GQ Restaurant critic Alan Richman caused quite a fuss earlier this week with his review of Smorgasburg, Brooklyn’s summer weekend food-fest in Williamsburg and DUMBO, which was equal parts an assessment of the food and angry rant toward Mighty Quinn’s for making him wait for his sammy while a line formed behind him.
And what of those lines? New Yorkers, who wait for everything from coffee to taxis, seem to have developed an inane tolerance this summer for waiting for novelty Frankenfoods like Cronuts and Ramen Burgers.
Ramen Burgers have been at the heart of the frenzy since making their society debut August 3, and in his review, Richman says he asked a few of the 186 people in line for one why they were willing to wait: ”Why not, man?” came the reply from one, which Richman writes, “unintentionally put the Ramen Burger phenomenon in exquisite perspective.”
Which could mean Richman finds the whole craze a meaningless trifle (“Why not wait in line for an hour or three for a food you’ve never tried, which you might not even like?” “Well, why not, what does it matter,”), but First We Feast’s own Foster Kamer thinks it may have something to do with what he dubbed “The Rise of the Crotards,” basically likening Frankenfood liner-uppers to trophy hunting pack animals seeking entrance to the culinary cool kid club.
“These “neat” and “taboo” foods [like Cronuts and Ramen Burgers] that represent nothing more than a stamp on one’s passport of ostensibly adventurous (but really: idiotic, lame, and not-really-all-that adventurous) eating reflect something even worse—a base desire to be part of a mania.”
And perhaps, that desire has something to do with the kind of hyperbolic rhetoric that most people in the food business either embrace or reject with equal force: language that speaks of food as an “experience,” something that can “transport” you or be “transcendent,” yada, yada.
And for some people, that may be the case: the Ramen Burger may very well take a few lucky diners somewhere they’ve never been, to some umami-soaked universe. It totally bested the much-anticipated Umami Burger for the most coveted beef patty in town this summer, likely because it’s a) more bizarre and b) in short supply.
But Richman observed an even more nebulous trend at Smorgasburg, too. Customers are actually drawn to stands with longer lines, bucking any assumption any reasonable person (nee, any reasonable person NOT in marketing, apparently), may have ever had about where people want to eat.
On his quest for barbecue at the Mighty Quinn’s stand, where no line existed when he arrived, Richman alleges the following sequence of events:
“I asked the lady at the [Mighty Quinn's] counter for a sandwich. She smiled sweetly, and in a reasonable tone told me that she wouldn’t serve me until there was a line, and my best bet was to start one.
I’ve experienced a lot of atrocious customer service in my life, but this was a milestone. What’s worse, the ploy worked. New Yorkers don’t think much in life is worthwhile unless they have to stand in line to get it.
A line started forming behind me. After five minutes, it numbered 20. Not good enough for her. The awful woman began taunting her customers. “Soooo close,” she cooed. “Soooo close.” Soon there were 25 people in line plus three baby carriages. I suspect she was eagerly awaiting the wail of tiny babies suffering in the summer heat.”
Mighty Quinn’s owner Micha Magid denies Richman’s story as “categorically false” in a statement to Gothamist, in a piece Nell Casey predictably opens with: “Waiting in line for popular vendors at Smorgasburg is just part of the experience these days.”
And while The Braiser’s Tina Nguyen wonders, “Has Alan Richman has never stood in line before, like a normal person? Serious question. (We hear that goblin powers allow goblins to skip lines.),” let’s not blame the gripers for griping (although Alan Richman may actually be a goblin, in real life).
Rather, let’s ask if their gripes are actually legit: In this case, I’d have to say, line-griping is a legit gripe. Homes simply wanted some barbecue and he was first in line to get it, after the market allegedly opened for business.
And, as the Smorgasburg season dwindles, waiting in line is no reason to skip the market altogether. But why not go and be smart about it? Or, not go at all, and still enjoy its fruits? Below, a few tips on getting the most out of Smorgasburg before the season closes.
Tip #1: If you want Mighty Quinn’s barbecue on the weekend, and you’re not otherwise compelled to visit Smorgasburg, go to the East Village for it. Same goes for Dough, which has a brick-and-morter shop in Bed-Stuy, Porchetta, La Esquina, and others.
Tip #3: Eat something before you go to Smorgasburg; it doesn’t have to be anything major, but have a snack before you go so that if you do end up waiting in line all afternoon, you won’t be doing it with a hangry rage building inside of you.
Tip #4: The second you get to Smorgasburg, beeline for the booze stand of your choice. Peruse the food stands as you run by and take note of the lines at the places you want to visit. If your choice eats are causing a long line, buy an extra drink so you have two to keep you busy as you wait. Double fisting never hurt no one, and you’ll thank me when you finish the first and have another to sip on as you wait.
Tip #5: Never, ever, ever go at it alone. Waiting in line is so much better when you’ve got someone to chill with.
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