On a recent visit to Playland Amusement Park, I saw a heartbreaking sight—so I’m taking today, the day after Labor Day, to air a foodie’s lament. At Playland, where once had been independent vendors selling festival foods like fried funnel cakes, fried dough, and fried potato spirals (shaved from a whole potato with a hand drill!), now the pervasive logos of Burger King, Pizza Hut and Carvel reign.
Regrettably, these iconic logos have become the fabric of our everyday lives – which is precisely why I think they should be excluded from Westchester’s only amusement park. Since their beginnings at the end of the 19th century, amusement parks were home to independent vendors serving faddish, cheap foods. Some of those foods have gone worldwide, like Nathan’s “red hots” – an innovative sausage served on a bun. One wit nicknamed the Nathan’s novelty “hot dogs” for the supposed meat in the sausage.
Sure, at Playland, you can still see cotton candy made right before your eyes ($5 for about 16 cents worth of colored sugar), but the park’s fudge, candy apples, and other boardwalk sweets are trucked in from outside sources. Hot dogs come from nationally franchised, Brooklyn-spawned Nathan’s – a shame, since Playland once rivaled its contemporary, Coney Island. And nowhere can you smell food that says, ‘Oh, we must be at Playland.”
In this era of heated food truck wars, Playland is squandering a fantastic opportunity. The park should open up its pretty Art Deco architecture to offer a hip, local culinary scene that rivals Citi Field. I’m thinking that Playland could take a page from Perry Farrell and elect a smart young chef to oversee its offerings. This year, Farrell hired famed Chicago chef Graham Elliot Bowles to oversee the food service at the 2010 Lollapalooza festival. Under Bowles’ direction, Lollapalooza has become a cool culinary nexus, a place where creative, independent local restaurateurs can strut their cheap-food stuff.
Here’s what I’d like to see in my Playland culinary Dreamland:
• Heritage/Heirloom Blue Hill Café Berkshire corndogs, made with Berkshire pork and Anson Mills cornmeal. What a great opportunity for Barber and Company to preach the message beyond their well-heeled choir in Pocantico Hills.
• Q pulled-pork sandwiches. Duh.
• Eastchester Fish Market’s lobster rolls, stuffed clams and oysters, and littlenecks on the half shell. Sure, they’ll be a splurge, but let’s celebrate that Playland is an honest-to-God seaside resort!
• Tacos, tacos, tacos from one of our excellent, local tacquerias
• Walter’s frikken hot dogs and not mystery-meat-weenies from loathsome Nathan’s
• Bhel puri from Chutney Masala – some spice would be nice.
• Zeppole from the Cookery – P.S.: Dave DiBari also makes kick-butt pretzels.
• Sausage and peppers from Tarry Lodge – Bastianich and Batali might go for it if there’s a profit involved.
• Funnel cakes and fried donuts from the Kneaded Bread
• Burgers, shakes and fries from BSF
• Blue Pig or Longford’s ice cream
• Paleteria Fernandez paletas
Oh, wouldn’t it be heaven? Though my plan has a serious downside. With all the pigging out that this plan would encourage, mid-ride vomit might become a real problem.
Summer’s Last Gasp
Crabtree’s Kittle House
Thursdays and Fridays through September
On Thursdays and Fridays through September, Crabtree’s Kittle House www.kittlehouse.com is offering 50 percent off a vast selection of its great California Chardonnays. Buy a bottle or two and enjoy a September evening in the Kittle House’s lovely garden.
Edible Garden Club Meeting Blue Hill at Stone Barns
September 23 5:30pm – 7pm
This joint project between BHSB and the New York Botanical Garden shows you how to make the most of your Westchester green space. Use this meeting to gloat over your 2010 yield, then use what you’ve learned to spend some quality September weekends in the yard.
Goodbye, Summer 2010!
(And take three solid months of 90+ temperatures with you!)
The days are getting cooler and shorter, which means it’s your last chance to get the ultimate Westchester summer meal: a split-and-griddled hotdog, French fries, and a chocolate malted on a grubby roadside picnic table at Walter’s Hot Dogs. Of course, this picture does not depict the sensations of wet bathing suit, mosquito bites, and buzzing garbage bees. Just imagine — in a few months, you’ll actually miss August’s heat.