FNO Flushing Fantastic, daytime festival edition
Despite the popularity of some parts of Brooklyn, our collective dialogue around New York City remains excessively Manhattan-centric. New Yorkers will still say “the city” when they mean Manhattan, even though the five borough boundaries of our city have been in place since 1898.
And New York City is so large that telling people what borough you are from will not cut it. No one actually from Manhattan would introduce themselves as being from Manhattan unless they were in a very borough-specific conversation. Each of New York City’s boroughs is a tapestry of neighborhoods, and it is these neighborhoods that are the lifeblood of life in NYC.
Queens is New York City’s largest borough and among its most well-known neighborhoods is Flushing. This weekend, local residents are showing off the neighborhood’s many attractions Saturday at FNO 2019: Flushing Fantastic.
FNO stands for “Flushing Night Out” as past events have been held at night, but this festival is going to run from 12 noon until 6 p.m. and is going to be at historic St. George’s Episcopal Church, right in the center of downtown Main Street a short walk from both the 7 train and the LIRR.
Flushing is known as a destination for Chinese cuisine, and people will come from all over to sample some of the great restaurants, food carts, or food court stalls that make this neighborhood unique. But there is much more than Chinese food, and the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce is promoting the neighborhood as an international melting pot, though admittedly one that is heavily Asian. I often point out to people that among the best dining attractions in Flushing are 24-hour Korean restaurants such as Kum Gang San and Noodle Flower, where you can barbecue an awesome assortment of meat right at your table at two o’clock in the morning if you are so inclined.
The Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce also notes that the event is designed to give a boost to local businesses and entrepreneurs that are competing with large franchises. Downtown Flushing has seen a boom in construction of high-rise condominiums and the rising price of real estate has made life harder for small businesses throughout Queens and five boroughs.
“Flushing, NY is the crossroads of the world — where you can find amazing culture and people from around the globe,” the chamber says in its event notice online. “We want to celebrate the unique food, fashion, and music found here as well as help the small businesses and entrepreneurs who are struggling to make ends meet. Over the past decade, rising rents and major development projects have threatened to displace the small mom-and-pop stores who invested their blood, sweat, and tears into making our neighborhood prosperous.”
Flushing Night Out has been held at various locations, centered on the downtown area. The first one I attended was on the campus of Flushing High School, and it was a memorable event, even for cynics like me that hate crowds.
It was at my first Flushing Night Out that I was introduced to Karl’s Balls, a food stand of traditional Japanese takoyaki balls—those are octopus balls inside a doughy sphere that are cooked on an egg-shell like grill. Go to Karl’s Balls because it’s an ingenious name and you may never stop joking about wanting to put Karl’s Balls in your mouth. But all joking aside, the takoyaki balls are extraordinarily delicious and Karl himself—Karl Palma—is a celebrated chef who has been featured on the Cooking Channel among other accomplishments.
While Karl’s Balls may not be at this FNO event, there is going to be a smorgasbord of amazing food, from Ecuadorian cuisine to Japanese ramen to craft beer and gourmet ice cream. You have no excuse to leave hungry. The organizers require all the vendors there to have items that start at $5 or less.
FNO also features live music, crafts, and other cultural interests. This Saturday will feature Harmonyc Movement, a city-based dance troupe steeped in K-pop and Korean culture.
And at the Flushing Queens Macaroni Kid booth, they will be giving away protein bars for free (full disclosure, my wife Emily Griffin Sheahan runs our local Macaroni Kid web site and will be manning the booth at the event – tell her I sent you!).
Battle of the Queens Night Markets
Not too long ago, Friday nights were when I wanted to rage in abominable weekend warrior style and get home in the early hours of dawn after partying harder than Robert Downey Jr. with a 40-pound crack rock. Not so anymore. I’ve become mellowed with age and exhausted by child wrangling and by Friday evening I want nothing more than to sit at home and try to catch up on sleep.
So this past Friday I was reluctant to leave home with our brood to attend Flushing Night Out that was held on the campus of Flushing High School, not far from where we live. I did not want to deal with a large crowd and trying to supervise two active toddlers amid a mob of festivalgoers. But my wife insisted we go support this thing.
The five of us plus my mother-in-law took a bus less than a mile to the corner of Northern Boulevard and Union Street.
Flushing High School is the oldest high school in the city and unlike most city high schools, it sits on a large piece of land that has a nice lawn. That’s where the Flushing Night Out was held.
The event was well attended but not horribly crowded, a welcome relief. It was an overwhelmingly Asian crowd, which was no surprise since it was Flushing, and it was largely Flushing High School students and people active in community events. The mobs of ill-mannered drunks, arrogant thugs, and hipster abominations I feared never materialized, and while the DJ music that was there was aimed at a younger audience and therefore pretty shitty, it wasn’t hard to get away from it. Things sounded much better once the live music started.
The food offerings were impressive and things are usually $5 or less. I had some excellent classic mac and cheese as well as fried mac and cheese from House of Mac, ate a tasty scallion pancake from Seoul Pancake, a seafood and pasta mix that had an Asian name I can’t remember from Teinei Ya and an amazing banana-flavored homemade pastry from Jai NYC Eats. The food booth that caught my attention the easiest was Karl’s Balls. Karl’s balls are delicious octopus balls. Meticulously tended to by the chef, the balls lived up to the hype. I can’t wait to have Karl’s Balls in my mouth again.
There was a $1 dollar All You Can Craft table that allowed us to keep our small children occupied and allowed them to leave with some hand-made jewelry. They also enjoyed painting their own and their grandmother’s arms with paint. Helpful volunteers were incredibly good-natured and patient with rambunctious toddlers who wielded paint brushes like machetes. Not far away, a vendor used a real machete to slice coconuts for special drinks.
There were also a lot of different vendors selling various inexpensive crafts. There was some seating available and space for people to bring picnic blankets. It was an all-around pleasant evening.
Flushing Night Out will be held several more Fridays this summer: July 29, August 12 and August 26. They run from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. It is a good way to experience Flushing and family friendly too. It’s organized by the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce.
There is also a Queens International Night Market that is held in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, on Saturdays. Our family tried to go there once but we drove and there was no parking available. My wife got out and walked through and found that the lines were incredibly long because there were not enough vendors. However, it has improved and my mother-in-law attended a more recent night market there and reported that there were many more vendors and that the crowd situation has improved.
The Brooklyn Night Bazaar was very popular and featured a lot of food vendors, beer, and music. It closed though it appears to be on its way back as its web site says it will be revived this September. Queens doesn’t need to duplicate Brooklyn to prove its worth, but these night markets can be a lot of fun if done right, and the Queens night markets are proving to be successful.
Queens has the most to offer of any borough in the city as far as food and different crafts. If something exists in the world, you can bet someone in Queens can cook it, get it for you, or show you how to make it. Night markets like Flushing Night Out are a good way to discover new foods, restaurants, or other fun things that may already be close by.