I will warn you, the bulk of this post is a rerun. Or, at least, a re-edited and re-configured post. There are bits and pieces that are new but I've brought back tidbits of the old by polishing them up a bit. Enjoy.
While May is probably best known for flowers and allergies and Mother's Day and graduations and warming temperatures, there is one thing about May in New York City that I love more than all the rest - the International Food Festival on 9th Avenue.
The first time I stumbled onto this festival was May 2002 when I ran into my neighbor in the lobby of our building when I was running to the grocery store. He convinced me to join him and a friend to see the newly released Star Wars movie (whichever one was released in 2002, I guess). I still remember that I was unshowered and only left the house out of absolute necessity. I tried using the excuse that I was hungry and needed food and there was no time to eat and make the matinee to escape the invitation - not because I didn't like my neighbor, but because I have an extreme aversion to lingering in public unshowered. But Kyle wouldn't take no for an answer and pointed down the block to 9th Avenue and explained we could grab some food from the street festival. I was not previously aware that a street festival was underway, so, out of excuses, I acquised despite my grungy, make-up-less appearance and the intimidating good looks of Kyle's friend visiting from DC.
We started at 53rd street and literally ate our way down 9th Avenue to the movie theater on 42nd street. Most of the food costs $4-6 a piece (a bargain here) and we would pick something up, try it and pass it amongst the three of us for better sampling. By the time we reached the theater we were pleasently stuffed. After the rather lengthy movie we repeated the process, sampling each other's purchases on the way home. One of the clear favorites was the cheesecake. We bought one slice on the way down and a second on the way home and I believe we each bought our own the next day on the way home from church. The booth is there every year and I always make a point of picking up a slice of the absolutely best cheesecake I have ever had. The crazy thing is the booth is for Martha Frances Cheesecake which is an actual bakery in the City, but I have never been to the establishment or even tried to find it. I just wait each year for the cheesecake to come to me in my neighborhood.
In May 2006, I had been back in New York for nearly a year but had missed at least two previous food festivals and looked forward to this one with great excitement.
Normally a crowd of this size makes me anxious and irritable and sends me running in the opposite direction. But this crowd was for the Hell's Kitchen food fest which comes only once a year for two days - well worth enduring masses of people. Besides, when you are strolling through it doesn't feel as crowded as it looks. Plus, this is one of the few things for which I really do stroll so I don't mind the lolling pace of the crowd.
That particular May, I spent Saturday sharing ribs, calamari, fried plaintains, fruit and fresh squeezed lemonade with a friend. On Sunday I recruited another friend from church (bad me) to go back for pulled pork sandwiches and sweet potato fries. She really wanted to try the deep fried oreos - I was afraid but also intrigued. So we went searching for them, when we finally decided only one more block . . . she saw the funnel cake stand where she claimed they were made. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) they were sold out. We decided to stick with the fried dessert idea and purchased a bag of deep fried dough things (that were kind of like donuts) rolled in powdered sugar - or more acurately thrown from the vat of grease into a brown paper bag full of powdered sugar.
In 2007, I was feeling lethargic and discourged by gray clouds combined with a cold drizzling rain - a day more suited to huddling inside than enjoying street festivals. I slept in and puttered around my apartment not accomplishing much of anything until I left for yoga class at 330. I was glued to my couch despite the fact that I knew it was the annual International Food Festival in Hell's Kitchen. It snuck up on me in 2007 and, regrettably, I failed to promote and recruit friends to wander down 9th Avenue with me for a more varied sampling of goods. The snarled traffic on the street outside my apartment confirmed that even with the rain, the street fest was going forward.
I walked to my yoga class which was located smack in the middle of the festival on 9th Avenue and sized up the food booths en route, plotting my post-workout indulgences. When I finished class the rain was falling slightly faster and heavier than the misty drizzle from my walk to class. This was no reason to forego my plan. The streets were emptier and the booths didn't have lines so I picked up a mozzarepa, a freshly made mango, strawberry and pineapple smoothie, an oriental chicken salad from Eatery (a favorite 9th avenue restaurant) and, of course, a cheesecake.
I was not disappointed. I walked up to the booth with my other to-go items, stepped under the tarp for a respite from the rain (I felt a baseball hat was preferable to carrying an umbrella but it really isn't as effective) and pondered over the turtle, mud pie, chocolate raspberry and other delectable flavors. The proprieter of the booth claimed to be a dessert counseler and offered to help me with my choice. He seemed more suited to the Renaissance fair circuit (or what I imagine the Renaissance fair circuit to be) than a dessert shop on the exclusive Upper East Side. But he helped me narrow my selection to the turtle cheesecake and I was very pleased when I pulled it out of my fridge the next evening.
In 2008, I was out of town every single weekend in May and missed this annual indulgence. But not this year. This year, I have marked my calendar for May 16th and 17th - less than two weeks away - and I will be pestering every friend I have to spend an afternoon strolling 9th avenue tasting the culinary delights - diets be damned. Who is with me?