Roberta’s x Humboldt & Jackson?! Yes, Please! (aka the “Takeover Par-tay” Post)

It’s safe to say that at this point in its tenure, Bushwick pioneer Roberta’s is a New York City institution. (If a Michelin star for Blanca, pizza approaching perfection and a high-stakes legal battle among owners doesn’t make a New York City institution, I’m not sure what does.)

So there was no way I was going to miss Roberta’s “kitchen takeover” at Humboldt & Jackson, which is, literally, the closest food and drink establishment to home. Part wine bar, part bar-bar, part seasonal menu; frequent host to trivia nights, live music, pop-up food and/or seasonal events, Humboldt & Jackson has made itself right at home in the neighborhood in the t-minus two years that it has been open.

Top billing on the menu was Roberta’s “square slice” pizza — an homage to Detroit’s hyper-local pizza style (a la Buddy’s Pizza) that’s best described by what it’s not: It’s not thin crust, not deep dish, square? yes, but not Sicilian (although billed as such, this is still questionable) and definitely not Chicago style. Roberta’s served up its famous pizzas (“The Bee Sting,” “Millennium Falco,” etc.) on an foccicia-like crust.

But the scene stealer? The stracciatella, a fresh, soft-stretched, languid heap of cheese goodness, which was served with toasted sourdough bread. Said bread’s toasty porousness was the perfect structure for every bite. (No photos worthy of posting, but this Washington Post recipe is calling my name.)

If you thought buratta was the pinnacle of Mozzarella’s excellence, think again, my friend. And then seek out stracciatella. One more reason why Roberta’s rocks — stracciatella is featured on its lunch and dinner menus on the regular.

For more on Buddy’s Pizza, cue up this Zagat video to 4:40min — but the whole thing is a solid watch: 

 

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Something Kind of Magic Under the JMZ (aka the “Hello, Moto” Post)

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that such an utterly romantic, sweetly nostalgic restaurant as Moto could exist — nay, thrive — in a corner of Brooklyn predominantly known for its Hasidic and Dominican communities and fast-food neon …

And yet, that’s exactly where I found myself on a quiet afternoon this last weekend, sipping a black velvet ($7) — a deceptively effervescent Guinness and champagne concoction — and channeling every bit of my attention that wasn’t swooning over the jazz music, muffled and crackling as if from another era, or the way the wooden ceiling fan cast an oscillating pattern of shadows onto the antiquated turnkey clock, while the JMZ Train rumbled on overhead … wait, where am I?

Oh yes, the task at hand: I was alternating between skewering mushrooms that had been marinated in olive oil and sherry vinegar, and finished with capers, rosemary and red pepper flakes, with toothpicks, and constructing gorgeous bites from a deconstructed salad composed of slices of cucumber, tomato, radish and soppressata, hulks of Bulgarian feta, garnishes of fresh mint and black olives.

This was just to sample something the menu; I will surely be back for more.

Moto evades categorization except to be called “excellent.” The best I can do is to say that as I sat there in my reverie, studying my surroundings, more than once I considered comparisons between Moto and such old timey, Euro-inspired cycling-centric bits of pop culture as The Triplets of Belville and that Stella Atrois commercial from last year, which I’ve pasted below:

Moto, 394 Broadway, at Hooper Street, E. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-599-6895. Photos of the restaurant and a bit more information here, great writeup by the Village Voice here.

Tuesday: Happiness Is a Full Fridge (aka the “Can We Just Talk About This Cheese Plate for a Moment?” Post)

Q: What’s the first thing I dive into after an epic (relatively speaking) grocery shopping trip that involves stops at two excellent New York markets, Fairway Market and Agata & Valentina?

photo-4A: The cheese, the olives and the snack mix, of course.

Rinse the grapes and set them up to dry in a colander, pack the potential spoilables into the fridge, but you, Le Rustique cambert ($8.99), with your petit checkered napkin inside, you’re not going anywhere.

photoPlus, this snack mix that I discovered that at Fairway Market, the Society Hill [correct name to come], has to be one of the best value mixes in the city: There are salted peanuts,  honey crunch peanuts, little chip bits with whole flax seeds in them, sesame clusters, and so much more — $4.04 for nearly a bag that I’ll be lucky to get through before some of the bits start to turn stale. Really, one of the more perfect party mixes I’ve ever stumbled across in my life.

… If only I’d had just 30 more minutes of patience for the cambert to fully soften. But I had places to go!

Sunday: How To Make a Perfectly Crispy Quesadilla (the Secret’s in the Water)

Damn, it’s been a long since I bought a package of tortillas. Way, way too long — because I made a seriously good quesadilla.

photo-6It’s a matter of market demand: The average grocery store here (in Manhattan, at least) is more likely to stock great, locally-made pita or lavash bread than tortillas, and not to be a snob about it, but I haven’t touched Mission brand tortillas in years.

So I was intrigued to discover these La Tortilla Factory Smart & Delicious Tortillas at a health food store in my neighborhood. Sure, I’d take a large, white, almost-devoid-of-nutritional-value, giant burrito-sized tortilla over this low-carb, high fiber, whole wheat option, given the choice, but at least these tortillas are from a smallish company based in California. Read: Potential.

photo-5This is going to sound counter-intuitive, but the secret to a lovely, golden-crisped quesadilla, I was taught years and years ago, is to run the tortilla under a light stream of water just for a few seconds on each side, so the tortilla is damp. I don’t know the science of why this works, but it works.

photo-4A quesadilla can really be a kitchen sink dish — leftover chicken, spinach, fresh vegetables, etc. You can really throw in anything so long as its diced small enough and there’s enough cheese to bind it all together. In addition to cheese, I added some diced onion and tomato, a light smear of beans and wilted spinach. On top, I finished it off with a dollop of plain yogurt (sour cream alternative that was already in the fridge) and an excess of simple guacamole, which goes something like this:

Simple Guacamole

Ripe avocado, check.
Lemon juice squeeze, check.
Salt and pepper shake, check.

Mash, mash, mash.

Sunday: Wishing a Flying Saucer Would Land Near Me (aka the “Mmm … Paddington Bear Panini” Post)

photo-2The Paddington Bear panini ($7): Brie cheese, thin slices of green apple and sweet orange marmalade, pressed together within the jaws of a hot panini grill until the cheese starts melting and oozing.

Served with a small side of greens tossed a balsamic vinegar dressing that inevitably soaks into the crusty bread, just a little bit. Inexplicably, the balsamic only improves what was already a great sandwich — named after a very cuddly little bear. (Of course I ordered it because of the Paddington reference.)

For those not phased by cuddly, storybook bears, the Flying Saucer Cafe has a photo-4pretty big, and pretty legitimate, list of panini and sandwich-type options — in addition to the usual coffee shop suspects, e.g. hot and cold coffee and tea beverages of varying degrees of complexity.

The common denominator: All pretty cheap. A banana, marmalade and Nutella panini will only set you back $4; same with the house BLT sandwich, which seems to be a favorite, judging by the smells of cooking bacon that wafted my way periodically. Even a bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese, etc., was less than $6 — that’d be impossible to find in the city. (Hmm…)

I stumbled upon the Flying Saucer Cafe doing a little on-the-ground recon for an article I’m writing. (It’s hard to miss the funkdafied, hand-painted, saucer-cup-in-the-sky sign.)

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Inside, it’s whimsical and spacious, with plenty of reasons settle in and hang out for a while: old, overstuffed couches; mismatched tables and chairs of all sizes; free wifi; plus, a fantastic back patio. It has that comfortable feel of a general gathering point. There’s a jam session up front, with guitars and not-bad singing; open laptops everywhere; small groups titter and chatter, others lean their heads in, conspiring.

I left wishing for a place like this near my home. Someplace to escape to when I get apartment-claustrophobic and need a change of scenery. Sometimes, I would rather read, or work, or think, or daydream, among the company of strangers.

Tuesday: The Fried Lunchmeat Experiment (It’s Really Good!)

The description of the Swedish Ham ($8.99/lb) at Agata & Valentina reads as follows: “This ham has more sweet fat strips throughout making it very lush, moist and buttery with a light, delicate hint of smoke.”

Yes. I’ve been more than a little obsessed. I’ve made broiled ham-and-blue-cheese sandwiches, I’ve diced it to add to scrambled eggs. And now it’s going into the brussels sprouts — you could say this dish is a riff on that classic, brussels sprouts and pancetta, only, with a lot more ham (that’s not pancetta) and a few extra goodies. The results? Spectacular. I happily ate this for several meals.

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Brussels Sprouts and Fried Deli Ham

Ingredients:

1 lb. brussels sprouts, washed, bottoms trimmed and cut into halves
1/3 lb. ultra thin-sliced deli counter ham, preferably fatty, chopped into strips (more or less)
1 small red onion (1/4 cup? more?), roughly chopped
blue cheese crumbles to taste
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

You’ll need a deeper pan and a medium-sized frying pan.

1. Cook the brussels sprouts in the deeper pan over medium heat (generously add olive oil). Stir regularly; what you’re looking for is for the vegetables to begin to soften and brown up a bit, but it’s going to take some time to get them all evenly cooked. be patient. (Total: 7-10 minutes?)

2. In the frying pan, sautee the red onion over medium-to-low heat, until it browns and softens. Turn out onto a spare surface.

3. Next, in the frying pan (no need to clean), dump the ham in and turn the heat up to medium-high. At this point you should still be agitating the brussels sprouts so they all brown evenly. The ham is going to brown, then crackle, then even smoke a bit — it’s the result of cooking a fatty protein on a hot surface, but the meat will actually crisp nicely. Keep pushing it.

4. Once the brussels sprouts are done, mix in the red onions and the ham into the deeper pot; plate.

5. Garnish each serving with a little crumble of blue cheese (it will get a little melty). Scarf.

Servings: 4

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