I would’ve sworn there was a Taste of 7th Street last year that I missed. Apparently not though, as this year was touted as the first. Running for a full weekend from February 27th through 28th, you even had the option of spreading out the bites between two days if you prefered. Scheduling conflicts though made it so it was a one day eating frenzy – though totally doable. The purchase was coordinated via ScooopSt, a site which sends out specials in the NY area on a daily basis, ranging from food deals to health and beauty discounts. Very handy. For an $18 pricetag, we were able to get $35 worth of food at five different 7th Street restaurants between Avenue A and First Avenue.
We started off at Caracas Arepas Bar, a spot I’ve visited one other time for a full dinner which I found very reasonably priced and the food well done. Last time I was there, I tried one arepa with chicken and chorizo (always yummy) as well as one more exotic involving shark (not a big fan of shark – too fishy fishy). This time though it was the Arepa De Pabellón, an arepa of shredded beef, black beans, white salty cheese and sweet plantains. When we arrived, the to-go section of the restaurant was jam packed with people waiting to get their taste. The manager was seeing if people wanted to go next door to the sit down portion of the restaurant and sit down. Would we? Why yes please.
Sitting down at the bar proved to be prime seating for watching the kitchen staff make the arepas. I watch them roll their hands into the big plastic bins of cornmeal, roll it into a ball, and then flatten it out to make the arepa. If you’ve never had an arepa, they’re kind of like a doughier version (much more so) of a tortilla. Here’s how Caracas explains it. If you’ve never had one, highly recommend giving them a taste. Very unique! I’m usually averse to ordering anything involving beans, but in the spirit of the festival, I gave it a go. And I was happy I did so. It was very good. I’ve never had plantains in a sandwich like that, and it was just a subtle sweet addition. I’m not sure what sort of cheese was the white salty cheese, but it definitely was salty and an excellent choice. Highly recommend.
Next up was Luke’s Lobster, a small standing room only dining area lobster spot just east from Caracas’ location. I’ve been wanting to try Luke’s for ages, but lost a little bit of motivation with the cooler temps. They offer two sizes of lobster rolls – one is the larger, more standard size for $14 or they also have a smaller version for $8, which was the size we received. I was pleased to see a generous helping of lobster on top of some fresh buttery bread. Mmmm. I’m not sure what the “secret spices” were in the plastic claw salt & pepper shaker, but it made for a nice addition into the mix. Not a big fan of mayo, I appreciated their lobster roll didn’t rely on the mayo to add much into the equation. It was more of an afterthought, leaving the focus where it should be – on the lobster. They also offer crab and shrimp rolls. The owner, Luke Holden, is from Maine. I think it comes through clearly with the roll that he knows his lobster. Worth cramming into the window to try … or toting home as well. Check them out on Twitter too – they post specials there. Worth keeping an eye open!
Similar to Luke’s, I knew Porchetta was primarily a grab and go kind of spot, not something I’m usually drawn to in the winter. So I was really looking forward to seeing what they had. When we walked in, there were no ifs about their focus. Pork. And in a serious way. It smelled amazing and we were greeted with one of the most sincere people I’ve encountered in food service in a long time. There they were serving up their pork sandwich, usually $10 solo so thrown into the mix for the Taste of 7th Street was a steal. I’m not a huge pork afficionado, though being from the South I’ve been known to put away lots of bacon in my time. However, this was just completely different from anything else I have ever tried. It was done perfectly – not too dry and not too salty. They define this preparation on their website as “roasted pork with crispy skin, highly seasoned with aromatic herbs and spices, garlic, sage, rosemary, and wild fennel pollen”. They equate it to “slow cooked Italian fast food”. I like that. The rosemary seasoning definitely was the predominate flavor present, but I really liked it. Again, very different.
Then we entered into the realm of the sweets. First up was Xoom, a new(ish) juice bar in that magical 7th street block. Apparently they’ve been there since Spring 2009. I’m not sure where my eyesight has been. Their operations were nice and bright and I loved that the smoothie I selected, the Paint it Blackberry (guava juice, mangoes, blackberries), was sweet yet not overwhelmingly so. I’ve stopped doing smoothies at the likes of Jamba Juice since it’s just like sugar in a cup in favor of doing them right at home. It was nice to see a place doing really good smoothies. Bravo. They boast no sherbet, no sorbet, no ice cream, no high fructose corn syrup, or anything to artificially flavor the smoothies. They also will include in what they call “xoomers” with a full range of “purposes” from cold fighting to hangover curing. Only downside this February afternoon was I was chilled straight to the bone after the smoothie. I’ll have to head back when it’s warmer to try one again!
To cap it all off, we headed over to my favorite cupcake spot, Butter Lane, where we were able to pick out not one but TWO cupcakes! I had to try at least one new personal flavor, so I went with their newer icing addition, cherry, on a chocolate cupcake. Very good! And I went with a more basic selection, raspbery icing on vanilla. Perfect way to round out a chilly afternoon of indulgent eating over on East 7th. If you weren’t able to make it out, I recommend checking it out next year. Or just stopping by some of these spots. There are other places along that block as well that are excellent, even though a bit pricey to be included in on this special. Pylos is currently my favorite Greek restaurant in the city. And the Bourgeois Pig is my favorite fondue and a perfect date spot (even if my only date there has ever been my mom). Thanks to ScoopSt and the restaurants who participated!