“We should have had another drink.”
That’s our first thought as we walk up 10th street in Jersey City towards the Midnight Market and see the line stretched down Coles street and wrapped around the corner.
Being cold while waiting in a stagnant line is pretty bad. Being cold and sober is intolerable. Add hunger to that list and you’re painting a picture of existential dread. The line seems to go on for miles, when in reality it’s only about a block and a half long. We were sober, but being cold and hungry at the same time was its own type of mind altering high.
We looked around at our compatriots in the line. The crowd was definitively Jersey City. An amalgamation of peoples cultures that thrive independent of each other while simultaneously living together in this unique melting pot. The result is a vibrant and diverse food scene that eclipses that of its pretentious and wholly overrated neighbor, Hoboken.
Finally the line starts to move. Our hunger will soon be sated. Our thirst quenched, but not in the scientific sense. We would not be drinking water.
The first money of the night is spent on a $10 Corona. Cocktails were available, but we didn’t trust the rent-a-tenders and weren’t in the mood for sideways glances by asking for mezcal neat. The beer didn’t last long.
The scenery is compelling. Rows of food vendors under the giant steel girders of a Jersey City highway, graffiti that seems to be artfully disseminated, and red mood lighting dancing across the ceiling.
Food options at this food festival ranged from Mexican, Guyanese, barbecue, Filipino, Italian, and corn dogs. Yes, corn dogs are their own cuisine.
The first stop is Guyanese(Tradewinds II 580 Montgomery St, Jersey City, NJ 07302). Jerk chicken with garlic aioli on top of a hot dog. Yes, a hot dog. And away we go. Now I’m not quite sure what constitutes Jerk seasoning in Guyana, but it’s not like any Jerk seasoning that we’ve ever had and the owner of the establishment, but she wouldn’t reveal her trade secrets. It wasn’t spicy like you’d expect, but it was delicious nonetheless. The hot dog underneath tasted like a Sabrett. The garlic aioli topper could have killed Dracula, and that’s the way we like it. A very good first stop on our culinary tour.
Anyone with good taste buds will tell you of the wonderful counter balance of salty and sweet. After a debut salty bite, we decide on sweet for a second. Right next to Guyana was a specialty waffle stand (Sticky Icky Waffles). The option that immediately catches the eye is a phallic-shaped waffle covered in marshmallow. Get it? Just because we have elevated taste buds doesn’t mean we can’t also be children. We were surprised to see this at a food festival! The waffle is just the perfect amount of sweet, not overly sugary in the batter. The marshmallow is obviously of a higher quality than the “Puft” brand you find in grocery stores as it too was not overly sweet. It was refreshing to taste real sugar and not corn syrup in a sweet dish.
Next up was Humos barbeque. No, I didn’t misspell hummus; that’s the name of the place. I honestly have no idea where the name came from and we should have known that we were in for a bit of a disappointment by the spectacle they were putting on at their station. Next to the stand was a circular wood burning grill comically stacked with meats. While it looked great and smelled even better, the fun stopped there. We opted for the ribs. Aside from the fact that ribs are my favorite in the world of barbeque, I find that they are a true test of good barbeque. They are not the easiest to make well. If I was giving a grade on this particular test, it’s a C-. The ribs were dry, thus overcooked. There’s nothing wrong with a little char on the outside of the rib, but tough and chewy the whole way through is a travesty. I was hoping that the flavor could be saved by the special sauce, predictably titled “Humos sauce”. Unless I missed something critical, this sauce was just some spicy honey. I was eager to move onto the next stop
We had a choice between empanadas and arepas. I personally think that empanadas are overrated, easy to find at most food festivals, and tough to make well, so arepas it was. Woodfire arepas was the brand. If you don’t frequent cityscape cuisines (we don’t really either) you may be unfamiliar with an arepa. It originates in the northern end of South America, very popular in Venezuelan cooking, and is made from ground masa (corn) flour. We chose the beef option topped with cheese. Cold, cold cheese. Like, just pulled out of the refrigerator. That was a mistake. The seasoning on the beef left something to be desired for what one expects from Venezuelan cuisine. The arepa itself was well made and tasty, but the guts were lacking. Again, the cold cheese. Why? This could have been such a great additive for a food festival but fell a bit short.
We continued our walk under the steel girders of the highway. Tacos. Italian. Egg rolls. Huh. An entire establishment based on egg rolls. That screamed gimmick and I was immediately skeptical. But the place was called Stop Drop and Roll. Ok, I’ll bite.
The guy taking our order was very interested in our gimbal that we were using to record videos. He was even more interested when we told him that we were recording for our food blog. Scrambling for his phone, he anxiously asked us for the Instagram handle. I explained that this was literally our first outing for the blog, but he didn’t seem to care. Turns out it was because he wanted to slide into the DMs. I guess he missed the “couple” part of A Couple Bites!
Thankfully for him, the egg roll menu was not a gimmick. The lobster mac and cheese egg roll was delicious. Big chunks of lobster, well cooked mac, and a perfectly fried egg roll that did not include any excess grease or oil. It came with a unique dipping sauce that had a ginger flavor to it. Odd, but delicious. Faith in gimmicky food stands restored. Next!
From the highest highs to the lowest lows. Such is life. We stopped at the Sicilian Rice Ball (The Little Sicilian) truck next, which is allegedly “very popular” in Manhattan. Listen. I know that most people that live in Manhattan base their entire personalities around the fact that they live in Manhattan and a large part of that comes from consistent bragging about the food scene – which is generally warranted – but fuck. I’m not even mad. I’m disappointed. These rice balls were utterly flavorless. I even tried two kinds. Failed on both. I was stunned. Angry. Still hungry.
Desperately in search of flavor to fill the void left by the unseasoned and sauceless rice balls, we decide that the Curry House is our next stop. Thank god for this place. Bricklane Curry House saved our taste buds. We sampled a curried lamb on a bread that wasn’t quite a naan and not quite a roti. Quite delicious, however. We were back on track.
Our penultimate bite was phallic and on a stick. We turned back to gimmick town and, unlike our egg rolls, these Korean Rice Dogs (Oh K Dog) were neither Korean nor hot dogs. They were fried. Two out of three ain’t bad, as the song goes. We opted for the half mozzarella and half hot dog…dog. It was quite literally half and half. So much so that when we bit the top off (cringe) it was just fried volcanic mozzarella. No dog to be found. We bit in the center, like an ear of corn, to get to the hot dog. It wasn’t even a great hot dog. The ketchup drizzle on top was the best part because, for whatever reason, it tasted homemade. Maybe that was the joke?
It was time to end the night. We were sufficiently, almost uncomfortably full, with a mix of great and barely acceptable food. Let’s crack one more $10 beer, listen to some music, take in the scene, and be on our way.
And then. Like a beacon of hope. Like that scene in Endgame where Falcon says “on your left” and all of the heroes show up to save the day. Eemus Cuisine appeared in our line of sight. Tucked away in the corner of the event, next to a brick facade, we hadn’t noticed it earlier. Hawaiian and Filipino inspired cuisine was speaking to us. Most people have the angel and devil on their shoulders. Ours are in our stomachs.
“No! We’re way too full. You’re going to be sick in the morning.”
“Shut up, you big baby. There’s always room for one more bite.”
Spam Musubi. Holy shit. A new champion has been crowned at the Midnight Market. It was so simple, yet so divine.
Now it was time to go. We left happy, and very very full.
We’re Matt and Melissa, and this is our food blog, though it may not be the food blog you are expecting. We are here to take you on a culinary adventure through our kitchen, our passions, our stories, and our liquor cabinet. Residing in Monmouth County, NJ (the best county in NJ) we love to cook and create in our kitchen. But we know we’re not the real experts and the only thing more fun than tasting our own creations are tasting others’. When we’re not cooking for you, we’re around town sampling all that New Jersey’s culinary scene has to offer. Let take A Couple Bites!