Last weekend, all of Washington’s foodies swarmed Union Market for Emporiyum, an inaugural food market pop-up that brought the trendiest restaurants from around the country to Northeast DC. I got a press pass and headed to the event on its second day.
The event was held at the Maurice Electric Warehouse, which is next to the Dolcezza Factory and just up the road from Union Market proper. I had been to this venue once before for Cherry Blast, a warehouse party held in honor of the Cherry Blossom Festival. I was excited to see how they would use the space.
The event was set up kind of like an amusement park in RollerCoaster Tycoon: guests paid admission and had to pay for food on top of that. When I played that game in my youth, I never understood why my virtual customers would pay for individual rides when they already paid for admission. Although the press pass meant I saved the $20 or $30 that other attendees spent on admission, I couldn’t believe that guests were expected to pay pretty much face value ($5-$10) for any food they wanted more than a bite-sized morsel of (most stands had tiny samples).
Alas, I allowed myself to splurge on a slice of Momofuku Milk Bar’s Crack Pie ($6) because Momofuku was on must-try list. The pie was made with brown sugar and custard and had the flavor and texture of caramel. One bite and I understood the name. The pie was irresistible and rich, but I couldn’t manage to eat more than one slice. The crunchy crust was like a treat at the end. The slice was quite small (that plate was probably about 4″ in diameter), so for $6 it was a bit absurd. If you think about it, with admission, that slice of pie actually cost $26. Now I will try to stay away from ranting about how expensive this event was to experience fully, and I will focus more on describing the sights, sounds and flavors.
After my must-have treat, I walked around the warehouse to see what vendors were there. There was a long line for Toki Underground‘s Emporiyum Ramen ($10) all day long. This dish is slightly discounted from what is sold at Toki’s restaurant and was probably just as large, making it a good deal in my opinion. However, because Toki is a local restaurant and I’m assuming most of the attendees were locals, I don’t know why they wouldn’t have experienced the meal at the restaurant rather than at a crowded warehouse.
That reminds me, the event was quite crowded. The crowds often deterred me from waiting behind others just to get meager, bite-sized samples the vendors had to offer. I was able to snag a few bites when the crowds thinned out at the end of the day. I tried a cucumber slice covered with spicy sauce from DC’s first Laotian restaurant, Thip Kao. I tried an amazing fruity candy from a candy company I can’t find (help!). Shake Shack and Lunch Box were crowd pleasers; Shake Shack gave out full-size servings of custard and Lunch Box gave out large cookies for free. Lunch Box also offered substantial and relatively cheap samples of various sandwiches.
The only other sample I bought, other than the crack pie, was Chef Geoff’s Jalapeno Bacon Mac and Cheese ($2). They assured me that it wouldn’t be spicy (water wasn’t free either), and they did not lie. In fact, I couldn’t really find or taste the jalapeno or bacon in this mac and cheese. However, it had the perfect amount of cheese and was topped with crunchy, toasted bread crumbs. Geoff specializes in bacon, so where was my bacon?!
Austin-based Asian fusion vendor East Side King caught my attention with its tantalizing buns, but I didn’t want to fork over $9 for two small pieces. Retrospectively, I should have gone for it instead of getting local fare from Chef Geoff.
The highlight of Emporiyum for me was discovering the 21+ section, where the free samples were abundant, tasty and strong.
The drink section was in a storage part of the warehouse, which looked like Costco or that part of Ikea where you pick up all of your furniture from.
Jack Rudy Cocktail Co., a producer of small-batch bar staples, gave out samples of Elderflower Gin and Tonic and their Bourbon Cocktail Cherries. The gin and tonic was made with their own Elderflower Tonic. The mini cocktail was refreshing. The cherries were so delicious… I probably could have eaten a whole jar.
Next to Jack Rudy was Art in the Age, a Philadelphia-based boutique with its own line of unique spirits. The spirits come in sage, rhubarb, (ginger)snap and root (what root beer was made of before the beer component was taken out) flavors. I tried a cocktail consisting of snap liqueur, apple cider and orange slices. It was very delicious and the flavor or alcohol was not apparent, which I like. The rhubarb mint lemonade was very tasty. The cocktail was sweet and refreshing and the rhubarb flavor was very prominent. I would have bought a bottle, but they weren’t allowed to sell their spirits at Emporiyum. I was very impressed.
The bar area was the most generous with samples, whereas the food vendors gave out tiny nibbles and charged too much for bigger bites. This is what I want to see changed at next year’s Emporiyum:
- Either charge little or no admission and keep the same food prices, or charge the same admission and give guests tickets that can be used for substantial samples.
- Invite more vendors from out of DC. I’m assuming most of Emporiyum’s visitors were Washingtonians, who could easily go to the local restaurants at the event. I would have been more compelled to spend money on food samples from restaurants across the country.
- Encourage the vendors to be more generous with the samples.
- Give visitors more space to move around.
And if nothing changes, here are my tips for visitors:
- Living Social was selling discounted tickets this year. Try to snag a cheaper ticket from them next year if the deal resurfaces.
- Come with a budget in mind.
- Check out all of the vendors before deciding what to buy.
- Spend your money on food from distant vendors, and not local fare.
- Bring a water bottle.
- Don’t miss out on the bar area.
- Come early or at the end of the day to avoid crowds.
Did I miss anything? Let me know what you thought of the event in the comments section!