First Annual Taste of Bushwick Scorecard: A for Effort; C for Swag Bag

This has been an incredibly hectic (and beer soaked) couple of months for The Bitch. I recently cleaned up both my cameras (phone and Canon) and realized just how many amazingly cool events I have attended without reporting on a single one of them. This has everything to do with the fact that I recently moved (from what was once uncool Williamsburg to what is currently uncool Bushwick). I was deliberately trying to get out in front of the gentrification in order to maintain a level of rent that is not spiraling out of control at exponential speeds.

But damn if I’m not in a culinary desert out this way. So, when I saw there was going to be a Taste of Bushwick within walking distance (keeping in mind that I now average 5 miles of walking every day just getting back and forth from the L Train, which was a mere two blocks from where I previously lived, so my idea of “walking distance” is probably a lot farther than most peeps’), I was only too happy to fork over some money and be in attendance (I probably could have finagled a press pass, but I have been so busy with work—another reason why I have been remiss in my events coverage—that I didn’t have time to track down a contact person).

So how was this inaugural event?

First the good: Despite having only a baker’s dozen worth of vendors, there was plenty of delicious food to go around. Offerings included:

  • A raw bar with sushi-grade fish atop an artisanal pickle, along with an excellent cantaloup soup from French Bistro Mominette
  • Arepas and milk shakes from Arepera Guacuco
  • Chicken wings courtesy of Fritzl’s Lunch Box (more on that below)
  • Sliders from Tchoup Shop @ Heavy Woods
  • A Boar’s Head hot dog cart
  • Tortillas from Los Hermanos Tortilleria
  • and other food offerings from Northeast Kingdom, Café GhiaCafeteria La Mejor, and  wine tastings from Archie’s Bar+Pizza

TasteofBushwick4Wines from two vendors—The Bodega and Henry’s Wine & Spirit—and a couple craft beers from The Sampler were complemented by Sixpoint served from the bar at the venue, The Bushwick Starr.

The standout food was beyond a doubt Chef Dan Ross-Leutwyler’s Salsa-Brined Chicken Wings with Queso Cotija, Scallion and Sesame. Upon having a first bite, I was blown away by the incredible flavors; I was literally ready to lick the paper plate on which it was served. Instead, I went back for a second one. Thinking it was just me (How on EARTH do you do that with a chicken wing?!), I was relieved to hear someone else call her wing “addictive as crack.” Furthermore, I learned from an attendee who is a frequent guest of the Irving Avenue restaurant that they serve great burgers. I’ve been seeking a new burger joint since the move and—as I discovered a few days later when I paid Fritzl’s a visit—they have an amazingly impressive bottle list for a joint as small as they are (lovely back yard for dining under the stars).

Thus, I was thrilled to be at an event that not only offered up so much in tasty delights but also introduced to the thriving (albeit small) restaurant scene here in central Bushwick. I’m sure there will be more to come to my new hood in the coming months.

Another positive was the venue. I had no idea The Starr was even there. I am all about supporting arts where and when I can, so it’s fabulous to see an independent theater doing cool things so close to home. One of their art initiatives includes puppetry, which was cleverly woven in to the event with two actors dressed all in black with finger origami cranes and flamingos flying around the attendees.

All-in-all, this was a very successful event, punctuated by the appearance of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, whose comment, “Galileo got it wrong: Brooklyn is the center of the universe!” resonated well with the crowd.

So, where did the organizers come up short? Without a doubt, it was the poorly curated “swag bag” that they were selling for an additional $40 purchase. I get it. This was an event designed to raise money for the venue, but this description:

A limited-edition Taste of Bushwick tote bag, filled with over $200 worth of awesome local items, including goods from Roberta’s Pizza, FINE & RAW Chocolate Factory, Brooklyn Grange, Bucolic Bushwick, Boswyck Farms, Circo’s Pastry Shop, Sweet and Shiny, and more.

TasteofBushwickSwagThe contents of the bag were probably worth exactly what I paid for them, but certainly nowhere near the $200 claimed. And the quality was spurious (while I love the idea of getting heirloom seeds from Brooklyn Grange, it’s almost July… seeds should be started by mid-march if you’re planning on letting them grow outside; maybe they think I’ll want to be harvesting tomatoes in September, but I doubt the quality or quantity I’ll get from seeds planted mid-way through the season). Lard soap? Glad I’m not a vegetarian. A can of Sixpoint and a bottle of Anchor IPA? Okay, but those would have cost me $4 at the corner bodega.

I know these kinds of VIP bags are designed to be something of a promotional gimmick, but this wasn’t VIP pricing; the cost of the bag actually was more than the cost of the (early bird) ticket. If you want to upsell, then at least be honest as to the worth of what is in the bag. Retail pricing that might be reasonable at an art fair (I will undoubtedly never open the comic, although my son will probably use that Bushwick Starr Frisbee), really shouldn’t be the price point for selling a $40 gift bag.

That said, I can’t wait for next year’s event, as Bushwick continues to grow and mature on the foodie (and beer) scene. More photos can be found on the Brooklyn Beer Bitch Facebook page (like me!).

From Coffins to Craft: How One Beer Bar Is Shaping the “New” Bushwick

Holidays are festive at Pine Box Rock Shop, when the Vegan Pop-Up Market comes to Bushwick.

What do veganism and craft beer have to do with one another? Well, at Pine Box Rock Shop (at 12 Gratten Street, Bushwick), they are wed into a unique fabric for a community bar that regularly hosts community events in a sprawling space that, yes, once upon a time was a casket factory.

Owners Jeff and Heather Rush are proud vegans who decided to open a craft beer bar that catered to those whose diet—including potent potables—eschews animal products. Many imbibers are simply unaware that many beer, wine and spirits (even the occasional soda) producers use emulsifiers that are made from animal products (everything from fish to beetles to tallow, in fact). Jeff and Heather wanted to create a welcoming space for others who would rather enjoy their drinks than dissect what’s in them.

And carnivores have little to worry about, with pop-up cafes taking place all the time at Pine Box Rock Shop. Frequent guest Bunna Cafe (which will be serving Ethopian goodness this Saturday, February 9th, from noon until 5 p.m.) could be a poster chef for vegan conversion (hint: you won’t miss the meat). In the weeks leading up to the holidays, Jeff and Heather opened their doors to an entire Vegan Marketplace.

Pine Box Rock Shop was awarded the Good Beer Seal at last July’s (2012) induction ceremony, and they have proudly hung their Seal at the bar. They bring the ethics of good bar stewardship to a neighborhood that is juggling old school Brooklyn ways with an influx of gentrification. As the neighborhood changes, the bar wants to be open to all in the community, not just the animal-free zone.

Don't like what's on the menu? That's okay, because the bar welcomes vegan food trucks outside the entrance.

While the Rushes aren’t looking to be political, but they certainly are serving a niche in the NYC market. There are plenty of vegan restaurants and many vegan-friendly bars, but their space appears to be the only strictly vegan bar in the city. They even make their own substitute spirits when a recipe calls for Bailey’s, for example (cream). Most of the neighborhood regulars who aren’t vegan don’t even notice that the place is meat-free.

The beer still tastes great!

For tips on how to drink the vegan way, visit Barnivore. Pine Box Rock Shop is open seven days, starting at 4 p.m. M-F and 2 p.m. on the weekend.