Piazza Mexicano? Kurt Andersen’s dream plaza goes south (of the border)

Big-time guy Kurt Andersen wants to turn Carroll Park into a piazza
Photo by Bess Adler

Forget gelato and cannoli, visitors to Carroll Park’s controversial “piazza” might instead be feasting on a steady diet of tortas and quesadillas.

The city quietly awarded Calexico, the Mexican eatery with a location on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint and on Union Street in the Columbia Street Waterfront District, a five-year contract to operate a food cart in the park.

Parks spokeswoman Meghan Lalor said the deal permits the operation of a cart at Smith and Carroll streets.

The city awards permits for the sale of food from mobile carts through a competitive process; Calexico was the lone business to toss its sombrero into the ring, Lalor added.

The cart could add new flavor to the park, which has found itself embroiled in controversy since we first reported that Second Place resident Kurt Andersen, a nationally acclaimed journalist for National Public Radio and author, hoped to play a role in converting the park into a more Italian-styled “piazza.”

Andersen envisions tables and chairs in an “underused” portion of the western side of the park near Court Street.

Longtime residents lashed out with a rarely seen venom, saying that no portion of the beloved park is under-utilized.

Some of the ire was directed at Andersen himself, whose 21-year residency in the neighborhood struck some as too short.

“Someone who has lived in this neighborhood for a matter of weeks in the summertime can tell you all about the virtues of that space in Carroll Park,” said Joe Nardiello, a neighborhood lifer. “I’m surprised that someone who has lived here for decades would have an alternate view.”

Moreover, critics said, the park is already functions as a neighborhood square.

“It is an urban piazza,” said Celia Cacace, a neighborhood resident for 74 years. “We don’t need fancy-schmancy chairs or umbrellas.

“This isn’t Bryant Park. If you want that type of thing, go into the city,” she added.

Andersen met last week with Friends of Carroll Park — and the group subsequently issued a statement assuring residents that “no plans have been made” and none would be finalized without community input.

The group said it was now exploring the idea of a “Friday Evenings in Carroll Park,” a weekly event with movable “café tables and chairs, a food or drink vendor, lights, and some entertainment.”

Andersen said he was unsure what the fuss was about.

“There was the tiniest germ of an idea to figure out ways to make the park even more delightful as a community space that can support all kinds of uses,” he said.

For now, one of those uses will be the Calexico stand. It’s unclear when it will begin opening, but some mouths are already watering for the tacos and burritos, which won a coveted Vendy Award for its cart in Soho before its owners opened a full restaurant in the Columbia Street area and a cart in Brooklyn Bridge Park last year.