Food festivals can confer great rewards, but they also come with great peril. Choices abound — but stomach space is limited.
Craft a plan, execute it well, and you’ll feel like the ruler of all you survey. Go in looking for Weapons of Mass Deliciousness with too many unknown unknowns and you could easily find yourself in a quagmire.
I address this issue in depth in my forthcoming book, Eat More Better: How to Make Every Bite More Delicious, where I warn of the bad decisions one may make when shrouded in the Food Festival Fog of War. (Hint: Look to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for guidance.)
Here are some tips based on my years of research and scholarship:
Brussels sprouts from Tso Fried Chicken at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg.
1. Do research before you go.
You’re reading this article, so that’s a good start. But you want to know details about the particular festival in question. When does it open? What foods will be available? What’s the layout? Where are bottlenecks likely to form? To quote Sun Tzu, “The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.”
Margarita pizza from Pizza Moto at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
2. Arrive early.
Get there the minute the gates open, when lines are short and supplies at the stands are plentiful.
Masala dosa from Dosa Royale at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
3. Survey all the options before you start spending money.
The first rule of good buffet strategy applies here as well — survey the scene! As Sun Tzu writes, “He wins his battles by making no mistakes.”
Maple bacon sticks from Landhaus at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
4. Gather intelligence from other Eaters.
See something on someone’s plate that looks good? Find out where it’s from and whether it tastes as good as it looks.
Lobster roll from Red Hook Lobster Pound at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg.
5. Understand line pacing.
Is the food at a stand pre-made or made-to-order? The answer will have a big impact on how fast the line moves.
Ramen burger from Ramen Burger at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg.
6. Monitor line lengths at popular stands.
When one shortens, strike decisively. Like Sun Tzu says, “If [your opponent] is taking his ease, give him no rest.”
Cheong Fun noodles from Noodle Lane at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
7. Come prepared.
Bringing your own water in a reusable bottle is better for the environment and your bottom line. Bring plastic containers to wrap up leftovers or get a whole second meal to go. Even bring a baking sheet so you can get food at several stands, then carry it all back to your table (hat tip to pastry chef Emily Konn).
Vietnamese "Summer Rolls" from Best Summer at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
8. Use the buddy system.
You and your buddy pick two foods you both want to try. Split up, each get one, and meet back at a predetermined location. For best results, try to pick two stands with lines that are roughly the same length.