TBT: The Brooklyn Folk Festival in Rearview
As you know, I’m often invited to attend events, restaurant openings, etc because of this writing thing that I do. So, I was intrigued by an email that came in a couple of months ago about a folk festival in Brooklyn. They were changing the approach to their food offerings this year and wanted some coverage for it. I received a well-written and pretty in-depth release about both the festival itself and about this new focus on their food vendors in their 11th year. I RSVP’d for Saturday, and when it rolled around I was especially thrilled to head out to Brooklyn on what turned out to be a gorgeous spring day!
The Brooklyn Folk Festival actually started on Friday evening with some musical acts and was mostly hosted at the gorgeous and historic St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Walking up to the building you could hear the music right away, as there were musicians all over. With two concert halls inside and an additional room or two for kids activities, there was life throughout the space. While I wasn’t looking forward to spending the afternoon inside on such a lovely day, I was looking forward to hearing some folk music and, of course, to eat!
Check in was a little messy for me—I was told I would be registered for a press pass, but then I was told that the person who I’d RSVP’d with hadn’t sent in their list of names. Either way, they sent me through to get a wristband for the day. The wristband I was given didn’t seem to be for press so much as for people who were working there—which lead to some confusion when I approached the food vendors. Apparently, no one had thought that when inviting someone to write about food, that there should be a consideration for how the food is provided/paid for. Luckily, with the help of the vendor curator, we were able to work it all out.
After the uncomfortable situation of money was resolved, the rest of the day was great. When I had arrived, entering through the Parish Hall, there was a group of people sitting around and singing together with children. And while we were indoors, the recently renovated hall provided plenty of natural sunlight through their magnificent windows. There were all sorts of vendors throughout this space, selling goods or providing information about nonprofits, or other services. The “Main Stage” was in the Sanctuary, which I briefly went to take a look at—once I’d consumed some of the grub I was given. A gorgeous space that’s rich with history and dramatic backdrops, including stunning stained glass windows—but definitely a little darker than anywhere I’d wanted to be on this particular day.
Speaking of grub, I was very curious by the food vendors who’d been selected for this event, as they represented vastly different parts of the world and were billed as “New York’s traditional cuisines.” I was hoping to speak a little bit further about the whole process with the woman who was designated as the food curator, but she’s not responded to my inquiries about her, the selection process, the significance of each, etc. For example, I was impressed by the fact that 3 of the 4 vendors were companies owned and operated by women and I was hoping that I could find out if there was a specific reason for that, or if it just happened.
The options, which were not included in the price of admission (totally acceptable given the low ticket price, but should have been disclosed on their website), included Makina—an Ethiopian/Eritrean (Habesha) mobile food purveyor; Polka Dot—a Polish food shop and eatery in Greenpoint, Rita—a “Fresh modern American” restaurant in Red Hook, and dessert offerings from Private Chef Kara Lewis.
My first bite of the day came from Makina, whose owner, Eden G. Egziabher, was on hand for service and smiles. It’s been a while since I’d had Ethiopian food and I was excited to try their take on it, which includes influences from Eritrea and Italy, which is where the name for her food truck came from as it translates to truck in all three languages. As a food truck, she’s already set up with a simpler menu for her customers, and this was the case at the Folk Festival as well. I decided to go with the Injera (which, if you’re unfamiliar is the traditional Ethiopian spongy bread that’s usually used instead of utensils and is to be eaten with the rest of the food), and the chicken tibs. Eden decided to give me the Miser (whole red lentil stew) and the Tikel Gomen (cabbage, carrots, and potatoes) as my sides.
Everything on this Styrofoam plate was done right. The chicken was perfectly seasoned and cooked with just a little bit of heat, but a ton of flavor that wanted to be sopped up by the great Injera—which was actually the best I’ve ever had. I only regret not asking for extra to go with the beautiful lentil stew. The pickled vegetables added the perfect amount of acid to round out the dish—but could certainly stand on their own. I was super impressed with the whole thing, and now that I know all about Makina, I look forward to seeing them out in the streets of NYC! I strongly suggest you pay them a visit if you see them too.
My next forkful was actually rather surprising. In the absolute best kind of way. The table for Rita was the first place I actually stopped and where I had the awkward conversation about $$. All of this food was not just already prepared, but it was wrapped and ready to go—so none of it was warm—which is fine for an event like this—especially if your menu consists mostly of salads and sandwiches. But, I’m not going to lie that when the young man serving the food for Rita (who wasn’t there) handed me a sad-looking salad in a plastic container that I felt slighted. I assumed this was because I didn’t want to pay for the food—which I also get. But, still I was hungry and I’d traveled from West Harlem to eat at this little festival. So, I decided to save the salad until I had the more substantial offerings from Makina in my belly.
When I opened the shell container of radishes and greens, I was ready to be disappointed. I begrudgingly took a pic and stuck my fork into what I was certain would be my first and last bite. BUT HOLY COW THAT WAS A DAMN GOOD SALAD! The Green Salad (which is on their Red Hook menu as well) is made up of simple, but well-treated things: massaged kale, greens, sprouts, radish, sesame-nori-oolong sprinkle, and sunflower seed-tamari dressing. As someone who considers herself a damn-good kale salad masseur, I must tip my imaginary hat to Rita. The umami that came from this dish, along with the freshness, was something so unexpected that my mouth is salivating just thinking about it now. I was not prepared to be as blown away as I was, but I now find myself looking for my next opportunity to get out to Red Hook so that I can try more things, like the Sweet Potato Sandwich, the Carrot Hummus Bowl, or even the Chia Pudding. Anyone need to pick up some Ikea furniture?
Before I got to the festival, I was most excited to eat some tasty pierogies from Polka Dot Café. Because, of the four vendors there, it was the only one I was already familiar with. But, as I was now feeling a bit like a snob for demanding free food, I opted to skip it. I’ve used Polka Dot on a food tour of Greenpoint I did back when I was offering them to coincide with programs at MOFAD. I already knew how delicious and delightful the place was, so I figured I would skip it. Of course, I still haven’t gotten my pierogi fix, so if anyone wants to take a trip out to the Brooklyn Mecca of Polish food...let’s do it!
Lastly, it was time for dessert from Chef Kara Lewis--who honestly was the first to jump up and say that she would be more than happy to give me some of her treats. She informed me that she usually prepares savory food but given what was going to be served by her colleagues she offered to bring the sweets! She had quite the spread and was considerate of the many dietary restrictions you’ll face when selling goods in Brooklyn. I was limited in the room I had left, but I enjoyed the Black Forest Brownies that were both gluten- and dairy-free! I can confirm that there was not a lack of flavor or indulgence in these sweet eats. She also offered Mint Chocolate Drops, Ginger Raisin Spice Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting, and an Apple Ricotta Almond Cake that looked divine.
Once I was done doing the hard work of eating and recording my thoughts for this blog, I decided to grab a drink and head out for some sun. One thing of note, that I truly appreciated, was that the bar had two sizes of reusable plastic cups--one for beer/soft drinks, and one for wine. Your initial purchase was priced at $13, while the refills were 2 bucks cheaper and if you returned the cup you received a $1 back.
On a mission to enjoy my wine in the fresh air, I followed the light past the toilets and side kitchen. And, while there were a couple of security guards standing in the doorway that leads out to the backyard of the church, it seems my staff-colored wrist band had confused them as well, so they didn’t stop me. As I got closer to other humans, I was informed by a less-than-shiny personality that the area was only for other musicians--so the ones who were playing there were rehearsing rather than performing a private concert for me. :( I retreated back inside and went to see what was happening on the other side of the fence--that was still a part of the church and outside. When I got there it was mostly toilets and small children running off their energy--perhaps from the tasty baked goods. I was almost ready to give up when I remembered the musicians who were playing near the entrance. When I got there, I realized I’d found my spot.
The rest of the wine glass--and the refill after that were consumed while I enjoyed the sunshine and the “buskers” who were trying to entice passersby to head inside. The spot was perfect for people watching, music listening, wine drinking, and sunbathing (I mean--with my clothes on as I leaned against the banister wall of the church--nothing scandalous). It was a great day to be alive. But, I knew that I didn’t want to spend the day just sitting around and drinking. I mean I did, but I figured I should start making my way back to Manhattan--and find a place with a view and some coffee on the way.
All in all, I would say that I definitely enjoyed my day at the Brooklyn Folk Festival. As a West Harlem resident, however, it’s not very likely that I would make a point to return unless I had folk fan friends or family in town. I would definitely suggest it for people who live in Brooklyn, and especially those who have kids. I would also recommend that you bring cash for the food and drinks. I doubt that most people who were there were thinking much about the food when they ordered it, but I’m sure that it made an impression when they had it. I look forward to seeing the vendors out in the world, and I hope that everyone involved continues to see success. And if I ever do find myself out there again, I definitely hope that it’s for the flapjacks social and banjo-throwing contest!