By all accounts the opening day, Saturday, was a disaster with long lines, stands running out of food, no wifi or cell service and a total collapse of the beer and wine tent payment systems. All these problems led to the festival getting slaughtered on social media (after everyone left, because you couldn't tweet or hit Facebook in the festival).
This is one reason why I chose to go Sunday. Never, ever go to a festival on its first day in existence.
There was some debate in my family about whether or not to go on Sunday based on what we read about Saturday. I was resolved to attend, and I knew it would be a better day. Here was my reasoning, which proved to be sound:
1 - The promoters, restaurants, vendors and other people involved are professionals. Despite what went down on Saturday they had time to fix the problems before the start of Sunday's festivities.
2 - It was a Sunday. A majority of the people who would be attending have been out, socializing, on Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday night. Those people wouldn't be rolling through the gates before 3pm on a Sunday. We would arrive early.
3 - Everyone else is reading about what a disaster Saturday was. Since the tickets were free a lot of people would just stay away.
We arrived at Prospect Park at noon. It was a gorgeous day. There was a steady but not overwhelming flow of people heading to the festival. We got to the gates and rolled right in. No waiting. Things were looking good. We got our guides and maps and started wandering, getting a lay of the land. The food was grouped in areas with loose themes. Pizza, sweet treats, burgers, pork etc. There was a big main stage in the main grounds and smaller stages scattered through out. Everything was working. No line, if there was one, was more than five minutes. And the food was fantastic. Here is a round up of what we ate, drank and saw.
Red Rooster Harlem - Berbere Roasted Chicken w/Barbecue Sauce and Mac & Greens
I don't know if we could have started stronger. No lines for Marcus Samuelsson's stand. Lucious, juicy chicken with a sweet and uniquely spicy BBQ sauce. The Mac & Greens were fantastic as well. Cheesy, chewy and delicious but lighter and with a great texture and flavor coming from the greens. Flat out great.
Vinegar Hill House - Soft Shell Crab Sandwich
Right next to the Red Rooster Harlem stand was the Vinegar Hill House stand. I think you are starting to get the picture. This was probably the longest line we stood on, and it was about 5 minutes. Since we were eating Red Rooster's chicken on the Vinegar Hill House line it really wasn't an issue.
Delicately fried soft shell crab, special sauce, lettuce on a sesame seed bun. This is the Big Mac they serve in heaven. I mean this as a compliment, and I have to give full credit to my wife who called it.
If this is all I had eaten at Googa Mooga it would have been a success. But we were just getting warmed up. We started to wander again and strolled by the Marketplace and discovered the People's Pops stand. Homemade Popsicles and real shave ice. We knew we were going to hit the Big Gay Ice Cream Stand at some point but, it was hot, we were in the park, and today was a day to indulge. So indulge we did.
People's Pops - Strawberry-Rhubarb Ice Pop
People's Pops - Lemon Shave Ice
I had enjoyed People's Pops Ice Pops before. I had not tried the shave ice. Neither my wife or daughter had tried People's Pops. The Strawberry-Rhubarb Ice Pop was really good. Thick with chunks of fruit, the ice pop was more frozen fruit than fruit flavored ice. It was tasty without being cloyingly sweet.
As good as the ice pop was, the Lemon Shave Ice was the star. It was absolutely perfect. Small ice crystals that melt the second they hit your tongue are infused with perfectly balanced lemon flavor. It was bright and cold, sweet and sour, and it may be the perfect refreshing treat for a sunny day in the park. I don't think I can ever settle for a snow cone again.
(BigPoppa's note: I walked by Madison Square Park Today. Mad. Sq. Eats. is set up next to the park, between Broadway and 5th Avenue. It runs through June 1. People's Pops is there. They have Lemon Shave Ice. Go.)
As we strolled across the main lawn, heading to the burger area, we passed a two gentlemen chatting. I glanced at them and realized one of them was Marcus Samuelsson. I had to stop and say hello and tell him how much we enjoyed his chicken and mac & greens. He could not have been nicer.
On we went to the burger experience. If you are one of those people that live for burgers and go in search of the best burgers, this was the spot for you. Four vendors doling out some of the city's best burgers. Spotted Pig, Dumont Burger, Brindle Room and The Burger Joint. I said hello to Jeremy Spector, owner and chef of Brindle Room which is one of my favorites (as you know). No, I didn't get a burger. I know. But I was pacing myself and was on the hunt for food and restaurants I hadn't tried before.
At the end of the row of the Burger stands, tucked in the corner, under a tent, were three refurbished and re-purposed video game machines (I think former Pac Man games, but not sure). The festival had their own Googa Mooga video game developed, and the machines were free.
My daughter jumped at the chance to play and loved it. In the game, which was similar to Pac Man, you are a chef who is assembling four hamburgers. You are being chased by hot dogs. As you go through the game, you have to avoid the hot dogs while knocking the top of the hamburger buns down the board to complete your four burgers. It was fun and hilarious and my daughter loved it. Nice touch.
We kept rolling. So many great choices. Then we found Tia Pol.
Tia Pol - Calcots con Romesco
Tia Pol is a Spanish tapas restaurant on 10th Avenue in Manhattan. Calcots are large spring onions. They were grilled until tender and given a healthy dollop of Romesco sauce. This was a welcome dish. I was proud of myself for eating a vegetable, and this was as good as anything I had at the fest. The calcot was tangy and sweet, slightly caramelized and the Romesco sauce was the best new grilling condiment I have had in a while. This is a dish I a going to try to replicate on the grill this summer.
Tia Pol also had a lemon refresher, which was a fresh made lemonade that was slightly more bitter than sweet and lightly fizzy. The look on my daughters face said it all. She was surprised by the taste and fizz, then settled in to a happy contentment with this mature take on lemonade.
OK, sweets. We made a beeline to the Big Gay Ice Cream stand at the Sweets Circus area. Before we got there I saw a woman eating a frozen banana on a stick. Uh oh. I need one of those. I asked her where the banana came from. The Big Banana in the Marketplace. New beeline.
The Big Banana - Frozen Banana dipped in chocolate w/ peanuts and sea salt.
Yeah. Awesome. They also had a plain and one dipped in coconut. Need to make this at home.
We finally made it to the Big Gay Ice Cream stand.
Big Gay Ice Cream - Tang-Creamsicle Shake
They had two shakes. My daughter got the Tang-Creamsicle shake. Yeeeeaaaahhhhh. Just think liquid Creamsicle. Yeeessss. Yes. Yes.
So yes, we are pretty full. Then I saw this sign:
Fried Cheesecake Bombs. OK. Sure. Why not.
A couple of things. One, thanks to the woman next to me who asked if she could mix and match the bomb flavors. Didn't think of that. Two, thanks to the James staff who, after handing me my order of three chocolate bombs, happily exchanged one for one of the lemon - ricotta.
Finally, I could lie and tell you that I am showing you a photo of the stand so you get a feel for what they looked like. I am actually glad I can do this, but call it a happy accident. I took a photo of the bombs. When I went to pull it up while writing this what I found was a picture of the ground. Clearly, I wasn't seeing straight. Thank providence I had taken a photo of the stand as well.
As for the Cheesecake Bombs? The Chocolate Bombs were more molten cake or soufflé than cheesecake. The Lemon-Ricotta had more of a cheesecake texture. They were a little bigger than golf ball. How were they? Balls of fried cheesecake. How do you think they were? Crazy good.
Now fully stuffed and sweeted out, we heard some music and made our way to the Hamageddon Stage.
Freakin Tom Colicchio.
Craft - Dirty Duck Dog
A hot dog made of duck. Black garlic sauce. Kraut, dry with a bit of a coleslaw tang. We got one to share. I will come back to this.
We found a place in the shade before we got to the stage. I heard the band. Sounded good. I told the girls I would be back in a minute and wandered over to catch a song. I stayed till the set was over.
We Barbarians - Hamageddon Stage
We Barbarians are a three piece, originally from California, now residing in Brooklyn. They were great. A daytime slot on a side stage in front of people stuffed to the gills is no easy task but they delivered. Great songs, energetic set. References run the gamut, from Wire to U2 to the Clash. They did a cover of "Stange Overtones" by David Byrne and Brian Eno that was genius. You can hear the Eno influence in the music. I bought their EP, Headspace, at the merch tent and have been listening non-stop. Great band and one I will see again.
Check out We Barbarians here - http://blog.webarbarians.com/
Music, along with food, is one of my great passions in life. I love music of all stripes and colors. I am a huge metal fan. Maiden, Priest, Slayer, Metallica, etc. Metal was, and continues to be, a big part of my soundtrack to life. I bring this up because the whole Hamageddon area was done up in classic metal references. All the booths and stages, even the Hamageddon Logo, was done in the Iron Maiden font.
See what I mean? This is the Hamageddon Metal Hog. It is also a spit roaster. There was a whole hog inside being slow roasted as I took this picture. Heavy Metal!
All the various food vendors had takes on classic metal bands. The Craft T-Shirt looked like a Slayer shirt (except I don't think Slayer has ever had a white t-shirt).
You get the idea. I love it. Death to false metal, and fake pork.
I wandered back to the girls who were lounging in the shade. The Dirty Duck Dog was gone. My own fault. We Barbarians made me forget all about it. So, of course, I had to get another one. I did. It was good.
Didn't think we could eat one more thing. But we did.
Seersucker - Cayuga Cornmeal Tart
This was a lovely dish. A flat cornmeal crust is the base. This is not a fried cornmeal tostada. It has the texture of a baked crust. Savory and unique. A cheese, almost like a goat cream cheese, is spread on it and topped with a raw asparagus salad. Simply wonderful and a great finish.
I could have stayed at Googa Mooga all day, but I had another commitment. After a stop in the Third Rail Coffee tent for a Stumptown Iced Coffee we headed out. It was 2:30 and, as predicted, the place was starting to fill up. The lines were getting a bit longer but the feel was still happy and mellow. Escort was starting on the main stage getting the dance party vibe going.
The Great Googa Mooga exceeded my expectations. I feel bad for everyone who went on Saturday. Don't let that experience spoil you for the future. And for all the haters out there who took shots at the Festival before it even started, and piled on after Saturday, your loss.
We had a great day and we barely scratched the surface. Baked, Calexico, Do or Dine, Free Bread, Joseph Leonard, Landhaus, Little Muenster, Maharlika, Roberta's, Souvlaki GR and The Meat Hook are just a few of the vendors we didn't get to sample.
I walked out with a bounce in my step and a smile on my face. For a few hours the pain of missing this year's Jazzfest was gone. Even the girls left happy. So here is to next year. Looking forward to it. And maybe we can add a day. Friday would be good. I'll bring my appetite.
The Great Googa Mooga - Prospect Park , Brooklyn - www.googamooga.com