In its three years of existence, the Brooklyn Flea has brought the browsing masses gourmet candy bars, seasonal shaved ice, and dueling pickles, helping to launch a series of start-ups in the process. But that’s not all: It’s evolved into a dining destination, a curated buffet catering to contemporary appetites for pupusas and porchetta sandwiches, wood-fired pizza and lobster rolls. To understand the bazaar’s impact on the local dining scene, one need only trek to opening weekend of the outdoor season April 2 and 3, when a new crop of vendors will unveil their nascent businesses and brand expansions to a ravenous public (check brooklynflea.com for vendor location and schedule). Here are but a few of the newcomers to make their debuts this Saturday in Fort Greene, and Sunday at the Flea’s new Williamsburg location, on a 40,000-square-foot riverside lot leased from the Edge condo development. (Come May, Flea organizers will inaugurate a dedicated food market there on Saturdays, with Greenmarket farmers joining an expanded mix of purveyors and street-food stands. Working name: Smorgasburg.)
What’s different about this year’s alfresco Flea is the increased presence of established chefs and restaurateurs squeezed in among the fledgling jerkyists and moonlighting macaronistas. Saul Bolton of the Michelin-starred Saul, for instance, has parlayed his extensive charcuterie program at the Vanderbilt into a retail business called Brooklyn Bangers, featuring sandwiches like merguez on pita, veal bratwurst with sauerkraut, and a housemade hot dog that’s two thirds brisket and one third pork fatback. The sandwich mavens at Saltie will bring their romaine Dinghy and the meatier Little Chef. Raw oysters come courtesy of Mary’s Fish Camp’s Flea alter ego, Oystergirl. And Sam Mason, late of Tailor and wd-50, is introducing Empire Mayonnaise in whimsical flavors like lime pickle and coffee-and-celery-seed (fries, too!).
After spending last summer exposing skeptical New Yorkers to the modest joy of the Montreal bagel, Mile End’s Noah Bernamoff will be busting out his signature smoked-meat sandwiches in Williamsburg. (He’s also making his commissary kitchen available to An Choi chef Dennis Ngo, who plans to launch Texas-style barbecued-brisket sandwiches at the Flea in May.) And from the bubbling hive of confectionery activity that is Momofuku Milk Bar comes Milk Bar & Friends, an umbrella operation selling not only Crack Pie and Compost Cookies but the handiwork of the bakery’s employees: souped-up sandwiches on fresh-baked bread from Peanut Butter Jellified; inventive marmalades from Maiden Preserves; and offbeat macarons from Dulcis Mercator (Latin for sweet shop), the sideline of a Bronx prosecutor turned pastry cook. That’s the thing about the Flea—all you need is a fancy French cookie and a dream.