Before the heavens opened early Sunday morning and New York City was soaked in a way that only farmers dream and outdoor festival organizers fear, I spent roughly 18 hours covering two of the city’s largest (and loudest) food and drink events — that mercilessly fall over the same weekend. The Manhattan Cocktail Classic is a weeklong celebration of the global spirits industry — and the cocktail creator community so interested in said spirts. Part trade show, part bacchanalia, MCC organizers host intimate workshops and large-scale throwdowns throughout the entire city. Most tickets sell out within days (even hours).
Googamooga, on the other hand, is a 3-day food festival that brings a staggering 85 restaurants (including 3 full-service pop-ups), 75 breweries and over 100 wine makers and good bands (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Father John Misty) to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. The mostly free festival’s big debut last year was plagued with technical difficulties, so anticipation was high as they returned for a second year.
I decided to double down and attend both. Currently, as I write this on Sunday morning, I’m listening to Lee “Scratch” Perry and attempting to chill out a bit. Because Friday and Saturday was anything but chill.
Manhattan Cocktail Classic Opening Night Gala
It’s curious how the MCC organizers can rent out the majestic New York Public Library, serve 200+ different drinks to something like 3,000 people (many dressed in vintage tuxedos and clingy wrap dresses), serve as little food as humanly possible and somehow not totally burn down the place. This year’s gala was slightly less debauched (and steamy) than previous years, but I still watched two people fall down the polished marble stairs.
To the drinks! I spent a nice amount of time in a large hall dedicated to the sprits of New York State, which featured cocktails made with products from Tuthilltown Spirits, Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery, Catskill Distillery and Uncouth Vermouth made at the newly rebuilt Red Hook Winery. I chatted with Uncouth boss Bianca Miraglia, who was pouring her wonderfully dry Serrano chilli and lavender product over ice.
In the basement, a ragtime band played what seemed like the same song over and over while lovelies danced the Charleston and barmen like Michael Neff (of Ward III and a new project in Southern California) served strong cocktails. His was with Makers Mark and poured out of a teakettle. I skipped that and instead sipped on something mixed with Tanqueray and basil. Near the end of the night I found myself in a room (was it on second floor?), where a DJ played songs by Bell Biv Devoe and Technotronic (can you guess which ones?) and the crowd danced with the non-existent bride and groom. I’m not sure if there were cocktails in the room. It was getting late. But not too late for a canned Negroni, which was being passed out on the down-low. What a fine cocktail, the Negroni. Props to the team from Campari for making that happen. Now, to get it on shelves. That is another story! Tanqueray hosted an after party downtown, where French 75s flowed past three in the morning. I’m pretty sure I exited through the kitchen, as the front doors were locked. I wake up to my alarm a few hours later and…
The Great Googamooga
The biggest rookie mistake is to show up to a food festival several hours after the doors open. With this in mind, I rode the F train out to Prospect Park at 10:30 a.m. before getting lost, running into Amanda Freitag, getting more lost with Amanda Freitag and finally getting myself to a booth selling Crif Dog’s Jon-Jon Deragon (which is basically the tubesteak form of the Everything bagel). Life was pretty good.
By now you may have read that Sunday’s Great Googamooga was cancelled because of heavy rain and concerns for how the rain, and thousands of people slopping around in it, would affect the park’s grass and natural resources. I feel really bad for the event organizers, Superfly Presents. And even worse for the restaurant vendors, who were cut short (and likely had to eat a lot of cost). Saturday was brilliant. Lines were minimal. Beer and wine flowed. (There were no issues with IDs and drink ticketing.) And, generally, of the dozen dishes I sampled, there was some serious A game on display. Some of my favorites:
Toro: Rabbit and snail paella with favas
Boston chefs Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer are poised for big things when they open a branch of their popular tapas restaurant in the Meatpacking District in September. This inspired, and specific, dish was bright and all about spring.
Seersucker: Black eyed peas falafel
One of the few vegetarian options (which could be adapted for vegans as well). Beautiful colors and topped with a sauce made with Argyle Farm yogurt. Really cooled the ball’s intense spice.
Baohaus: Coffin bao fried chicken
Fried chicken, chili-infused condensed milk syrup, crushed peanuts and cilantro stuffed into a fried bun shaped like a coffin. Eddie Huang, YOU DID THIS.
Brindle Room: Steakburger
I felt really bad for Brindle Room chef Jeremy Spector, who serves one of the best and most underrated burgers in New York City. His booth was sandwiched between Umami Burger (overrated!) and Burger Joint at the Parker Merdien (super novel!). So he probably didn’t sell too many of these perfectly grilled and seasoned patties. You bite into this and might lose an eye from the blast of “meat sweat” that erupts. The sign of a great burger.
Spotted Pig: Spotted Pig Haus hot dog
This link was EXREMELY smokey. And so good. And a hint of things to come for April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman? Stay tuned, professional baseball, basketball and football fans…
Little Muenster: Grilled cheese with Gruyère with pickled caramelized onions
So French and melty and perfect. The wine reduction really shined through.
Pok Pok Phat Thai: Thai Thamadaa
Andy Ricker’s Lower East Side noodle shop is a must-visit, especially if you want to avoid the long lines found at Pok Pok Ny. Here the restaurant served rice noodles cooked in rendered pork fat with tamarind, cubes of dried tofu, fish sauce, palm sugar, peanuts, egg, chives, bean sprouts and chili powder.
Mile End Deli: The classic Mile End smoked meat sandwich
Though we wouldn’t hate on a plate of Mile End’s poutine, their 16-hour smoked Montreal-style smoked brisket sandwich with burnt ends, mustard and mayo-driven potato salad is something to never turn down.
Though it will be weeks before we fully understand how Sunday’s cancellation will alter plans for future Googamooga festivals (there were whispers that this was a make-or-break year, with the Brooklyn event serving as a model for future expansion), it is unquestionable how the event is good for local restaurants, and for the people who support them.
Time may have run out on Googamooga’s quest to make everybody happy during a weekend in May (though, never this guy), with a free music and food festival on one of New York’s most beautiful public spaces. But damn did they sure try.