Eat This: Choice Eats, the Village Voice’s Annual Tasting Event

30 Mar

Last night, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the Village Voice’s Choice Eats event at the Lexington Avenue Armory. Now, food events like this are a mixed bag, and I always go into them with the lowest of expectations. Sometimes these things are just a series of infuriatingly long lines for not a lot of food that doesn’t necessarily favorably compare to what you’d get in the restaurants represented. So, you know, if it’s good, I’m always pleasantly surprised.

Well, take note for next year: Choice Eats is about as robust, well organized, and fun as one of these events can get. Close to 100 restaurants set up in the enormous space, each serving bites of their food. The variety was downright staggering: places from Sheepshead Bay, Coney Island, Astoria, and even Newark, NJ were all there along with the usual suspects from the East and West Villages and more trend-saturated parts of Brooklyn. There was plenty of food, and if you got there in the first hour the place was practically empty, making it easy to gorge oneself before the hordes descended. By the time that happened–and it happened in a big way–I had already had a chance to eat just about everything I wanted. So, pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. This was a great event, and considering the swath of restaurants I was able to sample, I’d say it definitely would have been worth the price of admission, had my ticket no been comped thanks to a friend. Thanks, Robert!). After the jump, a few highlights.

Brisket on rye from Jimmy's No. 43.

Jimmy’s No. 43: This is a favorite hangout of mine, and their dish last night exemplified what makes the place so great: it’s simple, well constructed, really tasty, and goes great with a beer, preferably after work. A good piece of rye bread topped with a tender slice of fatty-but-not-too-fatty brisket, pickled red cabbage, and spicy mustard. Dead simple; also perfect.

Ofrenda's shrimp balls.

Ofrenda: Shrimp balls from this West Village restaurant specializing in cuisine from Mazatlan on Mexico’s West coast are kind of like matzoh balls but with a helluva lot more color flavor (I mean this as a compliment). They’re starchy, made of cornmeal and shrimp and flavored by a whole lot of chile heat.

Spicy Bampa's Chendu cold noodles, crispy chicken and sausage.

Spicy Bamba: Chengdu cold noodles were the only dish I actually had second helpings of: perfectly cooked noodles topped in a light sichuan dressing. This felt neutered as far as heat goes–it wasn’t spicy at all–but that’s a hunch I can’t really confirm. The crispy, dry nuggets of spicy chicken and sliced sausage were also delicious.


Porchetta: Despite living a five minute walk from this place, I’ve still never been. The porchetta ragu they served on toast lived up to the hype.

Court Street Grocers: I was wary of the rugelach from this trendy Carroll Gardens shop; rugelach and trendy don’t really gel as ideas in my mind. But holy crap, this was some good rugelach!

Dirt Candy: Another place I’ve been meaning to try but haven’t, this dish had way too many components. That said, the smoked cauliflower was delicious and unlike anything I’ve ever eaten.

Sol-Mar's Portugese flaming sausage.

Sol-Mar Restaurant: this place from Newark was serving so-so shrimp, but an amazing Portugese “flaming sausage” that was like a mildly spicy and super salty hot dog.

Mooncake Foods: there were sliders for days at Choice Eats, but this one stood out. Perfectly tender pulled pork with a crunchy slaw and tangy curry lime BBQ sauce. Bonus: one of their three locations delivers to my office!

Brooklyn Brine: it’s funny (and wonderful) how many pickling operations there are based in the greater NYC area. Of the new school picklers, Brooklyn Brine is hands down my favorite–their whiskey sour pickle is delicious and their pickleback shots at the event were much appreciated.

Goose Island’s pints of Sofie: There were dozens of breweries at the event, all pouring teeny tiny tastes of beer from bottles. Lots of good stuff: Magic Hat and Abita, among others. But then, in another corner of the space, there was a Goose Island stand pouring FULL PINTS of their Sofie, a Belgian farmhouse style ale that I’ve never seen outside of Chicago. There wasn’t even a line. Getting that pint of Sofie was as exciting as the sight next to it was disheartening: a huge line of people queuing up for a taste of Leffe and Stella Artois.

And that was where we called it a night.┬áThere was a lot more that we ate, and even more that we didn’t get a chance to before our stomachs and the venue filled to capacity.

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