Red Hook, former seaside wasteland/charmingly rundown blue-collar neighborhood, is getting a lot of press lately.  It seems like the august institutions (ie, NYT) have gotten the idea that, with the arrival of Fairway and the impending construction of an IKEA, the Hook is now a destination.  It’s hard for me to argue with that conclusion, though my logic is much different: Red Hook is the closest spot to lower Manhattan within the city borders in which you truly feel like you’re in a different place.

Obviously that feel has changed and will continue to change ever so slightly, but as long as I can still soak up the stiff breezes and sea air smell on the dock by the rusting hulk of a trolley, I’ll feel pretty good about the place.  Not to mention the various and sundry culinary delights that occupy the neighborhood – especially the ball fields (at Clinton and Bay Streets, a short walk from the Van Brunt St. corridor), to which I took my first eating trip this past weekend with a friend.

The season may be winding down, but there was a full or nearly-full complement of vendors there, a map for which can be found at the Porkchop Express (a relatively new and really excellent blog).  I can’t rightly remember where we bought everything, but I know we started at Sosa Juices, where I tried the melon and she tried the pineapple.  The melon in question was apparently cantaloupe, and I’ve scarcely ever been happier with a juice in my lifetime.  Her pineapple was also quite delish.

Toting our enormous cups of juice (which I think were like $2 each – in fact, most of the food items we had were between $1 and $3, with noted exceptions), we proceeded to look over the offerings.  The first thing that caught our collective eyes was a lady grilling up pupusas, which are basically grilled ground corn cakes filled with stuff.  In this case, it was meat and cheese, though other varieties were available at another nearby stand.  Pretty damn good, and the garnish of cabbage was better than the average sauerkraut or cole slaw.

Next up, my friend had a hankering for some ceviche.  So she went and grabbed it while I stopped at Ceron Colombian and made eyes at an enormous yellow doughy-looking ball, which I found out was made of potatoes stuffed with beef and deep fried.  I also noticed a sausage in a rather lovely shade of red-black – being a longtime blood sausage enthusiast, I took the plunge.

Of course, given that my friend is the smarter of the two of us, she ended up with the best-tasting dish of the three that arrived at our seat.  The ceviche ($6), while perhaps a bit mild for my taste, was filled to the brim with excellent shrimp, squid, octopus, and swordfish.  Something about this preparation method makes even sometimes-tough octopus tender, and the squid practically melted in my mouth.

Not that the sausage and stuffed potato (called a papa reyena, according to Mr. Slab of the Porkchop Express) were bad – just not as spectacular as I’d hoped.  The latter’s most attractive feature was indeed its goldenrod hue – the beef inside was rather mild and the potatoes, while tender, didn’t offer much in the way of flavor.  The blood sausage was better, if slightly dry, sided with something resembling stewed yucca and topped with some kind of mystery orange relish.

The last stop on the gutbusters tour was for tamales at Soler Dominican.  Two varieties were offered, and we tried both: unadorned corn and chicken.  Of the two, the chicken was my favorite, but not by much.  The moist stewed chicken and the corn meal combined to great effect, I thought – my friend made a compelling case for the corn meal alone being superior, though.  Something about the difference in preparation made it seem sweet, and almost like a dessert.  Not a bad way to cap lunchtime at the fields.

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