Winner’s Circle.

Folks, I apologize for my prolonged absence. I’ve been swamped. That’s a good thing—especially given all of my complaints during what I’ve come to think of as My Season of Unemployment. Between the recent work shuffle, wedding travel, and houseguests, I’ve hardly had a minute to catch a breather, and this past weekend was no exception.

copanyc2

I spent all day on Saturday volunteering at Copa N.Y.C, a World Cup–style tournament held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens. The brainchild of a friend of mine, the four-day tourney features local amateur teams from various New York–based international communities, so I was hoping that the food would be as good as the fútbol. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.

First up, courtesy of an under-the-radar vendor at the 9 a.m. Colombia v. Trinidad & Tobago game: an arepa de huevo. One of the spectators gave me the heads-up and brought me over to the guy in the stands who was selling them; he took my $2 and pulled a grease-soaked paper sack from the duffle bag at his feet. My hands were instantly too oil-slicked to take a picture, so you’ll have to trust me on this one. Deliciously salty and unctuous with egg, I could only manage to finish half and cursed the stale bagel I’d downed a few hours earlier.

Next, between matches, I had a few bites of what I’m pretty sure was an Ecuadorian empanada de queso. As any carnival or street-fair aficionado will tell you, deep-fried dough sprinkled with sugar has universal appeal. Again, no pictures, as I inhaled that sucker while traveling between fields with clipboards and paperwork in one hand, empanada in the other.

That held me, as well it should’ve, through the afternoon’s spate of games.

I broke down around 5 p.m. and, before the USA v. Cyprus kick, snuck off to a food cart I’d noticed earlier. Pupusas were sizzling away on the grill top, looking (and smelling) off the charts, but I didn’t have time to wait. Spotting containers of shrimp ceviche in an open cooler, I chose to ignore niggling doubts about quality and freshness and opted for one of those.

ceviche

As my experience with the Red Hook ball-field vendors should have taught me, I needn’t have worried: This was perfection in a little plastic container. The deal of the day, too. For $5 or $6, I got a generous helping of perfectly pliant, tender shrimp and thin slices of red onion in a cocktail-style sauce, freshened with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of cilantro. Only a Corona would’ve made it better.

That should’ve been the end of it, but as the Carnivore and I were making our way out of the park, we found ourselves following an irresistible aroma to its source, with skewers of garlicky, vinegary, smoky meat at the end of the trail.

vendor

We ordered two, plus a mess of french fries, and then thought to ask the stand’s proprietor about her personal favorite. She recommended the chunks of pork, so we asked for a few of those as well. A mistake, all around. The fries were tasty, but that was about it. That unbelievable marinade masked some beef of dubious origins, and the pork was beyond tough and dry. It was a good thing we weren’t too hungry, because most of the plate went into the garbage.

comboplate

It’s cliché because it’s true:  You win some, you lose some, as the teams in competition were also reminded. Half were weeded out, the other half slated to return the next day for the quarterfinal round. Even though it ended on a sour note, I had a full day of two of my favorite things. I count myself among the winners.

The semi-final and final rounds of the Copa N.Y.C. tournament are scheduled for August 1 and 2, respectively, at the Metropolitan Oval in Maspeth, Queens. See copanyc.us for more details.

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