Mighty Quinn’s: “Our popularity is based on total dumb luck. Ok, honestly it’s that we take the time to cook things with wood, and at the end of the day, we make honest food and use really good ingredients
Baby Got Back: “Smorgasburg is not just about the food (and ours is excellent — heritage pork, six hours cooked and guaranteed to fall of the bone or your money back), it’s about personality. That’s what makes us a crowd favorite around here. And if you can name 18 of the spices in our 21-spice rub, we’ll feed you free for the rest of your life.”
The Winner: Baby Got Back Ribs
Long lines are usually a reliable indicator of a quality product, and the daunting crush of customers huddled in front of Mighty Quinn’s fragrant smoker is one of the largest in the lot. Unfortunately, long lines in 87 degree heat can also make for hungry, cranky food writers, and we’d gladly find solace at the front of Baby’s shaded stand any day of the week. The company is great and the generous tower of saucy ‘cue is better, sided with apple slaw, cornbread, and a refreshing glass of almost-sweet tea.
Yuji: “I’m the only one doing regional and seasonal mazemen ramen with local ingredients in the entire U.S. And I don’t have a restaurant, so people have to come here for my food. That makes me very standout.”
Yebisu: “It’s a unique type of ramen; there’s nothing like this in NY yet. And ours is very traditional Japanese; Yuji’s is more Italian/Japanese…like fusion.”
The Winner: Yuji Ramen
Both noodle-centric stands specialize in brothless ramen, although Yebisu concentrates on the oil-based style known as abura, and Yuji favors mazemen (mixed) ramen, a current craze in Tokyo. It’s hard to find fault with the expert simplicity of Yebisu’s offerings (especially the interplay between the bright scallions and char-grilled edges of moist, right red pork), but Yuji’s cross-cultural bowls of deeply flavored, nuanced noodles are pure revelation.
Handsome Hank’s: “Not only is our seafood fresh, we use a really unique, proprietary frying mix, not just flour. We modeled the flavor after this spicy ramen Korean’s make. We also fry everything fresh to order. It’s a great deal.”
Shucks Clam: “We do clams the right way; whole belly, straight from Ipwich, which are hard to find in restaurants around here. And I make everything myself, down to the tartar sauce. I understand that I’m one of the more expensive booths here, but if you’re willing to splurge on lobster, why not fresh clams?”
The Winner: It’s a draw!
The expertly fried under-the-sea offerings at Handsome Hanks are a steal (especially when paired with a mountain of fries for only a few dollars extra). We especially appreciated the barely-there coating of batter (Korean, yes, but redolent of Old Bay), on the plump, snappy shrimp, which enhanced, as opposed to obscured, their texture and flavor. Equally impressive are the beautifully briny and silky clams over at Shucks, aggressively salted (we love them that way!), and all said, pretty much the best we’ve ever had.
SlantShack: “Our jerky is very different from King’s County — ours is moister, theirs is drier, we have our flavors, they have theirs. All I can say is that we put years of love and passion into developing our product before even setting up a booth.” — SlantShack
Kings County: “I think the product speaks for itself. We get our beef from the farm every week and trim it ourselves, including all the fat, so it’s by far the leanest jerky out there. We toast and grind all the spices for our marinades just before using them, so the flavors are really bright and intense. They’re also sophisticated; we spent lots of time developing them to make sure they’re unlike any other jerky on the market.”
The Winner: King’s County Jerky
This one also comes down to personal preference (King’s County’s jerky requires a little more jaw-work, Slantshack likens its product to carrying a steak in your pocket). And while SlantShack appeals with traditional, home on the range flavors, our taste buds were wowed by the wallop of umami that accompanies King’s County’s Asian-leaning beef-snacks, like Sichuan Ginger and the best-selling Korean BBQ.
Grady’s: “Our cold brew system really sets us apart, as does the fact that you can customize our product to your taste. Blue Bottle puts sugar in theirs, and you can’t undo sugar. We’re about providing you with a really good base.”
Blue Bottle: “Our coffee is the best around because we make sure we’re delivering the best we can at every step, from sourcing the beans to roasting them to spending a lot of time in our test kitchen deciding exactly how much milk, sugar, water and chicory we should add.”
The Winner: Grady’s, by a cold-brewed mile
Our morning is ruined (ruined!) if our corner coffee shop inadvertently pours sugar in our cup of joe, so the pre-sweetened java at Blue Bottle was a definite deal-breaker for us. And while chicory-infused coffee is, by definition, bitter, unlike Blue Bottle’s version, Grady’s remained full-bodied and smooth instead of becoming thin and astringent. It’s also a better deal — Blue Bottle’s one-size offering is equivalent to Grady’s small, meaning that $4 at Grady’s almost doubles your pleasure — doubles your caffeine.