time. This was extremely evident. Now you know, so plan accordingly. It also didn't help that Fabi ahead of me (that's what his fitted had stitched) ordered approximately 26 huaraches (orange shirt above). Damn papi.
The huarache de bistec is a must. Handmade oval tortillas blessed with slices of grilled steak, tomato, lettuce, onion, cilantro, and a white cream sauce. Homemade too I suppose- Yikes. After taking a bite, the hour wait seems so distant that you just enjoy the flavors and freshness. The crispiness of the onions and coolness of the cilantro play off the strong flavors of the beef. Outdoor stand or truck, the quality and taste wasn't compromised at all. I also ordered a chorizo taco, but was semi-disappointed. Way too liquidy- excess sauce. Ayo.
Ayote Pupusa (Zucchini and Cheese)
If you come with a dining companion you must split up and wait on different lines- double the food for half the time. My PNE (Partner in Eating) waited on a line serving pupusas and several steak dishes- seemed more Dominican than Central American. The line was short and there was a reason for that. I guess you have to learn the hard way. The official pupusa stand, one to the right, had a very long line, so a corner was cut. There's no way to bypass the lines. If the line is long that's a testament to the quality of the food. Don't be slick- wait and you will be rewarded. Turns out the pupusa I got was very good- Ayote- cheese and zucchini. A pupusa is a stuffed tortilla- similar to a pancake. The fillings are limitless. Next time I'll hit the main spot. PNE ordered Carnes de Res Fritas- fried beef, and it wasn't that good. Dry chunks of charred beef with rice and beans and platanos maduros.
Carne Res- Pass
With 2 stands down it was time to bring in the heavy hittter. And that would be the mixed seafood ceviche. After some heavy food, the lightness of the seafood and lime is a nice break. The eastern most stand on Bay Street, the ceviche stand is where the party ends. Or begins. The mixto contains shrimp, slices of octopus, calamari and small chunks of white fish. Extremely fresh in lime and cilantro juice. The octopus is a bit too chewy for me and there's a lot of it, so I might opt for the shrimp only ceviche next time and make that dollar hike to $9.
Ceviche with shrimp, octopus, fish and squid
There are some great beverages to try too. I had a Jamaica, pronounced Ha-My-Ca, to start with. It's a Hibiscus drink, burgundy color, and sweet and delicious. Really impressed. Purchased from the first truck on Bay St. by the entrance. They have tons of other options. Later I ordered a Tamarind drink from a stand near the ceviche spot based on a recommendation from a local, saying it was a great compliment to the ceviche I was eating. It was super sweet but there was way too much pulp. Every pull from the straw had stringy fruit which got annoying after a while. Most places have huge clear jugs that display the drinks being sold. You can get an idea of colors and textures by taking a look.
Things might be a little different, but that's no reason to stay away. The food is still great and the soccer is still being played. Make sure you give yourself enough time, and preferably bring somebody with you to speed up the process. Plus Ikea is several blocks away so step you can step up your home furnishing game after stuffing yourself like a pig.
Red Hook Ballfields
Clinton St. and Bay St.
Saturday and Sunday