May 23, 2011

Saturday Market Explorations: At the Waterfront in Williamsburg

Shopping for locally-grown produce or locally-made food in two boroughs is now easy on Saturdays and convenient, too, thanks to the L train. Brooklyn Flea, the borough's popular market institution, debuted its new "Smorgasburg" on the East River waterfront in Williamsburg this past Saturday, providing an immediately gratifying experience for dispensing with food prep altogether and dining on the spot. Start at Union Square in Manhattan to browse for greens, baked goods, and flowers at the bustling Greenmarket, and then take the L train at the square to the Bedford Avenue stop in Wiliamsburg for the Saturday food market and waterfront skyline. After exiting the subway, walk along North 7th St. toward the river.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn
intersection of North 7th St. and Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Every Saturday the Smorgasburg market will feature several greenmarket vendors in addition to prepared foods by local vendors and kitchen-related items. The views of Manhattan in the park provide one reason to go, but most people will hit the market to sample the ready-to-eat goods from favorites like Cemitas (Pueblan sandwiches), Brooklyn Oyster Party, BEP (banh mi and noodles), Porchetta (roast pork sandwiches), Asia Dog (hot dogs with Asian toppings), Landhaus (BLT's), and People's Pops (ice pops with favor twists), among others. From conversations, I gathered that many people from other parts of the city had traveled to the inaugural market. The weather was warm, and it was indeed crowded, so much so that a few Williamsburg neighbors were having difficulty finding anyone they knew there.

Smorgasburg, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
People's Pops at Brooklyn Flea's Smorgasburg;
in the background, new waterfront condominiums.

Smorgasburg, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Momofuku Milk Bar + friends at Smorgasburg, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

The shops and streets between the Bedford Avenue subway stop and the market to the west exude the kind of vibe the neighborhood is known for. While many call Williamsburg a hipster neighborhood (this particular area in north Williamsburg was a longtime Polish neighborhood), the definition tends to be rather imprecise. The look is youthful, to be sure, with a lot of young people on bikes and wearing clothes that old people don't wear. The storefronts alternate between longtime merchants and newer businesses that are more obviously designed and conceptual than their traditional counterparts. Over the course of its rise as a mecca for artists, food artisans, or others of a more mercurial professional temperament, the streetscapes along Bedford Avenue and side streets have become reminiscent of a college town but without a major college. (Boricua College, a small post-secondary institution, does maintain one of its campuses here.)

Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Saturday sidewalk scene in north Williamsburg 

Brunch! Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Brunch, with an exclamation mark, at Cubana Social, North 6th St.

Coolhaus truck, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Coolhaus trucks are now in Los Angeles, Austin, and New York City.

Artists & Fleas, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Artists and Fleas on North 7th St. In the background, the Edge, waterfront luxury condos.

Artists & Fleas, an artist and vintage market at 70 N. 7th St. that is open on weekends, is awash with casual clothes made of bright colors and patterned fabrics, a contrast with the required tailored blacks across the river. When I visited on Saturday, the starchitect-friendly ice cream truck, Coolhaus, was parked outside, selling its Mies and Meier and minimalist ice cream sandwiches. This made me feel all cool inside (hey, man, Rem and I are THIS close).

The grad school vibe, however, is shattered in the next blocks facing the market and the river. Here, the luxury waterfront developments and the chain stores that have moved into the first floors embody both the evolving neighborhood's success and the ephemerality of its varsity spirit. Low rent-seeking postmoderns have pushed eastward. Still, "vintage" North Williamsburg is a colorful and tasty place to explore. The intersection of Bedford Avenue and North 7th shows off a thriving social scene, and the East River State Park is a great place to look at the river and the sky.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn
East River State Park, the Manhattan skyline, and the sky.

Information: The Union Square Greenmarket (E 17th St. & Broadway) is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Grow NYC website.

Brooklyn Flea's Smorgasburg is located between North 6th and North 7th St. at the East River. Open Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. rain or shine. Brooklyn Flea website.

View Saturday Greenmarket Shopping in a larger map

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Saturday, May 21, 2011.


Claude Pelanne said...

Is there an ebook about walking tours that you have here or are you planning one? There is really great walking information for folks planning some vacation time in NYC. Be well.

Teri Tynes said...

Thanks, Claude. I am writing a book proposal with these self-guided tours, but in the meantime, please look at the top of the page for Self-Guided Walks in New York City (by Area). You'll find most all the useful ones listed there.