New York devours money, we know this. All bills aside, it’s the eating (and drinking) out that really kills your budget. When the weekend rolls around, and you’re low on cash, deciding between drinking money, dinner money and blowing out next week’s budget can put a serious damper on your plans. But, after savoring literally 6 types of nut butter at the McGolrick Park Farmer’s Market one morning, I remembered all the weekends I’d unintentionally stumbled upon a literal buffet of free samples–one after the other after the other–on my way to meet friends for an expensive meal. Brooklyn has an unusually high concentration of sample-hawking food establishments.
Then it hit me: “I bet you could sustain yourself purely on free samples for a whole day.” So here’s my attempt to do just that while shuffling around the borough one Saturday, with two friends from out of town.
We started it all off under the BQE
The Brooklyn Kitchen/The Meat Hook
100 Frost Street, Greenpoint/Williamsburg
I got a tip that this deli/kitchenware store had their sample game on lock. And BOOM, it was a jackpot right off the bat. Out front they were demoing some alien-looking grill, which yielded us some fresh-and-hot flatbread pizza. Inside, the partitioned floor plan hid samples in unsuspecting corners perfect for shoveling mounds of tiny portions into our faces. The whole maze aspect made over-indulging too easy to be true, quickly pushing my caloric intake over the “full meal” level.
Pineapple, Mushroom, tomato flatbread pizza (2 slices)
Sesame graham crackers (handful after handful)
McClure’s Sweet and Spicy pickles (toothpick after toothpick)
McCarren Park Greenmarket *dud*
Driggs and Union Ave, Greenpoint
After such a great start, we felt pretty invincible heading to the Greenmarket. Little did we know our high spirits would be crushed by our late start to the day. Getting there around 2:30pm turned what I assumed was a safe bet into a dud.
(Pro-tip: When it’s open on Sundays, McGolrick Park’s Farmer’s Market kills it on the nut butter and tempeh sample-front)
Van Leeuwen’s Ice Cream
632 Manhattan Ave, Greenpoint
Here the line between “free sample” and “taste test” started to get pretty blurry. We all know the word “artisan” is synonymous with”upsell,” which roughly translates into “hardsell.” If you’re game enough, you can turn the sales pandering into totally free perks by simply saying “not for me.” Or you could make up a bullshit excuse and run out the door, like I did. That’s how capitalism works, right?
Gianduja (aka dark chocolate custard with hazelnut heaven)
(Pro-tip: NEVER double-dupe. If you want to return to an establishment, you NEED to come back and actually buy something…preferably a lot of things.)
771 Manhattan Avenue
As the sample brigade moved north, we stumbled across a table with candy and some kind of sales brochures. Easy enough to score sweets, as long as you don’t make eye contact.
Lollipops (No pamphlets, please!!)
921 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint
Here we planned to push the limits of cold cut tasting at the deli. Luckily, a basket of lightly sweetened wafer-type cookies caught my eye first. Serendipitously (or strategically) placed next to the peanut butter grinder, we dove in and ground up a very filling snack on our last stop in Greenpoint.
Wafer cookies (kind of like flat pizzelles)
Organic, fresh ground peanut butter
With pretty full (but not fully satisfied) bellies, we hopped on the East River Ferry to make our way to the upmarket mecca known as DUMBO.
56 Adams Street, DUMBO
I avoided this notoriously expensive grocer when I worked on the block but remembered the free bits of bread they placed next to their bougie olive oils. Welp, they did away with the bread but brought in bulk nuts, trail mix and self-service candy, all of which I helped myself to in small portions. Plus, their salad bar’s artisanal rolls paired nicely with the olive bar samples.
Thai curry cashews
Chocolate-cranberry-granola-coconut trail mix
Multigrain golden raisin bread
Jaques Torres Chocolates *dud*
66 Water Street, DUMBO
A former roommate that still lives & works in DUMBO told me about a past brownie sample experience here but when we rolled in there was no sample tray or taste testing in sight. At this point, my sweet tooth was hurting, so we had to get out of there before my compulsive cookie-buying habit took total control.
By now, our heat stamina started to falter, so we headed for the F train to wrap up the day with the last fail-safe sample stores in Cobble Hill.
215 Smith Street, Cobble Hill
One tip from a friend that didn’t disappoint. The sign said “EVERYBODY GETS A PIECE” but they’re underplaying their generosity. The guys behind the counter practically had my sample sliced up before I finished asking for one.
Tomme de Savoie
288 Court Street, Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens
By the time we got to Union Market, it was about 7:30pm and the promo sampling I’d been promised had packed up shop. Their generous not-just-olive bar made a worthy consolation prize though. I definitely dipped into the bin to replenish the sample dish a few times. Hey, when you have unlimited toothpicks in a virtually empty store, eat like no one’s watching.
Garlic stuffed olives
Stuffed martini olives
Olives, olives, olives…
Marinated mushrooms (over and over)
By around 8 o’clock, both my friends had bailed on the sample mission and bought a sandwich. And, at this point, even though my stomach was more than full of sodium, cheese fat and swiped wheat rolls, god damn it, I wanted a sandwich too.
130 Court Street, Cobble Hill
If TJ’s sample station weren’t guaranteed, I don’t think we would have made it up Court Street. Spirits were low, blood sugar was erratic, but determination paid off in kind at our last stop of the night. Not only did I get pretty close to a sandwich (bagel + salmon), there was after dinner coffee with my option of soy or regular milk! I vultured the shit out of those little bagel fractions, throwing back baby coffees like it was last call. Plus, after buddying up with the sample guy, I got an ‘off-menu’ taste of dessert.
Salmon spread (seasoned lox & cream cheese blend)
Chocolate chip dunker cookies
(Pro-tip: I found out, after the fact, that Trader Joe’s will let you sample pretty much ANYTHING in the store if you ask)
By the end of the day, I was tired and hot but not hungry. Well, I didn’t physically want to eat more. Psychologically, though, I was still pretty fixated on those cookies back at Jacques Torres and the pizza from way back at our first stop. My whetted appetite was not the point of my journey. It is, however, the point of food samples.
THE TAKE AWAY:
On the weekend, if you’re stuck between drink money vs. dinner money, out on an artisanal Brooklyn walking tour with foodie friends or in town on a shoestring, you don’t need to break the bank or go home hungry. You just have to ask to try everything they’ve got.
Follow Katie at @katie_capri for free tweets