This Sunday, I visited Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn-based food festival that’s become symbolic of New York youth in summer. This weekend culinary extravaganza is the collider responsible for all manner of Instagram-friendly creations like Ramen Burgers, Raindrop Cakes, and Blue Mercury’s indulgent ice cream sundaes. I typically avoid social media food crazes out of an oddly-indignant idea of individualism, but on the advice of friends, roommates, colleagues, and thousands of Internet users the world over, I just had to make an exception.
After a half hour Q Train down to Prospect Park, I arrived in Brooklyn and followed the crowd of #millennials to the base of Breeze Hill. From there on, I simply followed my nose.
Dozens of food tents spread before me, each promising entertainment novelty as much as a truly memorable meal. Unlike a typical restaurant review where I describe ambience, the restaurant’s history, and all sorts of other intangibles, for this feature, I’ll be focusing entirely on the food itself.
I had $25 cash, countless choices, and a dream. Here’s all the details from Smorgasburg 2016:
Course #1: “Brunch-on-a-Stick” from BrunchStreet ($6)
This was pure novelty. I passed the booth, saw the creation, and wondered what it would taste like with a curiosity that exceeded $6 USD. BrunchStreet offers mobile breakfast-lunch in four distinct palettes: North, South, East, and West. The West is your classic “Californian” style entree, meaning normal food served with avocado. The South is hearty and probably uses “bless your soul” as an insult. To be honest, I didn’t study ingredients – I had already fallen in love with The North and was now zeroed in on my choice. The North contains but two ingredients: French toast balls (e.g. dough with burned sugar) and sausage. A strapping breakfast reduced to aesthetically-pleasing pellets. Only in Brookyln.
Jokes aside, the food itself wasn’t bad. I particularly liked the French Toast balls. As an absolute, it doesn’t hold a candle to any proper brunch place in the city; then again, The Smith doesn’t serve on a stick. If you go, bring 3 friends and order one of each for a globetrotting, inexplicably mobile brunch. Again: pure novelty.
Course #2: “Ramen Burger” from Keizo Shimamoto ($10)
In hindsight, Brunch on a Stick was a mere appetizer for the king of all Smorgasburg food curiosities. You’ve liked the Instagrams. You’ve read the listicles. Your one friend from the city told you about it. And at Smorgasburg proper, you’ve seen the line from 50 yards away. Cronut? So 2015. This is the new hotness: a combination food so daring yet so familiar that you almost feel compelled to try one.
I’m talking about one thing, and one thing only: the Ramen Burger.
Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Burger is a beef pattie served between two ramen brick “buns”, slathered in sauces and stuffed with Asian vegetables. I hesitate to call it fusion: in food circles, the F-word implies tasteful blends and careful experimentation. The Ramen Burger is *ahem* a little less surgical. Chef Shimamoto’s creation is East meets West turned up to 11, and best of all, it’s portable. I ate carefully, trying my best to keep the imploding ramen from releasing the burger inside into my lap. Each bite felt oddly gamified – this was a truly ridiculous endeavor, and the slowly-liquefying Ramen Burger knew it, too. Long story short: bring napkins.
That being said, it was one of the worst hamburgers I’ve ever had. As an experience, the Ramen Burger was great. Borderline eatertainment. As actual food: the meat was tasteless, the sauce was overly sweet to the point of overpowering any other taste, and the ramen buns just aren’t a great addition to the Asian-style beef palette. There’s a reason most ramen comes slathered in broth – desaturated noodles just don’t taste good.
If it’s your first time to Smorgasburg and you need to say you’ve eaten one, then please do. I did it. So have thousands of others. Hell, I even took the classic “food in the air” picture before Bite #1. Then again, I had also never read an honest review. Only after did I realize that I had essentially traded $10 away for fleeting social media fame within my relatively-small circle, and oh yeah, a wholly subpar meal. That’s not very eatertaining.
If I could do it again, I wouldn’t choose the Ramen Burger. There are dozens of other choices at Smorgasburg, many of which you can smell from the 20 minute (!!!) line. My advice: take the $10 and eat your weight in Korean Tacos. You’ll get a few less “likes”, but you’ll actually like the food.
IRL winning >>>>
Course #3: “The Bigwich” from The Good Batch ($7)
With the buyer’s remorse of the Ramen Burger thoroughly digested, it was time for dessert. I went straight to The Good Batch for their signature “Bigwich”, a massive ice cream sandwich drizzled with chocolate and built for both hands. I chose the classic chocolate-vanilla combo rather than one of the many unconventional choices. Birthday Cake would have to wait for Round II.
With the ice cream slowly melting, I dove in mouth-first. The cookies? Incredible. Big chocolate chips mixed with chewy oatmeal to create two textured (but chewy) bookends. A slight crunch without being granular.
As for the filling, I mean, it was vanilla ice cream. It’s the dessert equivalent of a pass/fail. And pass it did! Cold, creamy, and slathered in chocolate is a winning combination for any meal. The Bigwich receives an A+ in Desserts. It was the perfect complement to this 80 degree afternoon.
There you have it: Smorgasburg 2016. Am I happy to have been? Absolutely. For the crop of transient summertime New Yorkers (read: interns), it’s a single-visit experience that’s worth a day trip and the mild expense.
Would I go back? Not without a first-timer in tow. While I certainly appreciated the experience, I left with the feeling that Smorgasburg has been undeservingly built up by a city tired of its monuments, one that yearns to embraces novelty for novelty’s sake. Instead, Smorgasburg is more like those artifacts than it’d like.
My verdict: go, but go once. Smorgasburg is culinary Statue of Liberty tour. Sure, it’s quintessentially New York – but you visit a single time just to see it and check your boxes. At the end of the day, you really only visited because someone put it up on a pedestal.