image (4)

In celebration of Edible Brooklyn’s “Eat Drink Local Week,” the popular food publication hosted “Pass the Paella” at the Brooklyn Brewery on Wednesday, June 26th.  From 6:00-9:00pm, lucky ticket holders listened to Spanish music and scarfed down delicious food prepared by Nick Suarez, owner and chef of the Backyard Cooking Company, and Theo Peck, owner of Peck’s.

Upon arrival, the side dishes were neatly laid out atop the several communal picnic tables.  These small plates included spring vegetable terrine with romesco sauce and crusty bread and carrots with salsa verde buttermilk dressing–both of which were so good it was hard to believe they were veggies.  Two mini bars were positioned on either side of the room offering three of the Brewery’s finest: Pale Ale, Summer Ale, and Lager.  The room was still half empty thirty minutes into the event, but for those there, anticipation mounted–just when was the paella going to be served?

I had not anticipated the unveiling of the paella to be as momentous as it was.  Someone on a microphone quieted the low buzz of the crowd around 6:40pm, and then Suarez and Peck carried the largest tray of paella that I have ever seen to the front of the room.  Cheering and clapping immediately followed.  The chefs spoke briefly, posed for some photos, and proceeded to adorn the dish with lemon wedges along the perimeter.  A line formed quickly, the vast majority eager to receive a heaping mound of piping-hot paella.  This particular twist on the classic Spanish dish contained chicken, chorizo, piquillo peppers, saffron, mussels, and cockles topped with aioli sauce–a welcome addition I had never seen during my travels throughout Spain.

To my surprise, there was also a vegetarian paella, albeit in a much smaller round dish confined to the very back of the room.  A tiny (almost shameful) line of people gathered here, myself included, to taste a most winning combination of garbanzo beans, red peppers, fennel, asparagus, and the same aioli sauce.  I eat shellfish and had never had strictly “vegetarian” paella before, but I thought it was excellent and enjoyed two large helpings.  I picked around chorizo and nibbled at the chicken just to get a taste of the principal paella for comparison’s sake, but it was a little too spicy for my taste (and quite frankly, not worth the effort it took to remove every last meat crumb).  Picking around the meat had been my plan of attack all along though, as the vegetarian option was not advertised on the event website.

This all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink feast was pleasantly different from others in that it maintained a relaxed atmosphere the entire time.  Rather than standing, spilling red wine down your shirt while trying to balance three plates of chicken wings, red velvet cake, and broccoli tacos, Pass the Paella attendees were granted a plenitude of seating and space – what a luxury.  Not a person was standing unless he or she was in line for food or beer, and there was minimal mingling or changing of seats.

At any other event, it is understood that upon leaving one’s perch to get more food, one is permanently surrendering his or her seat or spot to whomever was most aggressively hovering nearby.  It was certainly nice just to sit and eat slowly, something I suppose I regularly take for granted.  I’ve now spent many an evening hunched over a tiny high top, elbowing strangers in the back just so I can slurp down that last drop of gazpacho, stopping only to wipe the sweat from my forehead and chocolate sauce from my lips.

Let’s just say Pass the Paella was a lot less high-stress and a lot more civil.  The atmosphere had a casual, family-style feel (but no children actually present).  Once the first huge trays ran low, they were replenished instantaneously, so gone was the fear of food shortage.  Also, with only two dishes served, the pressure to try every single bite offered (“65+ of New York’s finest restaurants will be in attendance!”) was absent as well.  This was especially helpful for my burgeoning stomach.

For once, I had a night where I left full but did not uncomfortably explode -rare indeed.  ¡Ay, caramba!

By: Emily Giove