The vendors of the Mad. Sq. Eats outdoor market were not blessed with the best weather when FlatironHot! decided to investigate rumors of delectable delights a block away from NYCSCC. One would expect that a chill breeze and the threat of rain would deter New Yorkers from seeking food outside (with the obvious exception of Shake Shack), especially with the vast array of indoor dining options in the neighborhood. Conditions turned out to be more than adequate.
Walking into the always-charming Worth Square, a stone’s throw from Madison Square Park, I was immediately struck by the level of positive energy radiating from all assembled. The less-than-ideal conditions had done little to put a damper on the collective mood. To be sure, the crowds were thinner than usual, according to several vendors, but this allowed foodies and curious passersby to explore the market’s diverse array of food and drink without having to wait on line. Options included everything from basic staples like burgers and pizza to exotic foreign cuisines.
The level of quality in terms of ingredients and recipes was consistently great; no mere coincidence considering what it takes to get a spot at what has been considered quite an illustrious event since its inception three years ago. Vendors spoke about the highly-selective application process, intended to weed out all but the best contenders. Evidently, what started out as a small gathering of six vendors three years ago has since developed into a far more prestigious and larger affair.
Even more impressive than the quality of offerings was the atmosphere of the event. Interestingly, many vendors were from Brooklyn, known for its legions of community-minded hipsters. Anyone familiar with street fairs or flea markets is accustomed to the cutthroat attitudes of fierce competitors fighting for your business. At Mad. Sq. Eats, vendors mingled freely, at ease with each other and with their customers. A few of the vendors I spoke to even recommended that I try out their rivals’ offerings.
Most of them chose not to be quoted by name, in accordance with their employers’ PR guidelines. Nevertheless, they were more than willing to lavish praise on an event that has been consistently worthwhile for them over the years. One vendor who has been participating in Mad Sq. Eats since its inception talked fondly of encountering familiar faces every year. “It’s almost like a reunion,” said another young man with a scraggly beard and conspicuous nose ring. “But at the same time, the atmosphere is so inviting. Anyone who shows up is welcomed with open arms.”
Idealism aside, there are practical benefits to being a part of the event. A vendor lauded the market for providing his small, hole-in-the wall establishment with much-needed publicity. Indeed, not all the vendors were representatives of long-standing restaurants; some were ambassadors for newly-opened or soon-to-be opened businesses looking to establish their reputations in the neighborhood.
The customers served up just as much praise. Two young women, decked out in full Jets regalia and eagerly anticipating the game a few hours later, seemed almost as enthusiastic about Mad. Sq. Eats as they were about the game. They expressed relief at being able to fill up on healthy and tasty food in lieu of springing for overpriced and unhealthy snacks and drinks at the stadium. They were particularly fond of the high-quality, relatively inexpensive beer on offer from the local bars represented at the market.
A group of middle-aged tourists from the Netherlands commented on the warm, laid-back atmosphere at the event. Having been to several street fairs, they were accustomed to throngs of loud customers jostling for a place on line. At Mad. Sq. Eats, they could simply sit down and enjoy their meal. Tellingly, they were also struck by how the friendly and outgoing customers and vendors defied the stereotype of New Yorkers as abrasive and disinterested in strangers.
All of this shows that Mad. Sq. Eats is more than just a gathering of restaurateurs desperate to make a few bucks. It’s something that must be experienced to be truly appreciated, in terms of both the food and the atmosphere. Like most good things, Mad Sq. Eats is only around for a limited time. So make sure you check it out before it wraps up on October 19.