Tuesdays with TT: Mad. Sq. Eats.
Last week it was announced that the Madison Square Mark’t would be returning this spring as Mad Sq. Eats. This was quite a welcomed surprise, since the Mark’t had only been during the Fall the past couple of years. As you can probably figure out with the name change, the focus would be on food rather than gifts.
In addition to returning stands such as Roberta’s, Resto and ilili, there were a bunch of newcomers such as Asiadog, Calexico and Hong Kong Street Cart. CT and I enjoyed the Mark’t so much last Fall, that we immediately put it on the top of our list and ended up going the first night it was open.
The first stand we came across had a HUGE selection of loose spices and teas from the aptly named Spices and Tease. They also have some tasty iced teas for sale too. I had a refreshing strawberry rhubard green iced tea($2), (not pictured).
I guess we weren’t the only ones who decided to check out opening night.
Here is Roberta’s wood-fired oven.
I was very excited to try the Calexico cart. They consistently get raves for their Mexican offerings and I never had a chance to try them. Unfortunately, they were pretty much sold out of everything by the time we got there. Fortunately, they will be set up at this location for the next year, well after the market shuts down. As MacArthur famously said, “I shall return.”
I think we were both most excited about Asia Dog. They recently opened a store in the Lower East Side after finding success at various food markets around the city. Their menu had so much to offer so it was hard to decide. CT ended up getting the “Vinh” and “Mel & Steve.” I believe they were $4.50 each or 2 for $8, expensive but it was gourmet afterall. You can have your choice of beef, organic beef, chicken, or veggie hot dogs.
The Vinh(top dog) was basically a banh mi hot dog with aioli, paté, cucumbers, pickled carrot, daikon, cilantro, jalapeno. This one was a beef hot dog.
The Mel & Steve (bottom dog) simply had an Asian slaw over a chicken hot dog.
Since both hot dogs has pickled vegetables, it was difficult to discern much difference between the two. Neither of us thought “banh mi” when we ate the Vinh. There was very little paté if any. Both hot dogs were good, but the flavors didn’t meld. It just felt like a regular hot dog with some pickled veg on top.
CT says: I enjoyed both hot dogs, and would happily eat them again, but I wasn’t blown away by them the way I expected/was hoping to be. Fortunately, the toppings did taste pretty fresh and crunchy – they definitely had not been sitting there all day, and I liked the chicken dog much more than I would’ve expect, both of which helped justify the higher costs. I really wanted to try the “Wang Ding” (with Chinese BBQ pork belly and onions). However, that was apparently the most popular of the day as they had run of out it just a few customers before me. I saw the last one served and considered a grabbing it and making a run for it.
While Kay was getting the hot dogs, I saw that the Eataly stand had deep fried heritage pork ribs. I was a little surprised to see that Eataly had a stand set up there since the store itself was just a few feet away. I have not been to Eataly since it has opened since I heard stories of how cramped with people and how expensive it was. After taking a look at ribs ($10), I took a chance and had my first Eataly experience. They also had cayenne pepper and tomato powder dusted fried chickpeas ($3) that were worth a try. Also of note was Salted Caramel Tiramisu which we didn’t get, hopefully Yvo will provide a review of that in the future.
The ribs portion was quite large. Approximately five or six ribs. They were cooked perfectly. I guess they were roasted low and slow in the store and then crisped up in the deep fryer at the market. After being pulled from the fryer, they were perfectly seasoned for a crispy and salty bite. Unlike some of the items at the store, the ribs were well worth the ten dollars.
CT says: OMG I loved these ribs!! I’ve been craving ribs ever since the AYCE-ribfest TT did with the FBMers, which I sadly missed. Although these weren’t the BBQ ribs I’d been waiting for, these may have been an even better substitute. As they said on a big poster in their stand “A good fry is lightly fried” (or something to that extent) and lightly fried these were. Not a drop of greasy, just a light crunch as you bite in, followed by a succulently delicious pork. Perfectly seasoned with salt – just heavenly. These are a must-try and I will definitely going back for round two.
The chickpeas made for a great snack. I could eat this like popcorn. I only tasty salt and chickpea, not the spices listed on the menu, but I was fine with that. It was a nice alternative to french fries.
Since I wasn’t quite full and still wanted to try one more savory thing before we had dessert, I walked over to Hong Kong Street Cart. They had various buns, noodles, and shrimp chips. Unfortunately, they were already out of the duck buns. I decided to try the Vegetarian Peking Bun($4). In lieu of duck, it had crispy soymeat, whatever that means. It was indeed crispy, but had no other flavor besides the hoisin sauce on top. I couldn’t believe they charge the same price for meat/non-meat buns.
CT says: When I heard vegetarian bun, I thought TT had been taken over by aliens and considered making a run for it. After his explanation, I was still hesitant but decided to risk it. I stuck around and took a bite – not bad! It was nice and crispy and the soy-ness was masked by the hoisin sauce and fresh scallion slivers. Would I spend $4 on it? No. But if someone gave it to me, would I eat it – yup! As long as it wasn’t an alien.
While we were contemplating a dessert crepe or one of the other multitude of sweet offerings, I remembered the frozen custard flavor of the day at Shake Shack was Mud Pie. This flavor sounded too good to pass up. We walked over and learned that that they were out of the cookie crumble topping. Not a big deal for us as the custard was super creamy that tasted of a perfect blend of chocolate and vanilla.
CT says: I was disappointed they were out of the crumb topping, but then I realized I never would have known had she not specifically mentioned it and I appreciated her honesty and devoured the custard. It wasn’t too sweet or too chocolatey, not that that is usually a problem for me, but it was a great finish to our meal.
While we were sitting and enjoying the custard, we had a great view of the newest art exhibit at MSP, Echo. It was a huge forty four foot head smack dab in the middle of the park. It looks especially cool at night with the Empire State Building in the background.
Since we had such a great experience on Friday night, we returned Sunday afternoon with CT’s parents and cousin. We already celebrated Mother’s Day with a special meal the day before(be on the look out for that post), so this was just a quick meal before they headed back to NJ.
CT and her Mom are paté/chicken liver/foie gras fiends, so the first stand they stopped at was Meunier for the country paté sandwich ($8.75 plus tax). I am not a big fan of any of these meats, but had a bite regardless. It was actually quite a nice sandwich. The crusty bread and the firm, meaty paté was a good combination. I am glad it was more firm than creamy and had no metallic taste that sometimes come from paté. It was a large sandwich, so well worth it if you are into that kind of thing.
CT says: After seeing this stand on Friday night I knew immediately that I would be bringing my Mother. The paté was a perfect well balanced proportions on crusty baguette. There were even a few cornichons on top that I allowed my mother to add. I DETEST pickles of any kind and usually don’t even like them sharing a plate with my food, let alone being included on the sandwich. However, it was Mother’s day and it actually wasn’t so bad. It didn’t result in pickle-juice being all over the sandwich, but simply provided a slight tang to balance the richness of the paté.
I went over to Roberta’s and got the Bee Sting pizza. It had tomato, mozzarella, pepporoni, chili and honey on it. It was the most unique of the three pizzas available. I never had or would think to have honey on a pizza. It cooked very quickly in their oven(see pic above), so the line moved quickly. The honey was drizzled on after cooking. The pizza was a perfect mix of salty, sweet and spicy flavors in addition to the nice char from the oven. It was so well liked that CT’s Dad ended up getting a second one.
CT says: Delicious components of flavors with a perfect char on the bottom and a slightly soft crust.
CT went back to the Hong Kong Street Cart and this time got the duck buns. Obviously, they were much better than the soymeat bun we had before, but overall we just ok. I would not get any buns on future visits. In order to be a little healthy, she also got us some edamame with chili powder on top.
CT says: I enjoyed the buns enough to get seconds. The duck was well cooked – soft juicy meat with a crispy, crunch layer of skin. They were a little heavy handed with the hoisin sauce, but that didn’t bother me much. It seemed pretty expensive for only one bun, but I enjoyed it enough to justify the cost at the time.
CT’s cousin went to Eataly and got their other offering of fried fish and potato skewers. This was excellent. The fish and potatoes were coated in an almost tempura-like batter and then perfectly fried. It had a fair amount of salt without being overpowering. I could eat a whole skewer myself. The grilled lemon was a nice touch. Eataly definitely brought their A game to the market.
CT says: Meh. In my first bite I got one huge chunk of potato, which wasn’t seasoned with anything, and no fish. I later picked through the fish, and thought it was cooked very well. However, once it cooled a little it got kind of gross.
CT’s Dad has been a fan of ilili ever since he got a pied-à-terre nearby. When he saw they had a stand, he pounced. He got us a couple pieces of shawarma pitas, falafel, and ilili fries. They actually roast a whole lamb at the market, but only on Saturdays. The falafel was perfectly fried with a crisp interior and fluffy interior. The fries were a big hit that required a second order. I am not sure what the topping was, but it was something like a red pepper mayo/hummus combination.
CT says: I thought the shawarmas were the best part of ilili’s offerings. I believe the meat inside was chicken, which isn’t usually my favorite, but it was so well spiced and well cooked that I loved it. The balance of meat-sauce-thin pita was perfect so that no bite had too much on one ingredient. They also nicely cut each wrap into 3 pieces for easy sharing. The fries were solid and addicting with the spicy sauce. I’m not a big falafel fan, but these were plenty spiced full of delicious. ilili really knows how to infuse flavors into any and every kind of food.
Is there any room left on the table? CT’s family knows how to eat!
All in all, Mad Sq. Eats is FANTASTIC. It is open everyday from 11am-9pm until June 3rd. There is definitely something for everyone and enough options to warrant multiple visits. There is a bunch of seating in the middle of the market area, but they fill up quickly, so you can always enjoy your food in the park. However, alcohol has to stay in the market area. June will be here before you know it, so be sure to stop by.
Mad. Sq. Eats
(bet 5th Ave. & Broadway and 24th & 25th Streets)
11 am – 9 pm
Everyday until June 3rd