Last weekend marked a momentous occasion – the First Annual Serious Eats All-Star Sandwich Festival, put on by none other than the team at the Serious Eats almighty food blog. The premise: Serious Eats runs a feature called ‘A Sandwich a Day’, where, as the name suggests, they make a point of trying a different new sandwich each day – so why not host a festival to honour ‘the best’? It was held on Governor’s Island, and was a pretty awesome event: thirteen sandwiches from eleven vendors, Counter Culture iced coffee, Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, People’s Pops, Bouchon Bakery, amazing weather, lots of wine and beer, super chill vibes and SE peeps walking around with spray bottles to give you a spritz in the face. Honestly, who could ask for anything more?
I was originally signed up to help volunteer for the event (free admission and early access and awesome people!), but then it turned out that Edible Schoolyard NYC was the beneficiary of the event so I ended up working at our tent instead. Which was fine by me, because then it was a ‘work event’ of the best kind. Plus I got to hang with my superior, Kathleen (I use that instead of boss because it’s also an adjective, and a fitting one at that), eating sandwiches and talking with people about what we do all afternoon. Sweet deal.
We arrived on the 10am ferry (it takes like all of six minutes to make the crossing), and began setting up our tent. It looked pretty good I think!
The chefs started assembling sandwiches for the volunteers around 11, and the event didn’t open to the public until noon. So we had a grand ould leisurely hour meandering here and there, grazing on whichever sandwich took our fancy, and tasting all the ones we wanted with no lines or crowds – not that they ever really got that bad anyway, cause everyone was so awesome and it was the chillest of chill days.
We tried almost all the sandwiches (some were a bit too meat-heavy for me); here’s a rundown of my faves:
Green Falafel Sandwich by Taïm
Taïm is wonderful. They undoubtedly have some of the best falafel in the city. I went to their brick-and-mortar place with Brandon last year and it was exceptional. So I was looking forward to this.
It did not disappoint. The green falafel were so aromatic and flavourful, with plenty of herbs folded into the mix – and that only added to how moist they were inside, with a perfectly lightly crisped crust. They were stuffed into a fluffy fresh pita with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, their ridiculously smooth hummous, a tahini sauce that’s to die for, and diy condiments of s’rug, a Yemeni spicy sauce of cilantro, garlic, and chili, and amba, a pickled mango chutney. So many colours, so many flavours, all blending into one satisfying, gratifyingly messy exercise in glee and deliciousness overload. Also, no meat to boot.
Culatello, grilled peaches, mint, and ground almonds by Salumeria Biellese
Top points for creativity and follow-through. A refreshing combination amid a host of sliders, meatballs, and other fleshified options on a day that really cried out for the cool, the cured, and the raw. The thinly-shaved culatello was such a treat – it melted slowly on our tongues even in the heat, like a pat of butter falling in low gravity. Paired with the sweetness of the peaches, the coolness of the mint, and the savoury, salty touch of the almonds, it was a winning contender in our books.
Vegetarian Báhn Mì by Báhn Mì Zòn
I had a bite of the real Báhn Mì from Kathleen, and it was delicious. But I revelled in my veggie version: cool marinated tofu, mushrooms, shredded carrots, a robust peanut sauce, and a dash of sriracha. Another refreshing and flavourful sandwich, with some heat that went perfectly with some iced coffee from Counter Culture, conveniently located right next door.
Zucchini with Tomatoes and Ricotta by ‘wichcraft
This totally looks like it should have meat all over it and it also totally doesn’t. It was nonetheless exceedingly rich and robust. The zucchini was slathered with marinara and grated parmigiano, and did a great job of concealing a thick layer of creamy ricotta from view. But trust me, it was there.
Pork Belly Slider with Pickled Cabbage Slaw by ‘wichcraft
Aw, heck, I may as well try it cause I’ve never had pork belly before and now’s as good a time as any right? It was good, I can see why people like it. And Kathleen suggested I try it by itself sometime, so I can experience the true crispiness and melty fatty thing that comes from attention and non-mass cooking. I’d still rather have a green falafel sandwich.
The ‘Cococone’: Vanilla Soft-Serve with Curried Coconut Flakes by Big Gay Ice Cream Truck
The ice cream was meh but it’s not about that, it’s about the toppings. And the topping rocked. Sweet, toasty, and kissed by curry spices, it tasted just like it looks: bloody delicious.
Assorted Fruit Popsicles by People’s Pops
The most pure fruit-tasting pops ever. Pretty sure there is only fruit in them. Like, that’s it. We got three flavours: black cherry and plum, blackberry and rose, and apricot blueberry. They were all awesome. Really hard to choose a favourite.
Chocolate Bouchons by Bouchon Bakery
You know that anything touched by Thomas Keller’s wizard hands are going to be stupendous; the signature pastry from his restaurant group’s bakery is no exception. They are surely the most purely chocolately concoction to ever grace Governor’s Island, with a crispy top and luscious, melty insides. So good it felt like you were eating some small fruit from the best of all possible worlds.
The afternoon wore on and people settled into picnicking circles to enjoy the lazy heat of the day, the food, the drink, and the company. And those sweet spritz bottles.
The chefs take a rightly deserved nap.
Because you know I didn’t eat just one:
At some point, Kathleen and I packed up our tent at walked back to the ferry at a most delicious pace, one that could only happen off of Manhattan. We decided our favourite was definitely the falafel and grabbed one last one for the road.