For the past few summers that we’ve lived in Carroll Gardens, Sundays have found Jim and me working up our appetites at the nearby Red Hook public pool. After an hour or so of splashing around in the water, we’d move to the ball fields across the street and enjoy a lunch of fresh, authentic, cheap tacos and pupusas from the local Latin American vendors lining the sidewalks. Smoke would billow from under the tents as the vendors cooked their wares on large portable grills and kept the crowds moving as quickly as possible.
As many New Yorkers know, the vendors got off to a late start this year due to a prolonged struggle with the city’s Department of Health. Finally the necessary permits were obtained and the vendors started operating from the mandated trucks two weeks ago. Yesterday Jim and I walked over to the ball fields after our swim to eat some huaraches and see how things have changed.
The move from cooking under the tents to inside the trucks has altered the atmosphere more than we anticipated. Long, slow-moving lines snaked down the block, as Jim and I waited at least 40 minutes to order our food. Granted, the huarache truck seemed to be the most popular, but gone are the days of gobbling a pupusa at a picnic table and going back for more; now that would require another interminable wait. Instead I saw many people eating corn on the cob with queso while waiting in line to place orders for something else. The vendors simply don’t have as much room to cook in the small trucks as they did under the tents, causing slower service.
Although the lines were long, the scene was quiet and not as festive as previous summers. I missed the mingling aromas of pork, chicken, and beef coming off the grills, and watching my food being cooked in front of me. I missed strolling down the ball field’s sidewalks and feeling like I could sample a pupusa or a taco on a whim. But apart from the bittersweet sentiment of the situation, it’s the vendors who have suffered most of all, having to invest in expensive equipment and losing 2 months of business. In Jim’s words, something that was a neighborhood tradition has become a bureaucratic mess.
On a positive note, the new changes haven’t changed the quality of the food. Jim loved his huarache filled with pork, while I enjoyed my version with chicken ($6 each). The meat was still delicately seasoned, spilling out of its delicate corn shell with fresh, cool tomatoes, lettuce, and crumbly queso. At least some things in life are consistent. And they might as well be huaraches.
The Red Hook Ball Fields, located at the corner of Clinton Street and Bay Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn