Red Hook Ballfields

August 12, 2007

It began a few decades ago but until recently, the vendors who sell food at the Red Hook Ball Fields were known only to a select and enthusiastic crowd.

Once upon a time, a group of Latin American immigrants formed a soccer league and began playing regularly on the public sports fields in Brooklyn’s Red Hook Park. Located in a swath of open space between gritty warehouses, docks and a vast public housing project, the 59-acre park featured an abundance of room to run and the isolation to make plenty of noise.

There were only two drawbacks to the location: it was a long walk from the closest subway station, and there were no shops or restaurants nearby where the players could buy refreshments. In response to the lack of available food and drink, a few of the league wives brought grills to the matches and began cooking on the spot for their hungry broods.

Soon, the women were cooking at the fields every summer weekend, selling their regional and family specialities to the enthusiastic athletes and specatators. As the league grew, and other nationalities joined the matches, the variety of dishes sold at the field also expanded. Today, the Red Hook Ball Fields offer soccer, baseball, running and the finest of South and Central American home cooking.

When artists and hipsters began to move into the empty industrial spaces of Red Hook, they also “discovered” the vendors under the tents at the Ball Fields. Word spread rapidly, and in the last two years nearly every major local magazine and newspaper has run at least one feature on what New York Magazine described as the city’s “ad hoc Latin American food court.”

In fact, there are two groups of vendors at the Red Hook Ball Fields: the much-lauded, organized cooks near the soccer fields and the less noted vendors across Columbia Street near the baseball fields. Both locations offer home made Latin American specialties, but the newcomers rarely visit the baseball field vendors; as a result, the lines are much shorter there, but there is also far less likelihood of finding a printed menu or a vendor who speaks perfect English.

Lately, the vendors at the Ball Fields have run up against the bureaucrats at the Parks Department and the Department of Health. As a result, many foodies believe that this could be the last summer that the delectable Mexican, Central American, South American and Caribbean treats will be sold under the tarps and tents at Red Hook. Activist and organizer Cesar Fuentes is doing all he can to fight City Hall, but the outcome of his efforts won’t be known for months.

So, quick, lest they disappear, come down to the ‘Hook and dig into the Columbian empanadas, Ecuadorian ceviche, Salvadoran pupusas, Mexican huaraches, Honduran tacos, Chilean tuna stew and more, along with gallons of fruit waters and mountains of succulent, freshly-cut mango, pineapple, coconut and papaya.

You’ll run out of room in your tummy before you run short of cash; most of the delicious offerings cost less than $5.00 each. While you munch away, don’t forget to watch a game or two.

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The sign at the soccer fields

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Munching on a quesadilla

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Waiting for papusas

Mango, jicima, papaya, cucumber, melon
Cut mango, jicima, papaya, cucumber, melon

Guatemalan goodies on the grill
Guatemalan goodies (including stuffed potato) on the grill

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Grilling ears of corn

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Preparing meat tacos

Aguas frescas (fruit waters)
Jars of aguas frescas (fruit waters)

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Grilling wooden skewers of meat

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Preparing corn with lime, mayonnaise, cheese & chile

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Making charcoal-grilled steaks for tacos

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Eating a hurrache

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Soccer players

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Pitcher during a baseball game

It’s My Park: Red Hook Food Vendors Video
NY Magazine: The Last Summer of the Red Hook Park Vendors?
Eater: Red Hook Vendors Have 10 Days to Address Health Dept.
The Porkchop Express: Red Hook, the Drama Continues
NY Parks Dept: Red Hook Park
NY Magazine: Tour Red Hook Ball Fields With Chef Aaron Sanchez
Time Out New York: On the Hook
NY Times: A Latin Fiesta, Near the B.Q.E.
NY Times: Stuffing Tortillas and Parkgoers, Dawn to Dusk
NY Magazine: Mmmm, the Red Hook Ball Fields
NY Times: A Potted Palm Grows in Brooklyn
The Porkchop Express: Red Hook Soccer Fields
The Porkchop Express: Red Hook Soccer Fields Map
Gothamist: Soccer, Swimming Y Salsa
Gothamist: Soccer Mamacitas
Ed Levine Eats: Chuck Schumer Makes Goat Tacos Good Politics
onNYTurf: Red Hook Soccer Fields Map (w/subway lines)
NY Sun: On the Red Hook Waterfront
Village Voice: Plotzing for Masa (Not Matzo)

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