Governors Island is a former military base off the tip of Manhattan that is now a National Historic District open to the public for all your "get out of the city" needs: picnics, car-free bike paths, concerts, and lounging around in the shadows of trees, not skyscrapers. While Governors Island may not normally be a food-centric destination, the congregation of past Vendy Awards winners and finalists on the island this past Saturday made it the place to be for street food lovers, giving them the opportunity to hop from cart to cart in just seconds when in real life one would have to travel between different neighborhoods or boroughs.
With the help of some eating buddies, I did a bit of cart hopping. Here's a look at some of the dishes we tried, along with information on where you can normally find the carts. Unfortunately, this Vendy Awards-organized fest was just a one-off event for the City of Water Day, but the island has plenty to offer even when street food isn't the main attraction. On a regular basis you'll find a hot dog cart, ice cream truck, soul food cart Veronica's Kitchen, and a mostly burgers-and-drinks menu at Water Taxi Beach.
I am ashamed to say that I have never been to the famous Arepa Lady (real name Maria Piedad Cano) in Jackson Heights before Saturday, but after trying her Colombian arepas at Governors Island, I think I'll have to make the late night trek at some point. This was my favorite food of the day. Or week. Or month.
There are two arepas to choose from: the arepa de queso and the arepa de choclo. The arepa de chocolo is a sweet corn pancake made from fresh corn filled with a layer of springy salty cheese and folded over to make a little pancake sandwich. Salty cheese swaddled in a bread blanket bursting with sweet corn flavor blanket is magic.
The arepa de queso is a thick puck-shaped patty made of corn flour—crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and not sweet like the arepa de choclo—bursting with a belly of gooey cheese and topped with a fluffy mound of crumbled queso blanco.
I wouldn't say that one arepa was better than the other; each one fulfills a different craving. Solution: get one of each.
Arepa Lady: Roosevelt Avenue between 78th and 79th, Jackson Heights, Queens NY (map); Fridays and Saturdays from about 10 p.m. - 5 a.m.
For the vegetarian in my group, we tried Fauzia's Delights, specifically at street food whiz Dan Delaney's (of Vendr.tv) suggestion. "Get the vegetarian curry goat," he said. "It's one of the best vegetarian dishes I've had."
The vegetarian curry goat, made of TVP, is very meaty/goaty tasting for something that isn't meat—a little too much for my vegetarian friend, actually. I liked the seasoned TVP cubes, but if you're a vegetarian who doesn't want something that tastes so close to actual meat, this may not be for you. My vegetarian friend took a liking to the sides of fluffy cous cous and the lentils and spinach.
Fauzia's Delights: East 161 Street & Sheridan Avenue, Bronx NY 10451 (map); Mon. to Fri., 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
We tried the chicken and lamb gyro combo over rice from Sammy's Halal. It's a good ol' combination of moist chicken chunks, lamb gyro chunks, white sauce, hot sauce, green sauce, and rice, with vegetable matter on the side.
Sammy's Halal: 73rd Street at Broadway, Queens NY 11372 (map). Every day, 10 a.m to 12 a.m.
I tried two new (for me, that is) drinks while stuffing street food down my throat. Colombiana (from the Arepa Lady) is a cola drink with a secondary flavor of bubble gum. Sorrel juice (from Fauzia's Delights), a Jamaican drink, has a sour and spicy fruity flavor with an herbaceous aftertaste. I may not crave these on a regular basis, but at the time both were refreshing in the face of street food and direct sunlight.
Planning Your Trip
Governors Island is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays until October 11. You can take the free ferry in Manhattan from the Battery Maritime Building, and on select days ferries also leave in Brooklyn from the Fulton Ferry landing. Check out the hours and ferry schedules at govisland.com. Take advantage of the bike paths by renting a bike on the island (they offer free rentals on Fridays) or bringing a bike on the ferry.